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Posted at 10:05 AM ET, 04/26/2010

The D.C. area: Obsessed with SAT scores

By Valerie Strauss

If you have any doubt just how obsessed folks in the Washington area are with getting their children into college, you need look no further than the Washington Post’s list of best-selling books.

In the latest list of book sales among area residents, the No. 1 book under paperback Nonfiction/General for the week ending April 18 was “Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda,” by Sean Hannity.

That book has nothing to do with getting kids into college, but look at what was right behind it, at No. 2:

"The Official SAT Study Guide (Second Edition)" published by the College Board, the nonprofit organization that owns the SAT.

This study guide, which sells for $21.99, is advertised as offering practice tests created by the same folks who make the SAT, as well as test-taking “tips” and advice on writing the essay, which is part of the test.

A quick glance of the paperback New York Times bestsellers on the Nonfiction list as well as the Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous list, shows that nary a book has anything to do with college admissions.

The top book on the Times’ Nonfiction paperback list was also “Conservative Victory,” but No. 2 was, “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,” by comedian Chelsea Handler. Eight out of the 10 books on the Advice list are about food, how to cook it or how not to eat it.

The SAT guide is only one of the many products -- some free, some not -- offered by the College Board, which says that coaching on the SAT can’t really produce big score gains and recommends that students take only no more than twice. The Web site of the College Board says:

“Most students take the SAT once or twice. We don’t recommend taking it more than twice because there’s no evidence that taking the SAT multiple times significantly changes your score.”

Of course, if you want to take it more than twice, the College Board’s Web site is helpful with a study plan, tailored to how much time you have to study. I went to the Web site’s Study Plan section.

For someone who has taken the SAT at least once and has one to three months to study, it says:

“So you’ve taken the SAT. Smart move – you’re already ahead of the game. Now’s your chance to improve your performance, and with one to three months to prepare, you can do just that.”

Wouldn’t you know it? Step five is trying the “Official SAT Online Course,” described as a “low-cost tool” that features interactive lessons and 10 practice tests. It’s only $69.95!

Of course, that is inexpensive when you consider that private tutors can cost hundreds of dollars an hour. On the other hand, the College Board is nonprofit, and, as a policy, says studying can’t help a score too much. Why charge people for materials to practice for a test they have to pay to take?

The next SAT administration is May 1, and the one after that is June 5. Good news: If your child has taken the SAT three or four times already and you did not get him/her signed up in time for the May date, registration is still open for June.

Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our new Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | April 26, 2010; 10:05 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions, SAT and ACT  | Tags:  SAT, college admissions, college board, official sat study guide, sat test advice, tips on taking the sat  
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Sheesh - of course we're obsessed with SAT scores - VA public universities are great but the best ones are tough to get into. This is news to somebody?

Posted by: GroovisMaximus61 | April 26, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Neither of my kids took an SAT prep course or used a study manual. My oldest did some of the sample questions on the college board website. They both took the SAT twice. The oldest one's score was about 100 points higher the second time and the youngest one's score was about 70 points higher. They felt that they did better the second time because they managed their time better the second time when taking the test. The first time, they didn't finish all the sections. The second time they did because they had a better idea of the time constraints.

Posted by: musiclady | April 26, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how much $$$ The College Board makes each year from PSATs and SATS. Supposedly it's a "non-profit" entity, as are supposedly any of the companies that sell standardized tests that parents don't really understand (but we pay for them and politicians seem to like them). Really...I don't think these organizations are doing this because they have the best interests of American students at heart...they are making money.

Posted by: DecafDrinker | April 26, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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