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Entrance-Exam Coaching: How Much Payoff?

A new study commissioned by the National Association for College Admission Counseling raises questions about the role of college-entrance-exam coaching in the admissions process.

The report summarizes existing research that shows that coaching for college-entrance exams like the SAT and the ACT generally produces only modest score improvements. But NACAC's survey of its member colleges "unexpectedly revealed" that "in a substantial minority of cases," colleges use specific score cutoffs in their admissions decisions, or consider a small increase in entrance-exam scores significant enough to affect a candidate's chances of admission.

Given the significance that some colleges assign to even small test-score increases, the NACAC reiterates a concern raised by its testing commission: "the inequality that may result from uneven access to test-preparation resources." The author of the study, Derek Briggs, an assistant professor of quantitative methods and policy analysis at the University of Colorado at Boulder, cautions admissions officers to "be careful about the use of SAT or ACT scores to make fine-grained distinctions between applicants" because modest differences "could be explained by measurement error, differential access to coaching, or both."

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