Companies tout ability to coach to new SAT, ACT

NEWTON, Mass. – The SAT is changing next year, most notably by adding a written essay, and the nearly as-popular ACT will include an optional essay.

But while the changes are designed to make the tests less “coachable” starting in spring 2005, test-preparation companies insist the opposite is true and that the tips and methods they’ve been teaching for years are even more useful now.

Plenty of parents are betting they’re right, ignoring criticism that test-prep companies simply prey on college admission fears and shelling out $1,000 or more for courses this summer to prepare their rising high school juniors.

Some anti-testing advocates agree – regretfully – that the new test is indeed more coachable, disadvantaging students who can’t afford a prep class.

The test-prep companies “are rubbing their hands in glee” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the group FairTest, because “the increasing anxiety of students (is) increasing their profits.” He complains that the new essay section rewards students for a good first draft, but bears little relevance to the kind of researched and revised writing they’ll do in college.

Besides the essay, the new SAT is making other changes to emphasize grammar over vocabulary and advanced math over quantitative comparisons. The 25-minute essay will have comparatively little effect on students’ scores; the expanded grammar section will count twice as much.

The best preparation for students is simply taking practice tests, said Chiara Coletti, spokeswoman for the College Board, which owns the SAT. Students can get free practice tests for the SAT and ACT from their high schools, and also at www.act.org and, starting in August, at www.collegeboard.com.

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