Considering an SAT/ACT Hybrid Diagnostic Test? Read This First.


At the end of last week's post, I advised: "Don't Sell a Snake Oil ACT/SAT Hybrid Diagnostic Test."

That post seems to have resonated among tutors, a number of whom contacted me directly to respond or ask questions. It seems that most of you agree with my list of best practices for tutors using real SAT tests, but a few of you have asked why I referred to SAT/ACT diagnostic tests as "Snake Oil."

It's a fair question, since my previous post didn't include the many reasons why I believe hybrid SAT/ACT tests are nothing more than deceptive marketing tools for tutoring companies. In fact, I directly stated that "an effective hybrid test is pure fiction, but that's a subject for another blog post." Well, this is that post. 

There is no doubt that SAT/ACT hybrid tests are effective marketing tools for tutoring companies. That much is obvious. That, however, is not the issue we examine in this post is whether SAT/ACT diagnostic tests actually deliver any value to the students who take them. I submit that they do not, but I'm interested in any thoughtful counterpoints, so please leave comments below.

Last week I wrote "Don't Sell a Snake Oil ACT/SAT Hybrid Diagnostic Test." I could just as easily have written "Grow Your Tutoring Business with ACT/SAT Hybrid Diagnostic Tests." Both statements are true, after all. This is to say that you almost certainly can grow your tutoring business by selling snake oil, at lest for a while. Obviously, that's you prerogative, but you'll never find me or anyone else at Clear Choice Test Prep endorsing that practice. Because at Clear Choice, we only develop and deliver genuinely useful, custom branded test preparation tools for tutors and tutoring companies. If it doesn't add genuine value to your tutoring services, then we have no interest in building it.     

That doesn't mean that we're not aware of the market demand for a hybrid test to help parents choose between the SAT and ACT. Test prep is expensive and time consuming, so it only makes sense that there would be tremendous demand for any tool that claims to help students and parents determine choose between the ACT and SAT college admissions tests. Parents want a cheap, quick, and reliable indicator of which test their son or daughter should take.

This presents an opportunity for tutors and test prep professionals to attract parents with promises of a hybrid test that can deliver a predictive score. That's the pitch. And since every pitch is really just a series of claims, let's take a look at whether these hybrid tests actually deliver on their claims their authors have made. 

First of all, everyone agrees that in a perfect world students would be best served by taking both tests in their entirety. So the only reason to take a hybrid test is to save time. Consequently, a hybrid test must be significantly shorter than the real thing(s) or else there would be no time-savings, and thus no point in taking a hybrid test at all.

Already we're run into a problem. If the purpose of a diagnostic test is to glean actionable data about the student's likely performance on a real SAT test and/or ACT test, then modifying a diagnostic test in any manner that invalidates that actionable data would defeat the purpose of giving the test in the first place. Even if every question on the test were to be perfectly calibrated, the mere fact that the test as a whole has been severely shortened would still make it impossible to glean actionable data about that student's performance on a full-length test. Thus, it cannot generate a predictive score, though it's worth mentioning that a few authors of hybrid diagnostic tests have made some pretty creative claims to the contrary.

Let's generously suppose that a student has taken a shortened SAT/ACT diagnostic test and that some-crazy-how it managed to yield something resembling actionable data. What would happen next? Surely you wouldn't begin tutoring without establishing a baseline score by having the student take an authentic full-length diagnostic test for whichever test he or she has chosen to prepare. Of course you wouldn't because if you were to begin without a baseline score on a real SAT test or real ACT test, you'd be unable to gather valid statistics about your students' score increases. Nor could you track tutor effectiveness. You couldn't even back up any meaningful score improvement guarantee. Worst of all, you'd be stuck selling something you cannot define. 

As a result, you'd still need to have the student take at least one full-length test in addition to the hybrid diagnostic test. And if that's the case, then what good is the hybrid diagnostic test?  And more to the point, if ACT/SAT hybrid diagnostic tests are so useless, then aren't they actually a waste of time? But wait, wasn't the whole point of the hybrid test to save time? 

Perhaps you've got much lower expectations for your hybrid test. Perhaps all you want the test to do is help students decide which test they prefer based on a very brief exposure to SAT and ACT test questions.

If all you're hoping to do is identify the student's general impression of the material, then why would you go to all the trouble of splicing together tests? And given that the only conceivable benefit of the hybrid test is to save time, then why would you require the student to spend hours taking a hybrid diagnostic test in order to establish a basic first impression? You could easily achieve the same result — with the same woefully inadequate degree of certainty — using a much shorter questionnaire-style SAT/ACT diagnostic test like this super simple one we put together for fun. Not only is it quicker for the students and more honest for tutors, it's also available free to you when you sign up for a FREE software demo. We'll even set you up with an embeddable version for your website. Once again, it seems the hybrid test isn't the right tool for the job. 

Even gauging the student's preference for one test or the other is asking a bit much from a hybrid diagnostic test. The following example should help to clarify the flawed assumptions underlying any argument in support of an abbreviated hybrid test.

Suppose a high school track athlete wants your help determining whether she's better suited to run the 800-meter dash or the 800-meter hurdles. Our primary objective is to answer the question: should this athlete train for the 800-meter dash or the 800-meter hurdles? Our secondary objective is to answer that question as quickly as possible. With all that in mind, there are a number of ways to test the athlete's abilities in each event.

The one thing you definitely wouldn't do is ask the athlete to run 40 meters, jumping over a few hurdles along the way. It doesn't matter if the starting blocks are meticulously set up and the hurdles are perfectly regulation height. This "hybrid test" would not help you at all in making an informed determination. 

If you inexplicably still chose to subject this athlete to your goofy hybrid test, you would still have to concede that it would be impossible to extrapolate anything resembling valid split times. Furthermore, would you could easily ask the athlete which full-length event she favors based on your bizarre mini-test, but would you really have any confidence in the validity of her answer?

Clearly, this approach would be ludicrous. That much is obvious to anyone who isn't selling a hybrid test for the SAT and ACT. But even so, let's look just a bit closer.

Your newly invented hybrid test, the "40-meter, 3-hurdle dash," cannot help you predict the athlete's performance late in an 800-meter race. To be successful in either race, an athlete requires stamina and strategy. Athletes need to pace themselves throughout the race, so they can maintain the energy they need to "kick" into a sprint near the finish. The athlete's performance in the 38th meter of your strange mini-event tells you nothing about her likely performance in the 798th meter of either full-length event. 

The same goes for tutoring. Having a student complete six or seven ACT science questions at the end of a 40-minute test cannot tell you much of anything about how the student will do on the last few ACT science questions of a real ACT test. Stamina, pacing, and strategy are just three of many important factors that no abbreviated test, let alone an abbreviated hybrid test, could possibly measure accurately.

Lastly, they manner in which these test are marketed is highly dubious. In most cases ACT/SAT hybrid diagnostic tests are thinly veiled lead generators. In that regard, they serve the same function as old banner advertisements for "The Genius Test" or "Compatibility Quizzes" you used to see before you installed ad blocking software to remove that garbage. And just like those old banner ads, it's painfully obvious that your pitch for bite-sized SAT diagnostic or a ACT mini-test are only on your website to attract customers, not serve customers. To be clear, there's nothing wrong with content marketing or advertising in general, but your marketing should NEVER intentionally mislead your customers. That much should be obvious. But then again, these snake oil tests are lurking all over the internet. 

Sadly, hybrid diagnostic tests will almost certainly remain in high demand among parents. This is nothing new. Over the past decade, we've been approached by many potential partners who have asked us to develop some sort of a hybrid diagnostic test. At Clear Choice, we have deliberately avoided developing a hybrid ACT/SAT diagnostic test because we do not believe that doing so is best interest of our partners or their students. 

And our partners seem to agree. Instead of seeking out another hybrid test to generate leads, they do their part to educate parents and students in their market. Whatever demand parents and students have for an ACT/SAT diagnostic test, they're always better served by honest answers and unbiased test prep advice.

Some test prep firms will no doubt go on administering ACT/SAT diagnostic tests and making various unsupported claims about their effectiveness, but they pay a heavy price in trading credibility for expediency.  

At Clear Choice Test Prep, our advice to tutors everywhere is the same advice we've been offering our partners for years. Continue serving your students with honest, unbiased, advice and excellent test preparation for whichever college admissions test your students select. Great service is the best leads generator, after all. That's what drove us to develop branded test prep materials for tutors. That's why we created branded test prep software for tutors. And that's why we only deliver the highest quality test prep curriculum for tutors and tutoring companies.  

I recognize that reasonable people can arrive at differing conclusions, and I invite readers to share their opinions below. If you'd like more information about the SAT test, ACT test, or our branded curriculum for tutors, please don't hesitate to contact us.

And if you're ready to learn about the proven way to grow your tutoring company with premium custom branded test prep materials for tutors and tutoring companies, click the link below to schedule a FREE online software demo. 

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