Monday, May 25, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect?

May 24, 2009- Growing up, in the fall it wasn’t unusual to see me tackling a football dummy a 100 times, if you consider a tire swing a tackling dummy. In the winter, it wasn’t uncommon to find me on a wrestling mat for hours on end, even if the mat was actually my parents’ worn basement carpet. I loved sports and I learned early on, the only way to be the best I could was to practice, even after coach’s practice. And then practice some more. Like they say, perfect practice makes perfect.

Arguably, the same holds true for academics. If you don’t show up for class, if you don’t finish your homework, if you don’t study for exams, you’re not (unless you’re a phenom) going to carry the best GPA. Colleges have understood that for decades and that is why schools use GPA as a benchmark for admissions. No news there. But another benchmark that has raised a few eyebrows is standardized testing. Such tests beg the question, does an exam predict that a teenager will be a success in college or does it mean that a teenager can or cannot test well? Some colleges believe the latter and have removed scores from their admission formulas. Others have data to prove that a higher score indicates a higher college grade point average.

As long as colleges insist that test scores provide insight into student success, taking the SAT or ACT will continue to be a rite of passage in the going to college process for millions of high schoolers each year. It’s no surprise an industry has evolved to help students prepare for these tests. Students take the prep courses to improve their scores, and data proves that scores improve.

This week, the National Association for College Admission Counseling released an analysis on the impact of test prep, a recurring debate between college admission officers, high school counselors and test prep providers. The report confirms that scores improve. But some ask are they significant enough to justify the investment? Ask a valedictorian-soccer playing-first chair trumpet-class president with a 3.955 GPA and 1750 SAT who’s applying to a selective college alongside the next valedictorian-soccer playing-first chair trumpet-class president with a 3.955 GPA and 1730 SAT. Depends on whom you ask.

Reporting the results, InsideHigherEd.com points out several suggestions from the report: “Colleges are urged to avoid using the SAT and other tests in ways for which they aren’t intended. And test takers are cautioned against expecting too much of an impact from test prep.”

At ConnectEDU, we recognize that standardized test scores are currently ingrained in the college admission process. Until they become obsolete, students will continue practicing for the exams. Students with means will afford the formalized test prep programs. Others, with less resources, will turn to the internet or the library for the tools to practice. Still others will simply show up on exam day if they don’t have plans. Like many processes in college admissions, without democratization of resources, socio-economics becomes the more glaring indicator of student success.

Fortunately, college recruiting has entered a new age fueled by technology. Our platforms (free to students) give students a method to communicate their competencies and tell their story. The more students can tell colleges about themselves in the most efficient manner, the less colleges will rely on standardized tests. Until that day, students will continue to take the exams. Test Prep providers will continue to offer services for those who have the means. And students will continue to practice in hopes of getting a better score. And we’ll do our best to deliver the best possible preparation resources that we can deliver to our students as cost-effectively as possible. In the world of test prep, practice might not make perfect, but it surely makes a difference.

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