Monday, April 12, 2010

WARNING about taking *Free* SAT Practice tests sponsored by big test-prep companies

As I say to parents TIME AND TIME again, taking those free tests is a scam. Read the article below. The tests these companies give for *free* are much harder to scare you into taking their course.. the tests GET EASIER as you continue with the courses (like Princeton Review, Ivy Bound, Kaplan, etc…) so you think you are improving thanks to them, when you really are not; you are just taking easier tests along the way. THIS IS WHY I DO NOT give a preliminary exam. Good luck and call me if you have and further questions.

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News Article Title:

Revolution Prep's mock tests' INTEGRITY UNDER FIRE

Students are questioning the validity of a test preparation company’s practice tests, which are offered on campus through the counseling department.

Revolution Prep, LLC is the only test preparation company that has on-campus access to Lowell students. The company conducts mock versions of the College Board’s SAT Reasoning Test and the ACT, and administers them under conditions similar to those of the real tests. After scoring students’ mock exams, Revolution Prep encourages them to enroll in its test prep classes to improve their scores.

This past September, 131 students signed up to take either one or both of the mock tests through Revolution Prep.

Many students have noted wide discrepancies between their scores on the company’s tests and the actual College Board exams, leading some to question whether Revolution Prep’s scores accurately predict real scores.

Fifteen students responded to emails asking them about their experience taking Revolution Prep’s mock SAT last February and the real SAT a few weeks later. None took the company’s classes between the two tests, and all reported mock SAT scores substantially lower than their real ones. Senior Christal Tossany reported the largest gap, with a score 400 points lower on the mock test.

Senior Kenny Ludlow reported scoring 240 points higher on the real SAT a few weeks after taking the mock SAT, without any studying in between. Senior Michelle Agbayani also reported an approximate 200-point difference. Both Ludlow and Agbayani said they didn’t sense the two tests to be dramatically different and could not explain the score differences.

“My difference was about 200 points,” senior Madelyn Low said. “I flipped through the many prep books I have, but there was no real structured study,” she said of the interim time between the two tests.

Revolution Prep regional manager Aaron Peasley defended the test. “I think for the few students who scored higher on the real SAT versus our mock exam, you will find an equal number of students who scored higher on our mock exam than they did on their real SAT,” Peasley said.

However, no students reported receiving higher scores on the mock exam than on the real exam. The Lowell asked approximately 200 students in the Lowell Class of 2009 Facebook Group, which is comprised of both students who took and did not take the mock exams.

Revolution Prep cofounder Jake Neuberg said he has seen this score variation occur with many students. He believes this often happens because students have trouble putting much effort into a test they know will not count. “A lot of times, students just don’t take the test too seriously,” Neuberg said. “That’s probably the number one cause (of score differences).”

Students confirmed that they had not taken the mock test seriously. Senior Nicole Irgens-Moller received a 200-point score difference, but said she had been less mentally prepared for the mock exam. “I had gone to a party the night before so I could have been tired,” Irgens-Moller said.

Ludlow, however, said she took the mock test very seriously. “I treated it like it was the real exam,” she said.

Revolution Prep allows students to keep their test booklets and provides students with an online score report; every question is marked as correct, incorrect, or blank. Using this service, some students discovered that the answers they marked on the test were not the same ones Revolution Prep said they had answered. Senior Courtney Quan said the online results for his mock ACT had different answers from those he had marked, and thus a lower score. “I know which bubbles I marked,” Quan said, “because I circled all the answers (in the booklet) and I checked it after getting my score.”

Neuberg encourages students to call the company in these situations, but said the score discrepancy is usually attributed to two factors. “Either they circle one thing and bubble in the other … or it’s a scanning malfunction,” Neuberg said. “We work with 20,000 students a year, and we’re not perfect. There will be the occasional problem.”

Senior David Wiggins salvaged proof of the score discrepancies. “I took the ACT test and did way worse than I was expecting,” Wiggins said. “But when I looked over the answer key (online), I saw that a lot of the answers I thought I had put were marked as wrong. They also claimed I left a huge number of the questions blank. I was so distrustful of them that when I took the mock SAT, I asked if I could photocopy my answer key before I gave it to them. When I got back the answer key a few weeks later, the difference between my photocopy and what they said I had answered was ridiculous.”

Students also questioned Revolution Prep’s method of calculating scores. Junior Ty Holzschuh, who just received his score report from Revolution Prep, said he was given a 670 out of 800 points on the math section of the mock SAT. His online score report showed that he left one question blank and incorrectly answered four out of the 54 questions. According to the College Board’s scoring guide from the official SAT prep book, Holzschuh would have been given a score in the range of 680 to 740 on the real SAT. In fact, Holzschuh’s scores on each section of the mock SAT were 10 points lower than the lowest score in the College Board’s score range.

Neuberg said that the College Board scores sections of the test differently each time. Depending on the exam’s level of difficulty, a certain percentage of correct answers can result in a range of scores, depending on how well other students do on that SAT administration.

Revolution Prep’s scoring policy may account for some of the discrepancy between mock tests and real test scores. “Because scaling of College Board exams may vary from test to test, it’s impossible to know precisely which number to choose,” Peasley said. “Our rule of thumb has been to choose the middle-to-lower range, so as not to set up students for an unfriendly surprise when they take the actual SAT.”

After receiving low scores on the mock SAT, some students decided not to take the real SAT exam at all. Senior Brianne Taylor was disappointed with her mock SAT score and decided to take neither the prep classes nor the real SAT. “I took the Revolution practice SAT and it discouraged me from taking the real SAT because I thought I’d do badly,” Taylor said.

Neuberg said that Revolution Prep started making its own SAT practice tests after the College Board transitioned to the new SAT in 2005 and stopped releasing tests for companies to purchase. Previously, Revolution Prep had been combining old College Board exams with its own experimental test sections. The company compiled its new mock SAT exam from these self-created experimental sections. According to Neuberg, the company bases all its math questions on real questions from the tests and only changes the numbers used in the questions. However, Revolution Prep’s mock ACT is a real, previously given ACT test.

Neuberg explained that his company field-tested its self-created sections to make the transition to the new SAT. According to Neuburg, Revolution Prep found that students’ scores on these experimental sections, which now make up all of Revolution Prep’s mock SAT tests, were similar to their scores on the old College Board-created sections. Neuberg said that Revolution Prep did many studies to ensure that the tests it created were on par with the College Board’s. Neuberg said he personally checks the quality of the test very often. “I take the tests all the time,” he said.

According to Revolution Prep tutor Sarah Wintermeyer, the company guarantees a 200-point increase from the score on the mock SAT to the score on the real SAT if students take the 6-week class, do all their homework, and take a mock exam every weekend. If students’ scores do not improve, the company will provide them with additional prep sessions.

Some students expressed suspicion over their point differences. “I think this is just Revolution Prep’s way of ensuring their guarantee that your real SAT score will go up by at least 200 points,” Ludlow said. “I’m glad I took it — because it was good practice — but it’s kind of dumb that they feel they need to make their test harder in order for their guarantee to work.”

Low said she sensed a scam after receiving her mock score, but after taking the real exam is now enrolled in the class. “Whether the improvement was due to a harder first test or not, I was just relieved that my actual SAT score was higher than what I had expected after taking the mock exam,” Low said. “But then again, I’m currently enrolled in the Revolution Prep class for the November SATs, so if they did intensify the tests in hopes of pushing insecure college-bound students into their program, I can’t say it didn’t work.”

Agbayani, despite her own speculation that the test wasn’t legitimate, was happy to have the opportunity to take a practice exam. “It’s a possibility that the score I received on the mock SAT wasn’t legitimate, but in the end I think it helped me with time management, so I’m not bothered by anything,” Agbayani said.

More recently, students who took the mock SAT both last February and this September were outraged when they realized that the same test was administered twice. “We remembered all the questions and essay prompts,” senior Ana Billingsley said. When asked, proctors admitted that Revolution Prep had not updated the test materials. “We wouldn’t have bothered taking and paying for it if we had known they reuse the exact same test from year to year,” Billingsley said.

Counselor May Choi has coordinated Lowell’s affiliation with Revolution Prep since last year in order to provide students with an on-campus test prep company. “(Revolution Prep’s services) are at Lincoln, Galileo and Washington already, and my colleagues have found no fault in their programs,” Choi said.

Choi explained that the counseling department has raised enough money from the mock SATs and ACTs to purchase a web-based counseling tool, Naviance. According to Choi, the counseling department is only allotted a $1000 budget each year, but it makes $15 off each mock SAT and ACT test administered, as Revolution Prep gives 100 percent of the proceeds from the mock tests to the school. Assistant principal Holly Giles confirmed that the school gains financially from renting testing rooms to Revolution Prep for its prep classes after school. However, both Choi and Giles asserted that students and parents benefit most from this opportunity.

Despite some students’ dissatisfaction with the mock tests, many attested to the effectiveness of Revolution Prep’s preparatory classes. “Revolution Prep has brought up my scores quite a bit,” an anonymous senior said.
Revolution Prep advertises that it offers its services at a lower price than those of its competitors. “We’re about half the price of any other company,” Wintermeyer said.

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