On “Gaming the System”.
By Mark Greenstein, Founder of Ivy Bound Test Prep.
Parents and educators routinely post comments that SAT prep is "gaming the system." I happen to agree. But no student should feel guilty about gaming. "Gaming" is simply making use of coaching to improve skills that are improvable.
Students who take advantage of SAT coaching improve their SAT skills as wholesomely as students who improve their athletic skills by listening to their team coaches. The "blockhead belief," that a mid-range student could not change his SAT scores and was thus "stuck" with that mid-range score, was disproven
ong ago (by Stanley Kaplan and other test prep pioneers)*. Meekly following the "blockhead belief," thinking that your scores won't improve much, is stupid.
The stoic way of being "above coaching" is a LOSING way. SAT skills are valuable in their own right -- the SAT tests grammar, essay writing, reading skills, vocabulary, basic math, practical math, and resourceful math. The lone impractical element on the old SAT was "analogies," and the College Board rid the SAT of analogies in 2004. SAT coaching is abundant, and often less expensive than athletic coaching, so it's wise to take advantage of a good SAT coach.
Test prep firms are not helping students cheat. They help their students MASTER. Gaming is a good thing, especially where ingenuity is one of the very elements that colleges like seeing in applicants. Colleges embrace the SAT in part because the skills tested there reveal an element of "resourcefulness" that a transcript alone does not reveal.
Highly ranked colleges' use of the SAT is one of the most meritocratic things possible for students. The SAT largely replaced the "primping, poise, and pedigree" that held sway up until the 1960s. The College Board makes the SAT eminently accessible to students with low financial means, and colleges bend over backwards to admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds if they possess strong SAT scores. When more educators banish the thought that SAT gaming is tawdry, they will help make the SAT the greatest democratizer in human history**.
Again, an athletic analogy. No counselor would suggest that a student who aspires to be on a varsity team eschew coaching. Please find me an athlete who has reached elite status in the last 20 years who has done so without a coach. (Many succeed by having a SET of coaches, including a trainer, nutritionist, and even sports psychologist.) The SAT is a gateway for far more students than athletics; SAT prep takes less time than athletic development, costs less, and offers surer rewards. “Gaming” the SAT is improving yourself for life.
The SAT is a coachable test. That is a fact. The days of the SAT being perceived as a test of innate intelligence are also long over. Stubborn guidance counselors who finally wise up to this are 30 years too late, but at least they have a few more years of students they can serve well.
It is infuriating to hear of guidance counselors in urban schools not pushing their students to excel on the SAT or to apply to top-ranked colleges. The rewards from attending a top tier college are higher than ever. Students with good grades at top tier colleges have never had more opportunities for great work and great earnings in their 20s. Good students with math or engineering degrees
have NOT experienced a recession.
If a guidance counselor in your orbit is not alert to the realities of modern college admissions, please implore him or her to get with it, for the sake of all the students in your community. More about college admissions realities is contained at www.ivybound.net, and I personally give a “Know the SAT / Understanding College Admissions” seminar for parents the first Sunday evening of each month. (Wayward-but reform-minded guidance counselors are welcome!) Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for the upcoming seminar.