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How I spent my summer vacation. My mom made me do free SAT prep. Here's why.


My twins are having a “skip” summer, as my mother-in-law used to say in reference to missing out on fun stuff. My son enrolled in a history course at the Georgia Virtual School  to free up his junior year for more science. (We may finally produce a scientist in a household awash in liberal arts graduates.) And my daughter will undergo surgery that will keep her home-bound for most of July.

So, they were aghast when I suggested adding SAT prep to their scant free time.

If you are the parent, grandparent or guardian of a high school student planning to apply to college, you should aggravate your teen with the same suggestion.

Because there's a new "Official SAT Practice" site that's free. The practice site is a collaboration between the College Board and Khan Academy, considered a leader in innovative online learning. The online test preparation resources offer the added benefit of helping students with their course work.

I participated in the media call on the collaboration and wandered through the site. Here's what students will find:

1. Short diagnostic quizzes in math and evidence-based reading and writing to determine where a student is.

2. Personalized practice recommendations, tied to specific skills on the test, to make the biggest impact on student performance and overall college readiness. The intent is not that students log on the night before their SAT and cram, but that they visit the site consistently.

3. Four official full-length practice tests written by the College Board, so students can see detailed results of their work and Khan Academy can direct them to the most appropriate materials.

4. Instant feedback on their answers so that students are always learning and seeing their progress.

5. Study tips and suggestions for test day.

Go to SAT Practice at KhanAcademy.org to see for yourself.

Released a week ago, the practice tool aligns with the revamped SAT, which the College Board says, replaces “obscure SAT vocabulary words” with relevant vocabulary, offers an “in-depth focus on essential areas of math,” and eliminates the guessing penalty.

What I like about the Khan/College Board site is the customization. Once students answer the diagnostic math and reading questions, the site responds with a course of study and practice appropriate to the students and moves them forward. While the objective is SAT preparation, the practice exercises can provide a deeper learning experience.

“We are super excited about this,” said Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, on the media call. “Some of our best folks at Khan Academy are working on this project with the College Board…It allows students to start where they are. With that said, we don’t think a new technology tool, no matter how good, is going to be a solution by itself.”

A former hedge fund manager turned online math guru, Khan stressed the role of parents and teachers in helping kids master the content necessary to succeed on the new SAT and in college, but said the free prep tool attempts to level the playing field. Now, it's typically affluent students who enroll in SAT prep classes, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Despite years of denying SAT coaching mattered – belied by the number of kids who improved their scores after extensive and often expensive prep classes – the College Board made practice tests accessible, but the collaboration with Khan goes beyond that.

Here are the benefits I see: Unlike private SAT tutors who take the college admissions test multiple times to better counsel students, Sal Khan and his team worked with College Board staff so the new prep site relates to the new PSAT that 11th graders will take in October and the new SAT that rolls out in March.

High school students ought to spend some time on the site this summer because kids are more confident when they're familiar with the format and scope of a test. Practice eases fears of the unknown.

Asked on the media call about the anxiety around the redesigned SAT, College Board President and CEO David Coleman said, “Everything we are doing today is about those anxieties. Today we are making it easier for students to navigate this territory. Students today will see with great confidence that the new SAT is not a departure from what they are learning. Now, there are free tools so they can practice in-depth where they feel weakest. It is really going to calm the waters a bit.”

In response to when students should begin using the Khan practice tool, Coleman said, “This is the core math and reading work they are doing throughout their classrooms. It can help them whenever they start.”

Some kids need someone standing over them to motivate them, so I don’t believe the flourishing SAT prep industry risks extinction. But for strong students, these Khan practices may be enough.

Again, I would encourage you to push your teens to try these free SAT resources as the practice might also enhance their schoolwork. Take a look yourself and let us know what you think.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.