To Prep Or Not To Prep


Here is my train of thought. (Rick Dalby calls this a train wreck of thought.) Today Google Ads sent me a notice -$100 credit toward an ad campaign. Google analytics doesn’t really make setting up an ad easy, so I played around with the copy, tested keys words, stopped in on a related website, and in the process stumbled upon the following article:

SAT Coaching Found to Boost Scores — Barely
“Critics say firms’ mock tests may be harder than actual exams, inflating score gains.”

This Wall Street Journal article sums up what Rick and I have known for years. Some of the larger franchises use “virtual” SATs developed in house as a diagnostic test, and those tests are much harder than the SAT. The student thinks these scores are legitimate scores and so later, after the prep course when they take the real SAT, the scores have “improved”.

We first encountered this phenomenon about 20 years ago when we prepared Sara W. for the PSATs. I told her mom that she was doing much better and had pretty much maxed on gains in practice (about 110 on verbal and 120 on math improvement – our records go back to the beginning). We told the mother that we used real PSATs as our practice tests and so the practice scores were reliable.

Mom was frustrated because even though Sara had improved considerably she wanted to continue with prep. We were concerned that Sara might burn out if we over prepped her. A few months later after PSAT scores came out we talked with Sara and found out that after she prepped with us she took a course from one of the big companies. She noticed the first practice –a “virtual reality” test- was really hard and she scored lower on the diagnostic than she had with us on our final practice test. The tests got easier as she learned “the tricks”. However her actual scores were just what they were on our last practice test.

Many parents use the PSAT to gauge improvement but complicating the use of the PSAT for a metric are primarily three factors:

1. The PSAT is much shorter and so some students do worse on the SAT because it is about 50% longer and they get fatigued.

2. Some students do much better on the SAT because “it counts”. Unless they are trying for the National Merit Scholarship some students “blow off” the PSAT.

3. The PSAT math is easier than the SAT math. There are more function problems on the SAT math which many students have difficulty with. Our own observation is students scoring average on PSAT math, score about the same on SAT math. Students scoring very high (710 or better) usually are about the same on the SAT math. But students scoring 550 to 690 will often drop significantly because of this change in emphasis.

Dalby has always used the College Board/ETS generated tests for a diagnostic test and for practice. While scores may fluctuate in practice at least one variable has been eliminated – the “virtual” SAT.

It isn’t that you can’t prepare for the SAT – obviously Dalby couldn’t have survived the last 25 years if clients were not happy with the improvements they made on the SAT. Coaching does help with the right coach – the best are found mostly through word-of-mouth. For further information on Dalby’s programs check out our testimonials page or call 703-356-2728.

One Response to “To Prep Or Not To Prep”

  1. To Prep Or Not To Prep Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!


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