How I spent my summer vacation. My mom made me do free SAT prep. Here’s why.

My twins are having a “skip” summer, as my mother-in-law used to say in reference to missing out on fun stuff. My son enrolled in a history course at the Georgia Virtual School to free up his junior year for more science. (We may finally produce a scientist in a household awash in liberal arts graduates.) And my daughter will undergo surgery that will keep her home-bound for most of July.

So, they were aghast when I suggested adding SAT prep to their scant free time.

satprep

The College Board joined forces with Khan Academy to produce online test prep materials geared to the redesigned SAT. (AP Photo)

If you are the parent, grandparent or guardian of a high school student planning to apply to college, you should aggravate your teen with the same suggestion.

Because there’s a new “Official SAT Practice” site that’s free. The practice site is a collaboration between the College Board and Khan Academy, considered a leader in innovative online learning. The online test preparation resources offer the added benefit of helping students with their course work.

I participated in the media call on the collaboration and wandered through the site. Here’s what students will find:

1. Short diagnostic quizzes in math and evidence-based reading and writing to determine where a student is.

2. Personalized practice recommendations, tied to specific skills on the test, to make the biggest impact on student performance and overall college readiness. The intent is not that students log on the night before their SAT and cram, but that they visit the site consistently.

3. Four official full-length practice tests written by the College Board, so students can see detailed results of their work and Khan Academy can direct them to the most appropriate materials.

4. Instant feedback on their answers so that students are always learning and seeing their progress.

5. Study tips and suggestions for test day.

Go to SAT Practice at KhanAcademy.org to see for yourself.

Released a week ago, the practice tool aligns with the revamped SAT, which the College Board says, replaces “obscure SAT vocabulary words” with relevant vocabulary, offers an “in-depth focus on essential areas of math,” and eliminates the guessing penalty.

What I like about the Khan/College Board site is the customization. Once students answer the diagnostic math and reading questions, the site responds with a course of study and practice appropriate to the students and moves them forward. While the objective is SAT preparation, the practice exercises can provide a deeper learning experience.

“We are super excited about this,” said Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, on the media call. “Some of our best folks at Khan Academy are working on this project with the College Board…It allows students to start where they are. With that said, we don’t think a new technology tool, no matter how good, is going to be a solution by itself.”

A former hedge fund manager turned online math guru, Khan stressed the role of parents and teachers in helping kids master the content necessary to succeed on the new SAT and in college, but said the free prep tool attempts to level the playing field. Now, it’s typically affluent students who enroll in SAT prep classes, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Despite years of denying SAT coaching mattered – belied by the number of kids who improved their scores after extensive and often expensive prep classes – the College Board made practice tests accessible, but the collaboration with Khan goes beyond that.

Here are the benefits I see: Unlike private SAT tutors who take the college admissions test multiple times to better counsel students, Sal Khan and his team worked with College Board staff so the new prep site relates to the new PSAT that 11th graders will take in October and the new SAT that rolls out in March.

High school students ought to spend some time on the site this summer because kids are more confident when they’re familiar with the format and scope of a test. Practice eases fears of the unknown.

Asked on the media call about the anxiety around the redesigned SAT, College Board President and CEO David Coleman said, “Everything we are doing today is about those anxieties. Today we are making it easier for students to navigate this territory. Students today will see with great confidence that the new SAT is not a departure from what they are learning. Now, there are free tools so they can practice in-depth where they feel weakest. It is really going to calm the waters a bit.”

In response to when students should begin using the Khan practice tool, Coleman said, “This is the core math and reading work they are doing throughout their classrooms. It can help them whenever they start.”

Some kids need someone standing over them to motivate them, so I don’t believe the flourishing SAT prep industry risks extinction. But for strong students, these Khan practices may be enough.

Again, I would encourage you to push your teens to try these free SAT resources as the practice might also enhance their schoolwork. Take a look yourself and let us know what you think.

Reader Comments 0

30 comments
Reid McCulloch
Reid McCulloch

3 years ago I took a math placement test and tested into Elementary Algebra. After going through 88% of Algebra 1 on Khan Academy I tested into Intermediate Algebra and was only 1 correct answer shy of placing into Advanced Algebra. (Probably should have finished that other 12%).

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Thanks for the link. Watched the video that described the difference between the old SAT and the new SAT. Definitely worth watching if your kids will take this year or next. Took the 1st practice reading test. Answered all correctly but didn't check my time. That section called for the ability to read a passage on scientific research.The difficulty many students may have is that the requested information was probably unfamiliar, scattered, and called for linking ideas that were in different sections. The ability to remember the exact question while comparing possible passages for the exact answer is different from most daily reading tasks. I think that practicing this style of reading for specific information using the practice test would greatly improve SAT test taking ability,

someonesdad
someonesdad

Khan Academy is excellent.  I recommend it for all students, and even adults who want to learn a little more!

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

I tried to take a look, but they wanted a login.  There is no way to just browse the content. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@LogicalDude The test site available to the media last week allowed browsing, but I had to log on yesterday via my Facebook page. I did one of the reading tests, which was not easy. I do not think this revamped SAT is going to be easier. I think it is going to be deeper in terms of what it asks kids to do -- less stuff but at a higher level.

heyteacher
heyteacher

This is great -- years ago, the state of Georgia offered free SAT prep (online). I took my seniors to the lab once a week to use the free program before the first SAT date and many reported score increases. They discontinued that program but I still go over vocabulary words and question types in my English classes. 

I agree with Maureen -- for many students it is all about timing and familiarity with the test.  And, 200 points can make a huge difference for a student trying for academic scholarships. Many scholarships that are not need based require a certain SAT or ACT score -- it's also important for students interested in being in the honors program where they get more individualized attention.

bu2
bu2

My school district encouraged sophomores to take the PSAT to get familiar with it.  I scored 14 points higher as a junior (that was on a 240 point scale).

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Excellent advice.  The points 1 - 5 that you mentioned above were all utilized in my Advanced Reading SAT Prep course when I taught at a south DeKalb County high school from 1984 to 2000.


Individual students would increase their verbal scores by as much as 200 points.  If that had been done in mathematics, also, then the total SAT score increase of any one student at that time in the SAT's history (1600 maximum score of verbal and math combined) would have been 400 points.


In that I worked with the school's total reading program in all curriculum areas beginning with 9th grade students who were more than three grade levels behind their peers in reading (50% of the 9th grade students annually), I would like to mention that my high school in South DeKalb had verbal SAT test results, schoolwide, which ranked immediately under the north DeKalb high schools (and far above other south DeKalb high school while I taught there and for 7 years thereafter).


Here are the two most important of the 5 points, imho, that will increase an individual student's verbal (and probably math) SAT skills:

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

2. Personalized practice recommendations, tied to specific skills on the test, to make the biggest impact on student performance and overall college readiness. The intent is not that students log on the night before their SAT and cram, but that they visit the site consistently.

4. Instant feedback on their answers so that students are always learning and seeing their progress.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Those readers with any instructional imagination will be able to visualize how addressing individual needs in any grade level regarding especially reading skills can work miracles in improvement.  Go to Kyle Wingfield's recent blog thread on the Georgia Legislative turnover which may affect school reform to read about the value of continuous progress instruction and of how to get it implemented in Georgia's traditional schools.  Mr. Wingfield was kind enough to allow my instructional posts there, also, so that hopefully Georgia's legislators, who affect policy in Georgia, might learn with more detail educational principles.


P.S.  My best regards to Maureen Downey and her family on the successful surgery this summer for her teenage daughter.



popacorn
popacorn

@MaryElizabethSings Toot that horn, lady. There is no such thing as an educator whose student's didn't achieve amazing progress. 

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

Hogwash...you want to really benefit your kids?  Get them to enroll in a local college to take two or three courses.  Let's be very generous and assume that SAT prep will boost their score (not a given).  What's an extra 200 points going to do?  Make the difference between KSU and GT?  Your kid can do fine either way.  What's an extra 9 credits going to do?  Save a ton of money later!!!


Let's say your kid is working a summer job in the summers after junior and senior years.  You're talking about maybe $5000 total.  Spend those summers knocking out 18 credits, and they've knocked out 1.5 years of tuition/room/board (that's the last 1.5 years when the cost is highest).

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@RichardKPE What you are suggesting is great, but there's also a benefit to kids becoming familiar with a test. 

I would argue that getting your kids to spend an hour or two a week this summer on the Khan site will go a long way to making them much more comfortable with the SAT or any other test. 

It also helps them understand pacing and timing. 

One of my kids is a science whiz who earned an A plus in AP Chem this year. A few weeks ago, he took the SAT subject test in chemistry. It was one of his first experiences with a long standardized test where you go to a high school somewhere with hundreds of other kids carrying sharpened pencils. He did not finish the test because he had no sense of how much time he had and how much he used. He figured out all his missed points were due to the questions he never got to. He wishes now he had better understood how much time to allot each question. 

That can be helped with practice. 

I know a lot of aspiring physicians who retook the MCATS after taking intense prep; they saw their scores rise remarkably. I don't think the activities you suggest would have helped them score higher on the MCATS because a lot of the challenge is getting through the questions and staying focused.

That is where prep helps.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

@MaureenDowney @RichardKPE Let's say I agree with you, and that there's validity to preparing for a test format after the student has been bombarded with standardized tests for the previous 10 years.  Why does the kid have to use the summer to do that?  He'd be better off using the 3 Saturdays (not Sundays...that's reserved for NFL) leading up to the test by simulating the process.  4-5 hours each day will suffice.


The only point to the type of rigorous review you're talking about is if there's a knowledge gap.  The problem is that "test practice" won't help in that regard.  Maybe there are cases where a student doing such rigorous SAT prep is warranted, but those are rare cases, and the payoff is minimal at best.


Let's be honest.  What's the long term value of an extra 200 points on the SAT?

popacorn
popacorn

@MaureenDowney @RichardKPE

Test prep can be a great thing. Be sure to consider strategies. Often times science questions have loads of irrelevant information presented before the real question is asked. Get to that real question. They try to bog you down with baloney which will distract and impede. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@RichardKPE @MaureenDowney That 200 points could help get kids into UGA. I have been hearing the usual lament from parents whose kids graduated with honors and did not get into UGA. In the scheme of life, 200 points may not matter, but I think a 1,400 vs.a 1,200 does matter if your kid wants a UGA or Tech.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

@MaureenDowney @RichardKPE So what?  If the kid goes to KSU vs UGA, is there really a drop in starting salary (I won't consider Tech here since the concentration of useful majors throws off the statistics)?


Also, consider the flip side of your argument.  If a kid isn't academically qualified for UGA, crams for the SAT, and suddenly becomes academically qualified, is he at a higher risk of failing out?    

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

I'm surprised you haven't heard from those who might lament the destruction of summer vacation with learning and practice.  To those I would give this anecdote... many of my students were on planes the day after school ended back to Korea to go to Korean school for the summer.  Learning should not stop because school does - if anything, summer's are great times for experiential learning that schools just can't provide. 

booful98
booful98

@Looking4truth I actually am fine with summer vacation having learning activities. I love long summers because it gives my children the opportunity to do things like this. Also, take part in camps that align with their interests (music, science, arts, etc), learn things on their own (my oldest son is teaching himself Java for instance), etc. Things they don't have time to delve into during the school year.

dg417s
dg417s

Now all we need to do is make sure the children show up at the SAT or ACT with a pencil. You'd be amazed how many don't bring something to take the test wth.

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

@dg417s 


They expect you to provide it for them - welcome to today's society. I remembering taking it and if you did not show up with a pencil or begged/bartered with a fellow test taker for a pencil, you could not take the test.

dg417s
dg417s

@jarvis1975 @MiltonMan @dg417s can and should are two very different things. Students are coming to take a test. They should be prepared. You can't spoonfeed them their entire lives.


class80olddog
class80olddog

Like everything else, the tests get easier - like eliminating the guessing penalty.  I am sure my score would have been higher if I could have guessed freely on questions I did not know.


Of course. they HAD to do that to be COMPETITIVE with the ACT.  More students were opting for the ACT, which did not have the guessing penalty.

booful98
booful98

@class80olddog From what I understand, it is also a better test. It seems like the questions are more logical. I always thought (and my memory is admittedly fuzzy since the last time I took the SAT was over 20 years ago), that some the SAT questions were subjective in the verbal section. For example: if an apple is like an orange, a pineapple is like..? Not an actual question of course, but those always seemed ridiculous to me.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog I am under the impression that parents choose which test for their student to take based on their kid's strengths, now that schools no longer have the strict requirements for this test over that test (they did back in the 1960s)  The SAT is generally  best for math/science kids; the ACT (for which math is only 20-25%) is better for your strong readers and English-savy types.  I had all three of mine take the SAT to let me get a feel for where they stood, but my math/science daughter ONLY took the SAT, as I knew for her it would give her the best score (this was when it was a two part test). They took them once.


Back in the Dark Ages when all we had were room-sized, wood-burning computers, I took both tests cold, one time each.  I scored nearly equally well on both, with a slight edge to the ACT.  For the GRE 20 years later, I got a practice book to familiarize myself with the test, as I was afraid I had lost my edge as far as pacing.  I scored 200+ points higher on the GRE!



CSpinks
CSpinks

The SAT, like the ACT, is an imperfect measure of a test-taker's academic prowess. But it gives some of the best information available about a student's Reading, Math and Writing skills, skills which are critical to success in college and in life after college. Might some standardized test-bashers learn and remember that before they next indulge their impulses to condemn the SAT and similar measures of student acumen.

popacorn
popacorn

Who woulda thunk that practice, repetition, and test-taking strategies could help. Good for your kids. Tests are here to stay - get good at taking them.