The Evolution of Test Preparation

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College-bound students have been chasing higher scores on standardized tests since before the advent of The College Board exams in 1899. Over a century later, standardized tests like the SAT and ACT still loom large as key pieces of the college application process.

While the tests themselves have undergone some changes over time, the ways teachers and tutors help students prepare have changed dramatically. Where do your test prep techniques fall on the evolutionary ladder? Are you on the bleeding edge or stuck in the Stone Age?

The Early Days: Take a Practice Test and Cram Vocabulary Words

In the early days of standardized college entrance exams, many test makers, particularly the SATs, made it a point to market their tests as “non-coachable.” These were aptitude tests, after all, and not supposed to be about general knowledge. This didn’t stop test-takers from trying to find ways to get a leg-up.

Since the verbal section of the SATs focused on skill-based questions like reading comprehension, sentence completion, and (the dreaded) analogies, there was only so much preparation most students felt like they could do. Basic exposure remained the primary focus.

This meant that, in most cases, test prep consisted of taking a few ETS-issued practice tests and spending time compiling stacks of note cards to try and boost vocabulary. Preparing for the Math sections meant memorizing formulas and rehearsing problem-solving skills in the hopes that comparable material would show up on test day.

The Middle Ages: The Rise of Test Prep Courses

Starting in the 1950s, test preparation courses started to spring up across the United States. These courses promised big boosts in SAT and ACT scores (often with little evidence to support their claims).

In these courses, students were given practice tests and study guides to complete in the hopes that their preparation efforts would match up with similar questions on the actual test. Prep sessions often included discussions about test-taking strategies for thing like budgeting time, taking guesses, and when to leave questions blank.

In some cases, students would use practice books to try and boost scores in between prep sessions. Again, the emphasis remained on exposure and surface-level test-taking strategies.

In actuality, many of these courses did produce increases in the scores of test-takers, but not by the overwhelming degrees to which many of them had promised. Much of this had to do with the fact that these courses were often little more than repackaged versions of the old exposure-focused, “kill-and-drill” strategies from the early days of test prep. 

The Modern Era: A Comprehensive, Personalized Test Prep System

The rise of data-driven instruction and online content delivery systems has revolutionized standardized test preparation. No longer are students being issued the same repackaged practice tests over and over in hopes that exposure alone will boost scores.

A multi-faceted, multi-media test prep system, such as the one provided by Clear Choice Test Prep, enables tutors and tutoring companies to offer a much more robust toolset that tailors test prep to the individual learners.

Rather than simply relying on rehashed practice test excerpts, test prep professionals now have access to online systems that not only provide differentiated practice targeted to student needs, but real-time assessment and planning tools that ensure tutoring sessions are optimally productive.

Modern test prep should be about more than burying a student beneath piles of one-size-fits-all practice; it should be about facilitating growth at the individual level. 

How evolved is your test preparation?

Technically, books are a form of technology. But that doesn't mean you'll be able to convince new clients that you've got a test prep system with cutting-edge technology. If your test prep programs aren’t producing the results you or your clients are looking for, perhaps it’s worth considering whether your methods are more reflective of a by-gone era. Natural selection can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. The Choice is yours. 

We invite you to sign up for a free software demo to see all that a modern, 100% custom branded test prep system can do for you and your test prep business.

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Matt McCorkle