But the coaching business is booming, with affluent parents being the best customers. If the payoff is really so small, why has the market judged coaching to be so successful?

Most obviously, parents who pay for expensive coaching courses ignore the role of self-selection: the students who seem to profit from a coaching course tend to be those who, if the course had not been available, would have worked hard on their own to prepare for the test.

Then parents confuse the effects of coaching with the effect of the basic preparation that students can do on their own. No student should walk into the SAT cold. It makes sense for students to practice some sample items, easily available from school guidance offices and online, and to review their algebra textbook if it has been a few years since they have taken algebra. But once a few hours have been spent on these routine steps, most of the juice has been squeezed out of preparation for the SAT. Combine self-selection artifacts with the role of basic preparation, and you have the reason that independent studies using control groups show such small average gains from formal coaching.

Source: Abolish the SAT, Charles Murray


Category: Espresso

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

2 Responses to On the Efficacy of SAT Prep

  1. Murali says:

    The SATs like the the subject tests can be studied and prepared for. Getting the SAT prep books which contain syllabus + practice papers should be adequate. The math questions, are generally easy. Extensive practice should significantly improve performance on them. Verbal is slightly harder, but going through vocabulary lists is one way to improve your score in a language test (which is basically what the verbal section is). Also, there are habits of mind that make answering the reading comprehension questions easier to answer. This even applies to essay writing. For the gre I spent most of my time just practising essay writing.

    That said, I foresee that the most help that going to a test prep centre (as opposed to buying assessment books or using free online materials) would provide is in learning how to write the right kind of essay. All of these are learne-able skills.

    • trumwill says:

      The essay portion of the SAT has always been the most negligible part, though. Didn’t even exist when I was going through, and isn’t part of the combined score anymore.

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