SAT Staff Editorial

With increased pressure to be accepted into elite colleges and universities, some students and their parents are paying thousands of dollars for SAT tutors and preparation classes—an unfair way to get ahead in the college-application game.
The SAT is meant to give an accurate picture of students’ readiness for college. Because the same test is administered to everyone, it is said to provide a fair comparison of all students. However, students who can pay for SAT prep have a significant advantage over those who can’t.
The most effective SAT tutors offer customers information about the tests that most students don’t have. They know specific words that come up frequently on the vocabulary section, phrases that most likely indicate a wrong answer on the reading comprehension section and shortcuts that can be programmed into a calculator for the math section. Such pre-test knowledge clearly gives some students an unfair advantage.
In addition, students who undergo commercial tutoring may enter the testing situation with increased confidence and preparedness.  A tutor at Ivy Bound Test Prep in New York City, said, “My main goal is to get the student to perform to the best of his or her ability on the test. My second goal, which is equally as important to me, is to de-stress the student and act as a mentor.” Since the test itself is highly stressful, having the support of a highly paid mentor may allow some students to perform at a higher level than their less fortunate peers.
Senior Rosalie DePaola, whose overall SAT score improved 130 points after taking a prep course, said, “The tricks they taught me were useful and timesaving, like automatically eliminating all vague answers on the reading section.” While there is nothing unethical about making use of such tips, the increase in scores results in statistical lowering of the scores of students who were not tutored.
Senior Jillian Gardner, who elected not to take any kind of SAT prep before the test, said, “I believe it is unethical because colleges want to know how much students know, rather than how much they can spend on tutors and practice tests and textbooks. I would like to believe that everyone has a fair shot. It’s a shame that that is untrue.”
Commercial test prep is not cheap. Jacqueline Byrne, a founder of Ivy Educational Services in Scotch Plains said, “We offer a class package that consists of 21 hours of classroom time and five hours of private tutoring, a calculator workshop, all books and materials, and a test simulation for a total of $1,495.” Some colleges are starting to acknowledge the test-prep discrepancy. According to Kay, “It is well known that some students have more access to test preparation than others, but colleges do often take this into account during the application process.”
There is some effort to try to even the playing field within the tutoring industry itself. Byrne said, “We know that it is not fair that everyone does not have equal access to test prep so we increase the amount of pro bono work we do each year by providing scholarships to deserving students, teaching SAT/ACT/HSPA classes in struggling districts, and providing prep seminars and college essay help to students through area foundations.” For some colleges, the SAT is a main criterion for admission because grading systems and rigor vary from high school to high school. But, because some students have access to classified information and extra support, it does not compare students fairly.
John Morganelli, admissions officer at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, agrees. “The problem is that we call the SAT a standardized test, and it is anything but standard. The preparation that is available is not equal,” he said. In fact, the SAT no longer shows which students will most likely succeed in college, but rather, which students’ parents can pay for the best tutor.