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Thoughts on Standardized Tests / Prep


SKL
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What is the purpose nowadays of standardized tests, especially the ones generally meant to assess college readiness (ACT / SAT)?  From what I hear, it seems the results are going to be more about how much prep / help the student got before the test vs. what his actual academic strengths are. If that is the case, then am I a neglectful parent if I don't push "test prep"?  Am I wrong to be cynical about the whole business?

When I was in high school, the majority of kids did no "test prep" at all, and most didn't re-take the tests regardless of their scores.  I realize a lot has changed since then, but I would still think the colleges would want to know how the kids would do without test prep - at least I would.

Thoughts?

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Great topic!

DD took the ACT in February with almost no test prep.  Like you, I remembered my days in school where there was no prep at all- you simply showed up and took your test and a few weeks later got your scores in the mail.  

The week before her testing, I did print out one practice test for DD to work on during the week, but it was purely with the intent to get familiar with the test form.  I told her she didn't even need to do all the questions, I just wanted her familiar with the form and with the process.  She surprised me by taking it seriously- she set herself timers for each section, read up on the ACT website for tips, and felt ready when I dropped her off the morning of the test.

She did okay with the test.  Her scores were good, but honestly- not great, and that surprised me.  Her lowest score was in the subject that she usually excels at, and when I questioned her score out loud, she confessed to me that there were a few questions where the way they asked them she thought the answer could have been two different answers, so she did more guessing than she expected.   (Though she did do great in the one area that I thought she'd have the most struggles in.)

In retrospect, I think the test prep could go a long way in getting a feel for how they ask questions in the first place.  I'm now in a place where I'm debating having her take it again, though she really (and I mean really) doesn't want to.  I kinda feel like if I had pushed test prep even a little more, she might have had better results.  

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17 minutes ago, HeighHo said:

All test prep is doing is making up for poor schools or for disparate impact -- I went to a rural school and did not test prep. Everything on there was in class, except some of the lit vocab. Had we studied English lit before senior year, I would have known that.  My sons' schools omitted a large amount of grade level material. Its my responsibility as a parent to make up for that any way I please.  I used test prep for the grammar -- just as easy and effective as doing an outside course.  The other gaps were filled with afterschooling.  

 

How many parents are even aware of what the schools have or have not covered?   I was an A student.  I didn't do well on the SAT.  I did everything my teachers assigned and then some.  I aced standardized tests.  But obviously whatever it is I was being taught wasn't cutting it for the SAT.  Test prep?  I couldn't afford test prep.  My parents didn't even know what an SAT was let alone become involved with figuring out what was lacking in my education. 

Test prep is also a lot about who can afford it. 

And my low scores on the SAT did not mean I wouldn't do well in college.  I graduated with honors. 

So what exactly is the point of the SAT? 

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I kind of feel like they don't really fulfill their purpose, in terms of giving an indication of who is suited for university learning.

We don't normally do those tests here, at least for undergrad admission.  Just high school marks. For things like medical school there are standardized tests, and they also seem a little random at times.

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3 minutes ago, Bluegoat said:

I kind of feel like they don't really fulfill their purpose, in terms of giving an indication of who is suited for university learning.

We don't normally do those tests here, at least for undergrad admission.  Just high school marks. For things like medical school there are standardized tests, and they also seem a little random at times.

Exactly.  In large part they show who has access to test prep! 

If my kids were to take them, I would pay for test prep.  I'm not going to bother wondering if I covered the correct material in my homeschool because chances are I have not cracked that convoluted code. 

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17 minutes ago, SparklyUnicorn said:

 

How many parents are even aware of what the schools have or have not covered?   I was an A student.  I didn't do well on the SAT.  I did everything my teachers assigned and then some.  I aced standardized tests.  But obviously whatever it is I was being taught wasn't cutting it for the SAT.  Test prep?  I couldn't afford test prep.  My parents didn't even know what an SAT was let alone become involved with figuring out what was lacking in my education. 

Test prep is also a lot about who can afford it. 

And my low scores on the SAT did not mean I wouldn't do well in college.  I graduated with honors. 

So what exactly is the point of the SAT? 



Keep in mind, for the average mom homeschooling through high school, she can do adequate prep.  It might not be quite as effective as a tutor has devoted themselves to prepping kids for SAT/ACT, but for the cost of a $20 blue book and some time invested?  It has really paid off for my kids and I am definitely not an ACT tutor.  (Although I do think it would be great fun.)

I look at the ACT/SAT as nothing more than a way to "encourage" colleges to offer my children money.  Homeschoolers tend to be at a disadvantage - we don't have class rankings, we can be limited in our after school activities, some of us cannot do extensive outside classes and/or dual enrollment, AP, etc.    But I think we have the upper hand at ACT/SAT.  We can devote blocks of time to studying the test.  Financially it has been well worth our time and energy and my kids have not gotten tippy top scores.  However, without adequate scores, they would have been out ALL of their scholarships.  If you estimate each of the oldest two got between $10-$12k in merit aid alone and they are all renewable scholarships, that's over $40k per child and times two so far.  We're starting test prep with our sophomore now that we are nearing the end of the school year.  We consider the time an investment.

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22 minutes ago, BlsdMama said:



Keep in mind, for the average mom homeschooling through high school, she can do adequate prep.  It might not be quite as effective as a tutor has devoted themselves to prepping kids for SAT/ACT, but for the cost of a $20 blue book and some time invested?  It has really paid off for my kids and I am definitely not an ACT tutor.  (Although I do think it would be great fun.)

I look at the ACT/SAT as nothing more than a way to "encourage" colleges to offer my children money.  Homeschoolers tend to be at a disadvantage - we don't have class rankings, we can be limited in our after school activities, some of us cannot do extensive outside classes and/or dual enrollment, AP, etc.    But I think we have the upper hand at ACT/SAT.  We can devote blocks of time to studying the test.  Financially it has been well worth our time and energy and my kids have not gotten tippy top scores.  However, without adequate scores, they would have been out ALL of their scholarships.  If you estimate each of the oldest two got between $10-$12k in merit aid alone and they are all renewable scholarships, that's over $40k per child and times two so far.  We're starting test prep with our sophomore now that we are nearing the end of the school year.  We consider the time an investment.

 

I might just be a bit burnt out, but honestly this sounds daunting.  Trying to prep my kid for the prospect of having scores high enough to get all kinds of money?  Not sure I can necessarily pull that off. 

And I don't want to play the game really. I bought my kid a test prep book.  I offered test prep classes if he wanted them.  He is going a different route.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree...he doesn't want to play the game either. 

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3 hours ago, SKL said:

What is the purpose nowadays of standardized tests, especially the ones generally meant to assess college readiness (ACT / SAT)?  From what I hear, it seems the results are going to be more about how much prep / help the student got before the test vs. what his actual academic strengths are. If that is the case, then am I a neglectful parent if I don't push "test prep"?  Am I wrong to be cynical about the whole business?

When I was in high school, the majority of kids did no "test prep" at all, and most didn't re-take the tests regardless of their scores.  I realize a lot has changed since then, but I would still think the colleges would want to know how the kids would do without test prep - at least I would.

Thoughts?

High standardized test scores can equal a lot of money in scholarships. 

They can also mean the difference between getting accepted vs denied at high demand public colleges and universities.

I'd give my kids every opportunity to get the highest possible scores they can attain on the SAT and ACT. Test prep, practice tests, problem of the day programs...do everything reasonable for the students' goals.

 

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The colleges likely assume that ALL kids are doing test prep, or at least have the opportunity to do it. Pretty much like preparing for any test--some students will study and some won't. 

And of course standardized test scores are far from the only information most colleges consider. And some are test optional. So really -- it's just one more bit of data on an application, to go along with GPA and class rank and extra curriculars and essays and whatever other data the school wants to look at or not.

But no, I don't think you're neglectful if you don't push your kids to do test prep. We absolutely didn't push ours. DS22 chose to take the SAT two or three times (I've forgotten the exact number) and he did some prep. He was aiming for tippy top schools and needed a very high score for admission. DS19 wasn't interested at all in any tippy top schools. He took the ACT once, was happy enough with his score and called it done. We knew that at the schools both were interested in merit money was almost impossible to get (for differing reasons) so that wasn't really a factor for us.

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Seems to go against the knowledge that cramming for a test does not lead to long-term retention.  I would rather see a "good" score after no cramming than an "outstanding" score after cramming.

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13 minutes ago, SKL said:

Seems to go against the knowledge that cramming for a test does not lead to long-term retention.  I would rather see a "good" score after no cramming than an "outstanding" score after cramming.

It's not a body of knowledge that the test taker will need to reference again. 

It's a test for testing's sake. 

If becoming more proficient at taking it will lead to more money and more opportunities, that will open doors for my kids' life goals, I'll help them as much as possible.

I don't see the value in NOT helping.

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13 minutes ago, SKL said:

Seems to go against the knowledge that cramming for a test does not lead to long-term retention.  I would rather see a "good" score after no cramming than an "outstanding" score after cramming.

The problem is, of course, that in the case of standardized testing like the ACT and SAT there is zero way to police whether or not any given student preps or not. 

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3 minutes ago, unsinkable said:

It's not a body of knowledge that the test taker will need to reference again. 

It's a test for testing's sake. 

If becoming more proficient at taking it will lead to more money and more opportunities, that will open doors for my kids' life goals, I'll help them as much as possible.

I don't see the value in NOT helping.

 

Well and see that is what I think is wrong with the test.

Of course I help/will help/have helped.  I just find the concept annoying. 

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2 minutes ago, unsinkable said:

It's not a body of knowledge that the test taker will need to reference again. 

It's a test for testing's sake. 

If becoming more proficient at taking it will lead to more money and more opportunities, that will open doors for my kids' life goals, I'll help them as much as possible.

I don't see the value in NOT helping.

 

But what is the point of a test for testing's sake?  Don't the colleges want to know which candidates are the most knowledgeable and apt?

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In my area, *all* schools and *all* parents herd college prep kids into some sort of test prep -- either classes or tutors or relentlessly parent-enforced Khan Academy (depending on circumstances and kids' learning styles).

I have one kid whose standardized test scores have always been out of the ballpark -- well above her middle and high school grades; one well-remediated-but-nonetheless-dyslexic kid; and one kid who tests far below her academic grades.  They're all bright and creative and engaged (at least in stuff they LIKE, lol), but the one who tests the least well is the one who both excels the most academically across all subjects, and also is the one who seems to me to be the deepest and cut-to-the-bone analytical thinker.  So OTOH I don't think testing reflects very much in terms of either correlating with grades, or with underlying capacity.

But OTO test scores absolutely do MATTER for getting into many (not all; some Ivies & other top tier are moving to test-optional) elite programs.

My eldest did SAT test prep class along with virtually her whole high school grade.  It helped at the margins -- maybe 30-40 points? -- but her baseline was already extremely high.

The conventional wisdom is that students with LDs generally do better on the ACT (more achievement) than the SAT (more cognitive).  There was no way my dyslexic kid was going to do test prep for BOTH, so I had him take the SAT walk-in, with no prep whatsoever, just to get a baseline.  I signed him up to do the same for the ACT.  But his SATs came back sufficiently OK that he decided to prep for that one.  With (1-1 tutoring) prep his scores increased 100+ points on the math and 150+ on the verbal.  Which was enough to render him eligible for schools that wouldn't otherwise have looked at him.

My youngest isn't there yet, but I'm sure she'll do some kind of prep.

It is a PITA.  If everyone else is doing it... AND your kid aspires to programs where scores matter (which of course is not all programs)... I don't know how you avoid it.

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We prep for everything that we are allowed to prep for because I want my kids to have every advantage they can. We do it for the money. School is their job.

That said, I don't do bubble tests yet. Just afterschooling.

A big part of prep is familiarity though, and I will pay for test prep. I gave up a fulfilling career to be able to help my kids have a better future. If I can get them into a service academy, or a scholarship, or through university without debt, that will be worth decades of self-sacrifice to earn enough.

Too many people are burdened with huge student debt in spite of working through college. I'd rather one hour a week on test prep, than 15 years of poverty paying off loans to a private school. True, that's a worst case scenario but it's a very real scenario for a lot of people.

To me, test prep means you choose a career you love because no debt. It means the possibility of a difficult major because you can work less. It is an economic calculation, pure and simple. If we were richer or our kids more "normal" (i.e. able to juggle a full time job, engineering degree, and be happy) maybe I wouldn't do it. But we are low on the executive functioning/attention/social skill side so we have to max out our purely academic potential. Better to do that early on!

 

Also, have I ever mentioned I was .5 percentiles away from NMF status? Yeah, still kind of burned about not studying for the PSAT. 

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I told DS that test prep would probably be the highest paying job he'd ever have. He spent around 60 hours on test prep (Real ACT book + PrepScholar's online program) between the March and September test dates, and the improvement in his scores made the difference between no merit aid and $66,000 in scholarships over 4 years. So basically he earned around $1100/hour for studying. Best investment ever.

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Some of the stories about how the ACT this year penalized kids who raised their scores through test prep are a bit startling. If your kids do plan to eventually do some serious test prep, I would not have them take the test cold first. The ACT may well accuse them of cheating. There's a long thread somewhere on the high school board about this. Some of the stories on college confidential are things you can really imagine happening to you. Of course, some may be parents crying foul for kids who did cheat, but I don't think most of them are. In other words, think carefully about that.

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1 hour ago, Farrar said:

Some of the stories about how the ACT this year penalized kids who raised their scores through test prep are a bit startling. If your kids do plan to eventually do some serious test prep, I would not have them take the test cold first. The ACT may well accuse them of cheating. There's a long thread somewhere on the high school board about this. Some of the stories on college confidential are things you can really imagine happening to you. Of course, some may be parents crying foul for kids who did cheat, but I don't think most of them are. In other words, think carefully about that.

That's awful--imagine a kid who had test anxiety or the flu! Or you know, test prep. If I'm a college and I'm thinking, here is someone who is going to take advantage of study opportunities when provided, how is that a bad quality? No, it's not fair, and I'm a big advocate of fairness--but the whole entire system is so stacked against poor kids with uneducated parents, how is the ACT the deciding factor? Incredible.

If they want a true IQ test they need to have more ingenious testing scenarios devised.

Edit: But thank you for sharing Farrar. I didn't know. I will definitely keep it in mind.

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I dunno.  I took the ACT twice.  I think the first time I had just finished 10th grade and the second time, maybe 6 months later, I was partway through the 11th.  (I graduated after the 11th grade.)  My brother did the same, though he was older.  Both of us increased our scores by about 5 points without any prep.  I attribute the increase to the fact that we were just that much older and had a few more months of math (public school).  It would seem strange if the scores didn't increase.

I really feel like we're being played by the test companies, but I guess if everyone is doing it, then opting out may not be a real option for many.

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47 minutes ago, HeighHo said:

I feel like the schools are playing us. My sons were offered an evening test prep class for a fee. I feel they should have been offered an honors class where that material was included. 

The tests are really not content-based, though, except for math, so what topics would this extra honors class include that would somehow also greatly boost test scores? Most of test prep is about getting faster and more efficient at reading passages for key content, dissecting questions so you know what they're actually asking for, analyzing charts and diagrams quickly and correctly, etc. And honestly those are not bad skills to have heading into college anyway, so I don't feel like test prep is just wasting time practicing things that will never be used again. Add in the fact that you can earn huge sums of money, and the ROI on test prep seems (to me) to be considerably higher than 90% of the busy work that high school students are assigned in class.

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Back in my day (the stone age) no one in our tiny rural community did test prep.  In fact we sat for the SATs on a Saturday morning after a Friday homecoming football game & dance.  Needless to say many of the scores were not what they could have been :)  but I scored considerably higher than dh, who was also my homecoming date.  I am not smarter, but I am a better test taker.  

Here in our huge urban community test prep is a booming business. We start getting flyers in the mail for weekend workshops, after school classes and individual coaching every February.  The cost is usually thousands of dollars.

All of that being said, because my kids take a standardized test every year, we also do test prep every year.  Starting in January, I pick up a test prep book for the test they are taking that year and I assign it as a part of the regular LA & Math.  The important thing is to become familiar with the format.

For high school we are required to have  a certain number of Life Skills credits.  One semester before the ACT or SAT we work our way through one of those books and call it "Study Skills," for a Life Skills credit.  I add in a few other things like note taking, time management, etc.  Again I am just aiming for familiarity with the format.

The universities we applied to required an ACT score of a certain level to even look at homeschoolers.

Amber in SJ

 

 

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1 hour ago, SKL said:

I dunno.  I took the ACT twice.  I think the first time I had just finished 10th grade and the second time, maybe 6 months later, I was partway through the 11th.  (I graduated after the 11th grade.)  My brother did the same, though he was older.  Both of us increased our scores by about 5 points without any prep.  I attribute the increase to the fact that we were just that much older and had a few more months of math (public school).  It would seem strange if the scores didn't increase.

I really feel like we're being played by the test companies, but I guess if everyone is doing it, then opting out may not be a real option for many.

Well yeah... this is life in America. It's pay to play.

Universally accessible higher ed based on scores and grades and a few recs would be infinitely fairer in terms of an even playing field for all children, and would incentivize people in poor areas even more to study. That's not going to happen. So a couple hundred bucks on a test prep program and re-testing to me seems like the least of my concerns.

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16 hours ago, SKL said:

What is the purpose nowadays of standardized tests, especially the ones generally meant to assess college readiness (ACT / SAT)?

Simply put, the PSAT scores are used to allocate significant amounts of scholarship money and the ACT and SAT are used as one measure of a student's readiness for college for admissions purposes.  (The ACT and SAT are also used for scholarship purposes, but to a lesser degree than the PSAT at most schools.)

\From what I hear, it seems the results are going to be more about how much prep / help the student got before the test vs. what his actual academic strengths are.

I think it is both.  The problems on these tests can be quite tricky, so a very good student should not expect to ace them without doing real test preparation.

If that is the case, then am I a neglectful parent if I don't push "test prep"?  Am I wrong to be cynical about the whole business?

You can be as cynical about it as you like, but your students will be competing against other students for scholarships and/or admissions who have done significant preparation for these tests regardless of how you feel about them.

When I was in high school, the majority of kids did no "test prep" at all, and most didn't re-take the tests regardless of their scores.  I realize a lot has changed since then, but I would still think the colleges would want to know how the kids would do without test prep - at least I would.

Yes, I would think colleges would want to know that, but how would they access such information?  OTOH, colleges might ALSO want to know which students are willing and able to work hard preparing for tests thoroughly enough to achieve a very high score.

We do significant preparation (at home) with our children for the PSAT and SAT.  All told, our (seven) students will likely receive scholarships which add up to about half a million dollars total.  Without the test preparation, I believe that total would be much, much lower.

But I do not see test preparation to have merely monetary benefits.  My observation is that in order to achieve near-perfect scores on these tests our children have had to master skills which are extremely valuable in college and in life in general.

My biggest gripe with these tests is that they significantly reward student mental processing speed.  We have both fast and slow processors in our family and IMO fast processing can be valuable in some venues, but a slow processor can sometimes be better suited for other tasks.  This is because often those individuals who are slow processors may be more capable of dwelling on a subject and my gain insights that fast processors might miss.  Put another way, the world needs all different types of people.

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16 hours ago, SKL said:

Seems to go against the knowledge that cramming for a test does not lead to long-term retention.  I would rather see a "good" score after no cramming than an "outstanding" score after cramming.

 

 My kids both did a certain amount of prep for the ACT. I did not regard it as cramming, but even if I did, I readily admit that my prejudice against cramming would have fallen by the wayside in light of the tremendous amounts of money at stake. If I had thought that cramming would earn them an additional $10,000 then they would have crammed. 

16 hours ago, unsinkable said:

It's not a body of knowledge that the test taker will need to reference again. 

It's a test for testing's sake. 

 

 

I disagree. To overly-summarize, English tests grammar and usage, science tests the ability to read graphs and extrapolate information, reading tests comprehension and close reading, and math tests math. It's not a perfect method by any means, but it does test actual skills and knowledge that will be helpful in a college setting. My kids did ACT, but the tests are more alike than different these days (as far as what they test). 

16 hours ago, SKL said:

But what is the point of a test for testing's sake?  Don't the colleges want to know which candidates are the most knowledgeable and apt?

 

 

They do. Standardized testing is an extremely rough way of doing that, but it needs to be done in some way.  When I hiring at a previous job, we would have stacks upon stacks of resumes for one position. There was not enough time in the day to carefully peruse them all, so there were quick and dirty ways of sorting them to a manageable level for review. I'm sure there were plenty of viable candidates whose resumes went to the circular file after a quick glance, just as there are plenty of viable college applicants who don't meet a specific score, but there has to be a quick method of sifting huge numbers of people for jobs and scholarships. 

11 hours ago, Farrar said:

If your kids do plan to eventually do some serious test prep, I would not have them take the test cold first.  

 

 

 

I don't understand why someone would do this anyway. There are free ACT/SAT practice tests readily available. 

10 hours ago, Tsuga said:

That's awful--imagine a kid who had test anxiety or the flu! Or you know, test prep. If I'm a college and I'm thinking, here is someone who is going to take advantage of study opportunities when provided, how is that a bad quality? No, it's not fair, and I'm a big advocate of fairness--but the whole entire system is so stacked against poor kids with uneducated parents, how is the ACT the deciding factor? Incredible.

If they want a true IQ test they need to have more ingenious testing scenarios devised.

 

 

They don't want an IQ test at all. 

I have a kid with test anxiety, but you know what? There are tests in college, and plenty of other anxiety-inducing situations in both college and career. Being able to manage your anxiety in a stressful situation is a fair enough thing to test for, imo. 

Having the flu on test day would suck hard, but again, it's like being sick the day of an important job interview. It happens. I guess you could say this tests your preparedness - did you schedule the test last minute, or did you allow enough time for a retake in case you get the flu, have a car wreck on the way, etc?  

The system definitely is stacked against poor kids with uneducated parents, I definitely agree with that. Being uneducated about the college process is probably the single most important factor, although of course a lack of time and resources affects results even if you know what to do. 

I don't think universities can be expected to completely correct what is, at the core, an issue with society at large. They can definitely be expected to help level the playing field, and many of them do this through programs like Upward Bound that work to guide students through the college process. They do test prep, assist in creating a school list, help with actual applications, and so on. These are great programs that I hope keep growing. 

It's not a perfect system by any means, and of course many people do well in spite of lower scores while others fail in spite of higher scores. But there has to be a way of doing the initial sorting. (and most colleges do scan the application for anything exceptional that might offset low scores) I don't think these tests tell all, but I also don't think they're worthless.  

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45 minutes ago, katilac said:

 

 My kids both did a certain amount of prep for the ACT. I did not regard it as cramming, but even if I did, I readily admit that my prejudice against cramming would have fallen by the wayside in light of the tremendous amounts of money at stake. If I had thought that cramming would earn them an additional $10,000 then they would have crammed. 

 

I disagree. To overly-summarize, English tests grammar and usage, science tests the ability to read graphs and extrapolate information, reading tests comprehension and close reading, and math tests math. It's not a perfect method by any means, but it does test actual skills and knowledge that will be helpful in a college setting. My kids did ACT, but the tests are more alike than different these days (as far as what they test). 

 

They do. Standardized testing is an extremely rough way of doing that, but it needs to be done in some way.  When I hiring at a previous job, we would have stacks upon stacks of resumes for one position. There was not enough time in the day to carefully peruse them all, so there were quick and dirty ways of sorting them to a manageable level for review. I'm sure there were plenty of viable candidates whose resumes went to the circular file after a quick glance, just as there are plenty of viable college applicants who don't meet a specific score, but there has to be a quick method of sifting huge numbers of people for jobs and scholarships. 

 

I don't understand why someone would do this anyway. There are free ACT/SAT practice tests readily available. 

 

They don't want an IQ test at all. 

I have a kid with test anxiety, but you know what? There are tests in college, and plenty of other anxiety-inducing situations in both college and career. Being able to manage your anxiety in a stressful situation is a fair enough thing to test for, imo. 

Having the flu on test day would suck hard, but again, it's like being sick the day of an important job interview. It happens. I guess you could say this tests your preparedness - did you schedule the test last minute, or did you allow enough time for a retake in case you get the flu, have a car wreck on the way, etc?  

The system definitely is stacked against poor kids with uneducated parents, I definitely agree with that. Being uneducated about the college process is probably the single most important factor, although of course a lack of time and resources affects results even if you know what to do. 

I don't think universities can be expected to completely correct what is, at the core, an issue with society at large. They can definitely be expected to help level the playing field, and many of them do this through programs like Upward Bound that work to guide students through the college process. They do test prep, assist in creating a school list, help with actual applications, and so on. These are great programs that I hope keep growing. 

It's not a perfect system by any means, and of course many people do well in spite of lower scores while others fail in spite of higher scores. But there has to be a way of doing the initial sorting. (and most colleges do scan the application for anything exceptional that might offset low scores) I don't think these tests tell all, but I also don't think they're worthless.  

OK... Feel free to disagree. I think it tests skills more than content. So it is different than cramming for a history test on the American Revolution or a Spanish test on vocabulary for grocery shopping or a biology test on reproduction.

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29 minutes ago, katilac said:

 

I have a kid with test anxiety, but you know what? There are tests in college, and plenty of other anxiety-inducing situations in both college and career. Being able to manage your anxiety in a stressful situation is a fair enough thing to test for, imo. 

Having the flu on test day would suck hard, but again, it's like being sick the day of an important job interview. It happens. I guess you could say this tests your preparedness - did you schedule the test last minute, or did you allow enough time for a retake in case you get the flu, have a car wreck on the way, etc?  

The system definitely is stacked against poor kids with uneducated parents, I definitely agree with that. Being uneducated about the college process is probably the single most important factor, although of course a lack of time and resources affects results even if you know what to do. 

I don't think universities can be expected to completely correct what is, at the core, an issue with society at large. They can definitely be expected to help level the playing field, and many of them do this through programs like Upward Bound that work to guide students through the college process. They do test prep, assist in creating a school list, help with actual applications, and so on. These are great programs that I hope keep growing. 

It's not a perfect system by any means, and of course many people do well in spite of lower scores while others fail in spite of higher scores. But there has to be a way of doing the initial sorting. (and most colleges do scan the application for anything exceptional that might offset low scores) I don't think these tests tell all, but I also don't think they're worthless.  

My point was that if you can reduce test anxiety by gaining test taking skills, you shouldn't be punished for improving your ACT score with new skills. Someone might only realize they have big-test anxiety during their first test though.

 

I completely agree that people need to learn to deal with anxiety and that like any other performance metric, ability to perform under pressure shouldn't necessarily be waived.

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I feel like it's a bit of a game.

Way back when I was in high school, we just took the SAT one day. There was no big push for prep.

In the early days of my own kids' high school, we included some test prep in their daily work.  It wasn't the focus and it wasn't a big part of the day, but I knew I had to be more strategic with them.  One day, while researching something, I discovered that a local high school - one that touts their high test scores and college acceptance rates - has a required, credit-earning course in SAT/ACT test prep. Yet, most parents I know in that school district also pay for additional test prep for their kids.  That really opened my eyes to the importance of test prep in order to be competitive.

Still, I only did one paid test prep thing for my kids, a 1/2 day session our local community college offered for PSAT prep.  My kids took it together (one grade apart) and they found it a mix of boring and impossibly difficult.  The stuff they did well on - reading, language mechanics (or whatever the term is) was boring, the math impossibly hard. Their test scores reflected that. We used free online materials to prep for SAT and ACT. 

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Well let's say it tests the ability to take rigorously timed tests.  How is that good prep for a good higher education?  Why do rigorously timed tests even have a place in college education?  Shouldn't tests be designed so that a person who paid attention and studied and has aptitude in the field can complete the test without skimming, rushing, guessing?  As a former part-time prof, I would think it rather stupid to write a test that nobody has time to read and comprehend in full.

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13 minutes ago, unsinkable said:

OK...disagree. I think it tests skills more than content. So it is different than cramming for a history test on the American Revolution or a Spanish test on vocabulary for grocery shopping or a biology test on reproduction.

I agree with this. They are very different than content tests. My ability to take standardized tests is so different from my ability to perform on any other test. Either that or they are incredibly easy? I don't see how I could come out with top scores nationally every time, but on content tests written by a teacher, consistently fall 5-10 percentiles lower.

They must be qualitatively different. My kids are the same. I have a kid who never slips below 97th percentile in math and language on standardized tests. Her scores in school are above average but nothing stunning. We have another kid who scores high in every content test, top percentiles on AP tests. But the SAT flummoxed her. She had preparation. It just didn't make sense to her somehow. Scored decidedly average. I personally was surprised. It was the worst she'd ever done on any large test.

Not only that, but the test and GPAs have different predictive powers for students, if we look at them as a tool for selecting students:

https://campustechnology.com/articles/2017/03/09/gpa-versus-exam-scores.aspx

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9 minutes ago, SKL said:

  As a former part-time prof, I would think it rather stupid to write a test that nobody has time to read and comprehend in full.

 

Because first of all, it isn't nobody since there are people like me who could read and comprehend in the time allotted.  But second of all, it is testing a skill that you can skim and find important information.  

Back in 1980, there was paid test prep at my high school and other at another local high school.  I remember going but it didn't do much for me.  It was not very expensive since I could afford it.  My kids all did test prep of at least doing a trial test before true test.  None used paid tutoring. One was scoring high with very limited prep.  One needed a bit of prep to increase scores a bit.  One needed a lot of prep but slowly and surely got scores up.

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For many kids the scores don't matter as long as they make the minimum to get into whatever state university they're planning on attending.  If they're really bright and just a terrible test taker or if you really want them in highly competitive schools, honors programs, or in line for full scholarships, the scores are VERY important. This is true even for state schools.  Some state schools automatically give a full ride for certain scores. And there is no reason most moderately bright kids can't do well enough for a half scholarship if you spend a lot of time and energy doing the prep. And there's no reason to feel like you're pushing them, especially if they are considering any field that might require grad school.  After all, if you were paying for a private prep school they would almost certainly have required test prep sessions or classes.

Being in honors programs at state universities can yield better grad school results than going to a highly competitive schools (even iveys, MIT or Stanford) because they have more faculty exposure, research opportunities, and great personalized recommendations.  I know two people who applied to medical school at Mayo.  The one in an an honors program with research experience at a state school (and a full ride scholarship) got in with a full ride and a stipend. The one who was at MIT did not.  MIT graduated from a lesser known school with $300,000 in student loans, the state school scholar graduated from medical school debt free and now teaches at a major medical school. The other factor is that state schools tend to give credit for AP exams, highly competitive schools often don't.  Which can enable a kid to take a semester abroad and turn her intermediate Spanish into full fluency - which helps if they're planning on going into a field like medicine.

We do all academic testing and test prep every Saturday morning after breakfast.  There's no need to pay for a prep class. Start with the Princeton Review book. That will teach things like test strategies that will make guessing more likely to be successful. That will make the biggest initial difference.  Then cram facts using other prep books - vocab and multiplication facts both can make a huge difference in how fast one can do a test (even if you haven't forced the kid to recite math facts since 3rd grade, it's faster to have it memorized than to type it into a calculator).  This is especially true if you have a kid thinking about enlisting or going national guard for college - the biggest difference in ASVAB speed is multiplication facts.

Also teach her how to sub in an answer for math equations - she might not remember how to solve something from the last month of trigonometry, but you can guess the middle answer, sub it in, and confirm if it's correct or not.  This will not help her in college, but it will help get a better score when she's running out of time. If she after a prep test that she has no idea how to answer a question like that she can go to something like khan academy and answer similar questions until she can do them perfectly every time.  This means not only will she be doing better on exams, she'll find the holes in her education, and the things she forgot and she'll genuinely be better prepared for college.  Besides, the practice of having structured study time can only help.

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3 minutes ago, TravelingChris said:

Because first of all, it isn't nobody since there are people like me who could read and comprehend in the time allotted.  But second of all, it is testing a skill that you can skim and find important information.  

Back in 1980, there was paid test prep at my high school and other at another local high school.  I remember going but it didn't do much for me.  It was not very expensive since I could afford it.  My kids all did test prep of at least doing a trial test before true test.  None used paid tutoring. One was scoring high with very limited prep.  One needed a bit of prep to increase scores a bit.  One needed a lot of prep but slowly and surely got scores up.

I find the key is not to comprehend it. You need to be able to quickly find the question in a bunch of meaningless crap, and assign an answer according to their expectations of what it means to "interpret".

Read the questions firsts, glean the answer by matching verbs and nouns, not adjectives. "Don't overthink it," one test prep professional said to me.

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21 minutes ago, SKL said:

Well let's say it tests the ability to take rigorously timed tests.  How is that good prep for a good higher education?  Why do rigorously timed tests even have a place in college education?  Shouldn't tests be designed so that a person who paid attention and studied and has aptitude in the field can complete the test without skimming, rushing, guessing?  As a former part-time prof, I would think it rather stupid to write a test that nobody has time to read and comprehend in full.

I think they test a variety of skills, some likely more useful than others. While a STEM major and an honors college student taking lots of upper level rigorous humanities classes, my son certainly found it very valuable to be able to skim readings and quickly pull out important content, so that he had sufficient time to devote to the work of his very intensive science major.

I think the amount of prep needed and desired will vary from family to family and child to child. My son has always been a good standardized test taker, so some minor prep was worthwhile for Nationa Merit, admissions, and scholarship $. When he took the PSAT basically cold his sophomore year, it was no surprise to me at all that he aced the verbal section and needed a bit more work on math. At least for him, it accurately reflected his innate verbal abilities, extensive reading history, and math background at the time. Some focused prep bumped his math to the desired level. And I think he actually picked up some content and problem solving skills in the process.

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19 hours ago, SKL said:

Seems to go against the knowledge that cramming for a test does not lead to long-term retention.  I would rather see a "good" score after no cramming than an "outstanding" score after cramming.

I leaned this way in my thinking about my son.  Ds took the ACT the first time at the end of his junior year.  He had zero prep even though there was some available to him.  I didn't push it.  I didn't even push him to take the ACT.  I felt like I had cracked the whip on him for long enough and he needed to start making a few decisions.  I asked him if he wanted to take it.  He said, 'do I have to study for it?'  I said, 'no.  Most people DO study for it nowadays but it isn't required.'  He said ok, I will take it.  He made a 25.  He took it 6  months later as a senior and this time he spent maybe two hours on an on line prep course.  He made a 27.  It is enough to get him into the programs he wants.  

I was kind of glad to see a 'no prep' score on him honestly.  He is a bright kid but this shows him there are people out there who can do better and those who do worse....

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1 hour ago, SKL said:

Well if a bit of test prep can score someone tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships, then the colleges are manipulating admissions and tuition in ways that are grossly unethical.

Capitalism is grossly unethical. The entire system is set up around markets (versus, for example, socialism in which the system centers around the good of society, or even theocracy, a system set up to serve god). This is the tip of the iceberg.

If you have enough money you hardly need the SAT. You can pay for admission as a legacy. How is that fair?

The middle class competes against one another, but the idea that the poor can compete even having Pell grants, or that any of us can compete with the rich (who pay cash), is absurd.Even people with scholarships can lose them working full time. Connections and savoir faire are everything. 

I'm kind of surprised at this conversation. Life isn't fair. America doesn't reward hard work, it rewards privilege. Within one's own group, one can attain a level of reward for hard work, but rewards within those tiers are often dwarfed by rewards of being born into a different tier. I was born to a single parent and my dad was an addict. No amount of work will ever get me where someone of my talent would have been with a trust fund. That money makes itself. That's not fair. Oh, well.

I hardly think that people jockeying within tiers, social classes, doing test prep, is the unfair part of this whole set-up. I mean... universal pre-K anyone? How about health care and mental health treatment for new mommies? It starts very early, the stacking of the odds.

 You want a fair system, go to a country with merit-based college admission and universal, socialized testing and single-payer health care so you don't have to quit college when your mom gets cancer. That's not our system.

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2 hours ago, ----- said:

 

I also come from the generation where you were told where to show up to take the SAT and there was no such thing as 'test prep'.  But I did have my kids check out practice test books from the library and take those.  They were old enough to do that all on their own without my help or anyone else's help.  Dc said doing that definitely helped them with the actual test (all 5 did really well).

 

What generation was this?

I graduated High school in 1991 and there wasn't a huge push on test prep. But I know it was discussed in my group. I got a 1440 on SAT and was satisfied but one of my friends got a 1450 and was not. She went to a fancy test prep class and did a bunch of studying and went back and got a 1540!  OF course I went to Texas A&M and she went to Harvard... so there's that.

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A few random thoughts:

I don't think one needs to worry about test prep until the middle of high school.  Prepping for the junior PSAT is important for those with the potential to do well enough for NM or for NHRP (National Hispanic Recognition Program).  The summer before junior year is a good time to start.

Today's SAT (the "New" or "Redesigned" SAT) debuted in March 2016.  It is not the one we took as parents and is not comparable, period.  The test has changed at least 3 or 4 times since then.  The current test is amenable to practice as advertised by Khan and College Board - David Coleman (head of College Board and architect of the Common Core) touts a study to that effect.

It seems to be optimal to wait to take the SAT1 until after algebra 2.

Note that apparently some stats topics showed up on both the fall 2017 PSAT (standard deviation) and on the March 2017 SAT (box and whisker plots).  These are on the list of possibilities as Common Core topics but hadn't previously shown up on actual administrations of the new psat/sat.

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2 hours ago, SKL said:

Well if a bit of test prep can score someone tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships, then the colleges are manipulating admissions and tuition in ways that are grossly unethical.

Preparing for a test is not cheating. No amount of test prep is going to raise a student's scores above the actual level they're capable of achieving; it just allows them to reach their full potential and score the maximum they're capable of. How is that "grossly unethical"?

Do you think it's also unethical for colleges to give credit for AP scores if the student did extensive test prep for those? Would it be more "fair" if students were required to take AP tests with no studying allowed? Maybe we should make all college tests be "pop quizzes" from now on, so students can't cheat by actually studying for them.

The cut-off for the top merit scholarship at DS's college is a 33 ACT. That doesn't guarantee an award by any means, but it does get you into the pool of students being considered. Then they take into account your GPA, the rigor of the coursework, letters of recommendation, counselor letter, ECs, and the essay. In reading the CC admissions thread for DS's school, I've been surprised by the number of kids with scores equal to or higher than his who not only were not awarded scholarships, they were waitlisted or even outright denied.

The time that DS spent preparing for the ACT allowed him to reach a score that accurately reflects his intelligence and abilities and which, in conjunction with rigorous coursework showing his unique passions and interests, earned him significant scholarships to his first choice school. I fail to see how that is "grossly unethical" in any way. 

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8 minutes ago, Corraleno said:

Preparing to take a test is not cheating. No amount of test prep is going to raise a student's scores above the actual level they're capable of achieving; it just allows them to reach their full potential and score the maximum they're capable of. How is that "grossly unethical"?

 

 

This, exactly. 

It's much like preparing for a job interview. Is it grossly unethical to read books about the interview process, or go to the seminar at the local library? College testing is important. Jobs are important. People prepare for important things. 

Standardized testing can work in the favor of disadvantaged students. At quite a few colleges, if they get a certain score and GPA, then a scholarship is guaranteed. Of course, students with higher socioeconomic status have, as a group, an advantage in getting those higher scores, but it's better than a system where scholarships are denied based on race or religion, or granted based on nepotism or simply unconscious bias in favor of a certain type of student. 

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I did not say it was unethical for students to prep in this environment that both rewards prepping and punishes the decision not to prep.  My words "grossly unethical" were applied to colleges, not students. 

But does anyone else think that if a test prep course can get many kids tens of thousands of tuition waived, the tuition itself is totally jacked up?  Upon what is said tuition propped?  Does it really cost $40K more to educate a kid who scored a few points lower on one generic test?  No it does not.  Not at any school.

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It's a tough topic.  

I don't believe standardized scores are particularly well correlated to academic success, let alone real life success.  Too many other variables - discipline, study habits, ability to sustain attention on subjects/tasks the person doesn't find interesting -- matter too much. 

I do believe test prep is a moneymaking racket (although the racket works because the prep works -- student scores really do go up).

I do believe that schools and scholarship programs over-rely on scores simply because utilizing scores is so easy -- at face value at least, comparative scores are more apples-to-apples than GPAs or transcripts of schools/homeschools with wide differences in scope and rigor.  You can set a minimum and go on automatic pilot to narrow a huge pile of applicants to a manageable one.  (Not all schools and programs do this; and some of the very most competitive schools are moving to test-optional, with full knowledge of the self-selection dynamic that students who opt out of scores are likely lower-scoring: it's a mechanism to ENCOURAGE such kids to prove their worth through other forms of evaluation, like portfolios/ auditions/ published research etc). 

 

All that said: if your kid wants to go for a score-driven prize, I dunno how you can avoid playing the game.

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