Cutting Edge SAT Research in Publication

Jed Applerouth, PhD
October 5, 2015
min read

In September the internationally recognized, peer-reviewed journal, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, published new research that I conducted with two colleagues on successful SAT preparation. The study entitled “Preparing students for college admissions tests” examines how specific components of SAT preparation affect SAT score increases. I was the lead author of the study, joined by Dr. Karen M. Zabrucky from Georgia State University and Dr. DeWayne Moore from Clemson University.

We examined the testing outcomes of over 1900 students in Applerouth’s New York, Washington DC, and Atlanta markets to understand the factors that contribute to improved SAT scores. We wanted to answer a number of questions pertaining to the efficacy of SAT preparation: Are practice tests important? Does homework matter? Does it matter when a student starts preparation for the SAT?

Our data revealed that numerous factors contributed to improved SAT scores. Some findings align with what we’d expect to see in the educational field, while others added a new layer of understanding to student success on admissions test. The salient results of our research are summarized below. I highly recommend the full article (available here) to those who would like to explore this topic in greater depth.

  • Time invested matters. It was no surprise to find that the amount of time a student spends preparing for the SAT matters. Students who spend more time in tutoring sessions and complete more of the assigned homework have greater score gains. We compared the relative efficacy of group and one-on-one tutoring.
  • Individual instruction has the edge. The effect of a single hour of private instruction was 57% greater than that of an hour of group instruction. A significant body of research already supports the efficacy and efficiency of individual instruction. When a teacher/tutor is exclusively dedicated to the needs of an individual student, attending only to the areas of deficiency of that student, efficiencies naturally emerge.
  • Distributed study aids retention. We explored the effects of spreading sessions out over time and found that distributing tutoring sessions over larger intervals (i.e., having longer gaps between classes/tutoring sessions rather than packing (cramming) them tightly together) contributed to greater score increases on the SAT: this finding aligns with a large body of research on the benefits of distributed study. Students need time to practice, to allow the material to sink into memory so they will be able to retrieve it on test day.
  • Prepping earlier in the junior year is beneficial. We explored the effects of starting tutoring early or late in junior year and found that starting preparation earlier in the junior year contributed to greater SAT score improvements. Although some school administrators encourage students to wait until later in junior year to begin prep, citing potential maturation or development effects, our research revealed contrary findings. We found no maturation effects and, instead, found clear and profound testing effects. In other words, the cognitive maturation that takes place as junior year progresses appears not to significantly affect SAT performance; meanwhile, students who start earlier in the junior year will have greater opportunity to reap the benefits of repeat official testing – something which our research shows to be incredibly beneficial to performance.
  • Repeat official testing (within reason) is beneficial. In our study, students saw steady gains from their first, to their second, to their third official SAT. These effects of official SATs were more profound (four times the impact) than those from taking practice SATs. Controlling all other variables, a student picked up 5 points for each additional practice test, compared to 22 points for each official SAT administration. Taking the SAT multiple times clearly pays off for students.
  • Preparation is equally effective across student sub-groups. We also examined the effects of gender, socio-economic status and private or public school attendance upon SAT score increases for students who participate in some form of preparation. Our analysis did not find any statistically meaningful effects of these demographic student variables on the efficacy of test prep. Differences exist in terms of average SAT scores for males and females, and for students of different levels of affluence, but our study explored the effects of tutoring upon score increases, rather than baseline differences. We found that an hour of private or group tutoring had a similar effect upon males as upon females; upon students from either public or private schools, and upon students from the lowest to the highest socioeconomic bracket measured in our study. In spite of the baseline differences, preparation seems to be equally effective for different types of students. Existing gaps in baseline scores among student populations is a concern among educators everywhere. We are encouraged, however, by the finding that the benefits of test preparation are shared equally by all who have access to it. As a company, we believe it is important that we continue our efforts to make our services available to those students who might not otherwise have access to quality test prep.

Dr. Zabrucky, Dr. Moore and I eventually took this research to a deeper level, examining interactions and relationships between the variables using a more sophisticated form of statistical analysis (path analysis, exploring moderation and mediation effects). This research is still in the pre-publication, review phase and we look forward to sending a synopsis of our findings once published.

At Applerouth, we believe it is important to test our assumptions and conduct rigorous analysis to ensure our programs are supported by evidence. We are committed to adopting our methods and programs to the most current research in the field of education. Meanwhile, we hope this research will help affirm the value of doing practice tests, of taking the SAT multiple times, of completing SAT homework, of distributing sessions over time rather than cramming sessions, and of starting preparation earlier in junior year, when appropriate for a student’s schedule.

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