Have you heard that ACT is now in the test prep business? The organization that makes the ACT now also sells online programs to prepare students for the ACT. Does that seem right?
ACT also offers free online ACT prep. College Board does the same with Khan Academy for free online SAT prep. These laudable resources fall within a test maker’s mandate to reveal in detail the contours of a standardized exam while also promoting each non-profit organization’s mission to support high schoolers on the road to college. Paid prep, however, does not.
Ever since I learned about ACT’s portfolio of programs, I’ve been troubled by the implications, which led to my article on LinkedIn titled Should a Test Maker Offer Paid Test Prep? While I didn’t answer the question outright then, I’ll do so now: No, a test maker should not offer paid test prep, and consumers shouldn’t pay for test prep from a test maker.
Why, in light of the potential advantages of learning about a test from the organization that designs it, is this such a bad idea?
1. Test makers SHOULD NOT fully prepare you for their tests.
2. Test makers WILL NOT fully prepare you for their tests.
3. Test makers CANNOT fully prepare you for their tests.
The SHOULD NOT in this instance comes down to the ethics of seeking profit in the commission of a non-profit mission. Asking for money for preparation for a test you design and administer yourself is unseemly at best. Further, such efforts should be considered suspect in light of the fact that a standardized test maker WILL NOT undermine its sacrosanct mission to evaluate the knowledge and skills of millions of students in a fair, valid, and reliable fashion by sharing test secrets with a select population, certainly not for such small sums of money.
Ultimately, the preparation test makers offer focuses almost exclusively on content. The grammar, reading, math, and science content of exams like the SAT and ACT matter quite a bit. Any resources supporting further mastery of such content offers a certain level of preparation for test day. However, professional test preparation includes a great deal of strategy in combination with content review.
In such strategy, we find the essential element a test maker CANNOT deliver. The best test prep aspires to elevate performance to a level the test makers themselves neither envision nor desire. We want our students to earn maximum points as quickly and easily as possible through a sophisticated deployment of content knowledge, expert strategies, and unshakable focus on test day. We prepare not only for the tests but also for the test makers themselves. By analyzing trends and tendencies, we can sometimes identify opportunities and approaches unknown even to those who design the exams.
A test maker should not, will not, and cannot teach a student to overcome all academic, internal, and environmental obstacles to beat a test. Testing organizations focus on test takers as one large population to be distributed neatly along a bell curve. Anyone looking for the greatest individual advantage, on the other hand, should seek out the best professional test preparation available. We don’t have to worry about preserving the integrity of the standard distribution; instead, we only have to worry about helping you earn your best possible score. See the difference?