19 May 2010

SAT Prep Courses Not Worth It (gasp!)

Filed under: Culture, Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 7:31 am

Results on the standardized Scholastic Aptitude Test are required of students applying for admission at most American colleges and universities. SAT prep courses are a big business aimed at college-bound kids and especially at their parents. Fierce competition for getting into the best universities, aggravated by persistent fears of personal inadequacy, create the perfect market conditions for these courses. The Princeton Review (classy name) is probably the biggest vendor of SAT prep courses. In their material they claim dramatic improvements in SAT scores for kids who go through their program. Now, based on empirical evaluation, it turns out that — surprise — the purported effectiveness of the Princeton Review course is grossly exaggerated!

“Scott Kirkpatrick, president of the test-preparation services division of The Princeton Review, said that the company had been planning to shift away from an emphasis on score improvement independently of the Better Business Bureaus case, and that it is changing its focus to offer a more personalized approach to helping students improve in all areas. ‘Score improvement is not our core mission,” he said. “I don’t want us to be a test-prep company. We need to be an education company.'”

What a happy coincidence then that the empirical debunking coincides so closely to Scott and his buddies’ decision to rescind their public claims of enormous score improvements.

Practical implications of the evaluation: don’t waste your money on the prep course, make educated guesses on SAT questions you’re not sure of, take the test twice but not three times, and accept your strengths/limitations with whatever equanimity you can muster. If you do really poorly on the college entrance exams but you really want to go to college, apply to schools that don’t require the test.

In interpreting the results of the evaluation, do we infer that:

(a)  the test prep teachers and curriculum aren’t very good?

(b)  the test prep students are slackers who fail to take full advantage of the the course?

(c)  the SAT reliably measures something that resists teaching/studying to the test?

(d)  the $1200 prep course isn’t intensive enough — we need a more personalized $6000 prep course?



  1. The SAT scores came in today, and now I know *someone* who got a perfect 800 in the Reading section, and on the first try too. And *she* didn’t take the damn prep class either.


    Comment by ktismatics — 20 May 2010 @ 11:11 am

    • Hey, that’s good to know. Good for her. Sorry I put the below on this thread, not seeing that note yet, was trying to find a neutral one, and didn’t want to discuss it so ramblingly at Mikhail’s just this moment.


      Comment by Anonymous — 20 May 2010 @ 11:54 am

  2. I saw your Critchley quote at Mikhail’s: “there is something dreadfully uncanny about the philosopher, something either monstrous or god-like or indeed both at once. This is why many sensible people continue to think the Athenians had a point in condemning Socrates to death. I leave it for you to decide. I couldn’t possibly judge.”

    Interesting, though virtually redolent of several configurations of the worst hyperbole. After all, such perceptions are not universally held, even temporarily, and Critchley is obviously somebody who may not even know that that is possible (without being ignorant.) Of course, they had a ‘point in condemning Socrates to death’, but it’s tacky to call them ‘sensible people’, because not all ‘sensible people’ are stupid, as he tacitly seems to want to indicate that he knows is self-evident; nor are all of them tacky, although many are.

    We don’t have enough background on Athenian citizens ‘debate’ about the impending execution of Soctrates, no ‘countdown’ as with Timothy McVeigh, and I wish we did. It has all sorts of Jungian scapegoat complex, early on, before the newer, ‘less dignified versions’ (as Sylvia Brinton Pereira seemed to indicate had been reserved largely for Jews when she was writing back in the 80s or 90s, and very well on this), although I wasn’t convinced that the ‘dignified versions’ which ‘purified the communities’ were anything much better, just witch-hunting. I’m sure Socrates was pretty witchy. He and Plato both were full of shit, and they were both prone to hyperbole of the sort that everybody longs to indulge in in various official capacities (I read last night that “surely, Mark, you do realize that those in what we call ‘society’ are the most vulgar of all”–yes, vulgarity as the ultimate conspicuous consumption totem…), but Socrates’s singularity seems more sensible than the fact that he liked being witchy, and didn’t even mind getting executed all that much more than Jesus did (who would never have been so famous had he just ridden off into the margins, would he? I think such things were left for more contemporary messiah-types like Krishnamurti, who became highly anglicized, and referred to his father and original family as ‘those AWFUL people’, while sucking Annie Besant, pee-yoo, is what I say. I heard him speak a few times, he was one of the most totally sex-hating individuals I ever ran into, and yet cruised me during his speech, like a high-toned Rekers or J.Edgar, maybe. My guilt-ridden yet sex-loving boyfriend kept talking about how ‘pure the man is’ with his vegetarianism and refusal to fuck. wow. He was so insulting that it was a gorgeous April day, and he said ‘if there is a such thing as a spring day in New York’. Another messianic closet case, I guess. He also said ‘look at the green leaf, you find great strength’. I do like critchley’s thing on ‘laughing at the strong man crying’, because I now want to laugh at Krishnamurti’s insufferable bullshit. He was always writing essays on ‘the rich are different’, while living in pampered luxury all the time. Only reason to mention him is he was very ‘toney’, unlike some of the pigs like the teenage guru Maharaj Ji.

    People prefer this type, because they decide to become bourgeois. Socrates may have likes his witchiness, and the old tale of how he played a flute tune a few hours before his execution is quite a bit different from Susan Hayward’s histrionics in ‘I Want to Live!’ when the phone kept ringing or not prior to the gas chamber, and at one point, a fellow inmate had the radio going and Susan says ‘Turn off that Schmaltz!!’ Heaven moment, although the gas chamber scene is incredibly harrowing; I’m always in disbelief that they show it so graphically.

    Martyr complex, wasn’t it? That’s not the word usually used for Socrates and Christ, is it? Isn’t that for St. Sebastian and Joan of Arc? I can’t get it str8.


    Comment by Anonymous — 20 May 2010 @ 11:53 am

  3. I don’t know much about Krishnamurti’s life or death. Khalil Gibran also had a wealthy patroness who assured his plenipotentiary demiurgic status. When Anne and I got married I told the preacher, a strange blend of Southern Baptist and Buddhist, he could say anything he liked during he ceremony as long as he didn’t quote Gibran. Of course he violated this directive almost immediately in his brief homily, which pleased me.

    You’re right: Critchley does wrap up his own homily with an implicit plea for martyrdom, following in the Master’s footsteps, the world of ordinary mortals not being worthy of the True Philosopher. In his book on the Ignorant Schoolmaster Ranciere explicitly rejects the Socratic method of feigned ignorance, which is really intended to lead the student down the garden path to the Master’s insight.

    “This is the secret of good masters: through their questions, they discreetly guide the student’s intelligence — discretely enough to make it work, but not to the point of leaving it to itself. There is a Socrates sleeping in every explicator… Socrates must take [Meno’s] slave by his hand so that the latter can find what is inside himself. The demonstration of his knowledge is just as much the demonstration of his powerlessness; he will never walk by himself, unless it is to illustrate the master’s lesson. In this case, Socrates interrogates a slave who is destined to remain one.

    “The Socratic method is thus a perfected form of stultification. Like all learned masters, Socrates interrogates in order to instruct. But whoever wishes to emancipate someone must interrogate him in the manner of men and not in the manner of scholars, in order to be instructed, not to instruct.”


    Comment by ktismatics — 20 May 2010 @ 1:17 pm

    • Krishnamurti not nearly all bad, very classy in his celibate way. Much better than Gibran, because doens’t call it poetry. Rod McKuen would have been even worse though. btw, talked to my nice aunt about her idiot nephew, my cousin: He has been to Venezuela with some mission that my aunt didn’t want to say till I forced it out: It turns out to be ‘Cattle for Christ’. Well, I nearly passed out, and called some of my family, and we all had a nice supercilious buzz. He is such a moron, 50 years old, a great body, and I think never been laid unless it was some of those heifers, as in Faulkner’s ‘The Hamlet’, but without the coronets and lingerie.


      Comment by Anonymous — 20 May 2010 @ 7:25 pm

  4. Cattle for Christ — I googled it and it really exists. The logo is a silhouetted cross with cow beneath. I wonder why not Cattlemen for Christ — surely the cattle aren’t the ones issuing and receiving the call.


    Comment by ktismatics — 20 May 2010 @ 9:15 pm

    • Good for you, I might have still not really wanted to attend their conventions, but I fully respect charitable religious institutions. I’ve given to FLORESTA, which is some fucked-up bunch of evangelicals IMO, but who nevertheless do tremendous work in Haiti. And Catholic Charities is the world’s most powerful, isn’t it? I’m so bored with leftists who find this fact out (and if Mike Davis lets that cat out of the bag–that religious charities are providing far more poverty relief than leftist groups–then even the hard leftists are stuck with not being able to find the Truthout Conspiracy Article + Amy Goodman Interview (personally, I think Amy conspired to be arrested that time in Chicago or wherever it was two years ago, she had almost gotten a client to confess that it was really Bin Laden…) that will bail them out.

      But even though ‘Cattle for Christ’ may still do the good works, the title is simply unbelievable, to the point of near-illiteracy. I hope their Company Song is ‘Away in a Manger’, and just start with the verse about ‘the cattle are lowing…’ (well, I never heard that verb except that song, so I owe cows many things as well as beef strips for stir-fry)…


      Comment by Anonymous — 21 May 2010 @ 5:34 pm

  5. The other week, many teachers in the UK boycotted SATs for 11 year-olds as they believe – rightly, I think – that it puts too much pressure on kids, narrows learning and makes an egg-and-spoon race of education. Forget understanding, look how fast I can run with this egg!

    Pre-university exam results have been improving steadily for about 20 years. So much so, that a few years ago they had to introduce A* grade because so many students were getting A grade. To get into the top level universities like Cambridge, you basically need at the very least four Advanced “A” Levels at A*. Money helps too. The Government was recently considering introducing the A**. It’s like Gilette razor blades

    Even in the 90s, when I was at university, a lot of the lecturers were aggrieved at the lack of basic reading and writing skills even if an English Literature student, say, did know a few things about EM Forster. The teaching has become rather like French teaching in the UK, where you learn stock phrases rather than grammar: basic, stock curriculum and ideas within that applied strictly to what’s on the exam. A friend of mine who did chemistry had to do a big booster course at university to learn the things he would’ve been taught at high school for the A Level. This was 1992, and I’m pretty sure it’s got even narrower since then. Of course, results have improved because the students studied hard as well – because they realise how much importance is placed on the results.

    Never thought Critchley was much cop. Like so many others in academe, he’s so obsessed with differientating his position from the horde he forgets to say anything interesting. Like Socrates, he’s a massive witchy narcissist. Only Socrates did it with style.

    “This why many sensible people continue to think the Athenians had a point in condemning Socrates to death.”

    Who are these sensible people? Where are they? At the University of Essex behind the door marked Dr S. Critchley P-h-d? If you knock on the door, you hear: “Not now, I’m having to mark these stupid papers! Stupid, bloody marking!”

    By non-identifying these people Critchley has done exactly the same thing as Socrates. He’s being dishonest about his own position and thereby creates a new mastery: this isn’t my opinion, I’m not here to judge, this is just what a lot of serious-minded people think. Like Socrates, this isn’t just an opinion, it’s the RIGHT opinion and I’ll lead you by the nose to make you see it.

    He’s riffing on Nietzsche, who saw Socrates as an intellectual enemy, although he was good enough appreciate the latter’s slyness. Perhaps Critchley would be good enough to write an article entitled “Why I am so clever”.

    It’s quite simple: just be open with the students about what you know, or at least think you know (with good reason), and what you don’t know. Saying, guilessly, why you like it is a good start: “I love Nietzsche for his amazing and hilarious moustache!” Give reasons as to why you think their opinions are wrong and yours re right. Let them respond. Don’t talk about people’s “uncanny” feelingsm towards Socrates or anything else, which already suggests the unconscious rightness of the argument you are consciously trying to persuade people of.


    Comment by NB — 21 May 2010 @ 8:55 am

  6. “A friend of mine who did chemistry had to do a big booster course at university to learn the things he would’ve been taught at high school for the A Level.”

    Forgot to add: back in the 70s and 80s.


    Comment by NB — 21 May 2010 @ 8:58 am

  7. Not being a philosopher — not ever having taken a single philosophy class for that matter — I’m acutely aware of the sense of superiority that philosophers often exhibit. We (say they) are the ones who critique our times and culture, and for that we are persecuted by the Philistines. No one can quantify what we do; our work is qualitative; all quantifiers are capitalist running dogs. We are uncanny inhuman devil-gods. Jesus, what sanctimonious pomposity. Where’s the solidarity? It’s not like all the rest of us enjoy having our work coopted by the investors or the government bureaucrats. It’s not like universities have suddenly lost their immunity from marketplace considerations, and that the philosophers alone deserve to remain above the fray.

    In America the equivalent to the A* is the 5.0. Used to be that an A was worth 4 points; a B, 3 points; etc. Now there are advanced classes in which each letter grade earns the old numerical equivalent + 1.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 May 2010 @ 2:58 pm

    • http://infinitethought.cinestatic.com/

      Well, get a load of this philosopher getting coopted despite her superiority (and already having obtained her degree.) She says ‘bonkers’ but ‘astute’, but to me it’s like I thought it was a BP pr for the oil spill, although I couldn’t find the plumes. So by now, the suspension of superior philsophers Osborne and Hallward has become their own reward, along with their virtue and superiority. Actually, I’m glad to have slipped past a lot of smart philosophes, if only to find that I do agree with you on this, and it wasn’t so long ago that Asher and others were talking about this. It’s not like some ‘mob savagery’ or bloodlust I get from the Middlesex matter, I just don’t care much, as Barbra would say. ‘I don’t care very much either way…’

      The philosophes are all full of rectitude, if nothing else. I saw that…*Dr. Dean*…had hoped we could join in on the fluke that made the NYSE fuck up recently (something about a penny, happened last week), but they’re working on circuit-breakers or whatever the term is when trading gets a fluke in it.

      I can’t even fucking believe this:

      “Maybe we need to find ways to join up with the hackers responsible for the 1000 point Dow drop last week.

      Maybe some of us already have.”

      Is she admitting to an act of Civil Disobedience, along the lines of Thoreau. I’ve been hearing a little more than I’ve wanted to about Mr. Thoreau recently. I can think of few American authors considered great that I find more negative and overrated. Why, if you listened to Thoreau, there’d be no cinema to speak of! He would just relegate it to ‘bauble status’ and go on about ‘lake appreciation’.


      Comment by Anonymous — 21 May 2010 @ 7:07 pm

  8. “Not now, I’m having to mark these stupid papers! Stupid, bloody marking!”

    The philosophers don’t seem reluctant to assign quantitative evaluations to their students…


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 May 2010 @ 5:34 pm

  9. The Middlesex administrators’ manoeuvre was crude and ham-handed, but I wonder what negotiations or politics led up to the axe falling. Was the philosophy chair asked, say, to eliminate one FTE in order to meet the quota, but he refused? I saw on one of the reports that the school’s student association condemned the occupation of the administration building — I wonder if the association is some kiss-ass junior chamber of commerce sort of charade, or if the philosophers had already intimated their superiority to the engineers and nurses and so on who make up the rest of the student body. It surely doesn’t appear that the sit-in led to any sort of May 68 rising.

    It’s not like the faculty, if they ran the show, could get by without doing some bean-counting in order to meet the governmental budget requirements. I doubt they’d have eliminated an entire department like this MBA type did though. I suspect bad blood, especially since the philosophy dept’s numbers were so close to the targets.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 May 2010 @ 7:35 pm

    • I posted about this at Mikhail’s. Maybe you and NB can decide if it is just so immediately obvious that this long minimalist piece is The Republic, without access to the program notes. Well, I couldn’t, except I enjoyed it about as little (I’ve read it, so I can say. yes, I do not care that much for The Republic, but it’s better than this piece IMO…) I am hopelessly old-fogey about the Reich/Glass School of Repetitioin. They’re all basically the same, with a little refinement of timbre about the only thing that goes against the basic sensation of paralysis. I always thought Reich and Glass were a kind of ‘Concert Music for Dummies’, and I still think it. Glass studied with Nadia Boulanger too, and said ‘I realized at one point that I never would understand what she was talking about’. Well, that’s for sure, and it sure sounds it. So different from her early students Copland and Thomson, not to mention Carter.

      But I mean, really, how the FUCK do you know this is Plato if you weren’t told to begin with?

      You may read the rest of my esteemed opinion at Mikhail’s, as I am ‘all tired and weary’, as David Bowie wouls say (not to mention write music a thousand times more interesting and meaningful than this.)


      Comment by Anonymous — 22 May 2010 @ 7:04 pm

      • “This sort of thing makes sure you don’t miss any structure even if you’ve got ADD, one refined migraine after the other.”

        LOL. I wouldn’t go out of my way to change the station if this piece came on the radio, but I doubt I’d go out of my way to hear it again either. Maybe the choppiness of the sections, along with the intermittent stridency and brassiness, depicts something of the multiplex conflicts which must be addressed in a Republic? According to Wikipedia, the composer credits the inspiration of Count Basie and Stan Kenton along with “the repetitive procedures” of Reich.


        Comment by ktismatics — 23 May 2010 @ 8:15 am

  10. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/what-is-a-philosopher/

    More from Critchley, I’ll read it a little later today, don’t know if it’s got anything of note in it to dissect or not.


    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 28 May 2010 @ 2:36 pm

    • This is the same one I quoted before, where in response to the last paragraph I said on Mikhail’s post something like “I say let’s kill the freaks.” I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything else by Critchley.


      Comment by ktismatics — 28 May 2010 @ 3:02 pm

  11. So it is, I now look at it and it’s May 16. I don’t know why i saw it looking through NYTImes Opinion today, and just quickly put it here in case I didn’t see it again. So he’s at the New School, well I’ll be damned, I can keep my eyes open, I might recognize the clever little face, but not sure. That’s just across the street from me, one block down, I’ve probably seen him dozens of times and paid no attention. Not that I intend to be a ‘Critchley-watcher’, of course. I used to sometimes see Bob Kerrey around here, I don’t know whether he’s still affiliated with New School.


    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 28 May 2010 @ 7:24 pm

  12. *UPDATE* Today in the mail we received, addressed “to the parents of Kenzie Doyle,” a brochure from College Insights, selling us an SAT prep course for $1200. These people claim an average 248-point increase in SAT scores for those who take their course. If you don’t show at least a 200-point improvement, you get to take the course again for free. If you still don’t reach the promised level of improvement, they refund your money. Why? “Because our program works.” We’ll see how long College Insights will be able to continue making this claim.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 June 2010 @ 2:19 pm

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