As a longtime tutor, I can attest to two roadblocks that prevent many students from reaching their full potential on the SAT: money and time.
The first challenge is self-evident. Students from higher-income families have access to resources that give them an advantage over those who do not. Not only do richer kids tend to have a better academic foundation to start with, but when the time comes for test prep, they are showered with expensive tools designed to inflate their scores. Private coaches and intensive SAT/ACT “boot camps” can cost anywhere from $30 per hour to $300 per hour, depending on the location. It is not uncommon for parents in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, to spend thousands of dollars trying to get their kid into a competitive school.
The second major obstacle faced by teenagers today is time (or, rather, lack thereof). As the competition for college admission has grown tougher, so too have the demands placed on adolescents. Many feel compelled to push themselves to the brink of exhaustion with classes and extracurricular activities they believe they need to give them “an edge.” As an SAT tutor, it is hard for me to tell sunken-eyed kids who are already taking four AP classes and/or devoting 15 hours per week to a sports team that they need to work in an extra three hours each week for test prep. I got involved with Test Precision because I saw an opportunity to help develop a high-quality product that targets both the money and time issues.
So let’s start with the $$. While not every student can afford a private tutor, most have at least some access to the Internet, especially mobile access. Nearly 75% of American teens say they get online via cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally, according to a 2013 study by the PewResearchCenter and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. About 37% of all teens now have smartphones, up from just 23% in 2011; moreover, one in four teens consider themselves “cell-mostly” internet users, who go online using their phone and not with some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer. And while overall Internet use (mobile or wired) is still less prevalent among low-income students, economically disadvantaged kids are just as likely — and in some cases more likely — than kids from wealthier households to use their cell phone as a primary point of access.
(COMPLETE REPORT: http://www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media//Files/Reports/2013/PIP_TeensandTechnology2013.pdf)
Next, the time factor. I’ll admit that my heart runneth over with nostalgia when I occasionally see a student studying the way I used to — head bent over a four-inch-thick textbook for hours, an antique desk lamp burning steadily overhead. But the reality is that most kids today have to grab their test prep time where they can get it. That means on the bus ride to school, in the hallway between classes, in the waiting room at the orthodontist’s office … basically anywhere they can spark up a cell phone.
Simply put, an affordable, portable test prep app can reach more students than traditional test prep methods can.
I’d like to highlight two more features I believe set our product apart from most other test prep programs on the market today.
The first is the ACT/SAT diagnostic feature. Until relatively recently, the SAT and ACT were separated by geography and perception. The ACT was mostly popular in Midwest, while the SAT dominated the market everywhere else. These days, both exams are ubiquitous. Because all universities now accept either test, more kids are opting to take (and retake) both in hopes of upping their chances at selective schools. Interestingly, some students end up performing significantly better on one test than the other; however, most don’t find out they have more aptitude for a particular exam until they are already knee-deep in the expensive test prep process. That’s where we come in. Comprised of ACT and SAT-style questions, our short diagnostic provides students with a rough snapshot of their potential for both exams. Students can use this information as a starting point when deciding which test to pursue.
Second, our adaptive learning feature allows students to increase their difficulty threshold over time. Kids who lack foundational skills can start with the basics and work their way up to more rigorous content. At the same time, intermediate and advanced students will find more than enough high-quality, difficult questions in our database of 8,000-plus questions to stay challenged. We are also in the process of developing a feature that will select curriculum for students based on their most-missed questions. This option will zoom in on users’ problem areas (down to the specific type of verb tense mistakes they keep making on that pesky grammar section!)
For nearly a year, I have counted myself among TestPrecision’s passionate, talented team of content creators. Our members hail from such elite educational backgrounds as Stanford, Harvard, Michigan, Berkeley, and MIT, and bring years of experience as both SAT/ACT tutors and curriculum developers. I am proud to be part of this product, which I believe has the potential to help all students, regardless of their zip code.