SAT coaching and test prep isn’t important

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

I don’t know that I’m “seriously stunned” by these five facts about higher education in America, but I can imagine most people who haven’t read Caplan would be:

1. 4 out of 10 college students fail to complete their degrees. According to research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, only 58-percent of students manage to complete their degree programs within six years. Bill Gates has called this figure “tragic.” He has written, “Based on the latest college completion trends, only about half of all those students will leave college with a diploma. The rest — most of them low-income, first-generation, and minority students — will not finish a degree. They’ll drop out.” Sadly, community college figures are even more dismal. A recent study in California found that 70-percent of community college students fail out.

2. Attending an elite university doesn’t boost income. What matters is the ability to get in. Economists Stacy Dale and Alan B. Krueger looked at two groups, totaling about 19,000 students. One group gained admission into elite universities, attended, and graduated. Another group also gained admission into elite universities. But this group, rather than attending the elite schools, chose to attend less selective schools instead. More than 20 years after they graduated, Dale and Krueger measured their incomes. They found no difference. A student who got into Princeton but attended Penn State made as much as a student who got into, and attended, Princeton.

3. Graduating from a non-selective college doesn’t boost income. In a book about social class in America, researchers looked at how differently ranked colleges affected earnings. They found that students who attended the country’s most elite institutions earned about 84-percent more on average compared to those who had not graduated college. Graduates of “somewhat selective” private colleges and “leading state universities” earned about 52-percent more than non-graduates. However, they found “no income advantage” for those who graduated from a “nonselective” college compared to those who did not attend college.

4. A person with average academic ability has a higher than 50-percent chance of dropping out of college. For the general population, the average IQ score is 100. Research has found that, among white American college students, those with a 105 IQ score have a 50-percent chance of dropping out of college. They also report that the average IQ of a college graduate is about 114. But they also show that having a high IQ is no guarantee of graduating. Those who score 130 (very rare; about 2-percent of the population) still have a 10-percent dropout rate.

5. SAT coaching and test prep isn’t important. Many people have heard that private SAT prep courses and private tutoring produce substantial gains. Test prep companies tout that their users receive boosts of 100 points or more after only a few weeks of study. Research doesn’t support this. A meta-analysis from researchers at Harvard found that, on average, SAT coaching produces a 10-point gain. They conclude that this gain is “too small to be practically important.” More recent research from Stanford supports this. They found that students receive an 11-15 point gain from SAT coaching, which roughly corresponds to getting 1 or 2 additional questions correct. Perhaps even more surprising, a study from 2015 found that private tutoring has no effect on SAT gains. As the put it, “our hypothesis that more elite forms of test prep (private tutor) would predict higher SAT scores was not confirmed. The only form of that prep actually associated with higher SAT scores was participation in a private test prep course, which translated into an 11-point gain on the SAT when compared to students with no preparation.”


  1. Harry Jones says:

    Didn’t Bill Gates drop out?

  2. Kirk says:

    Most of the academic world is a fraud, pure and simple. It’s all about the credentials, and keeping life nice and easy for the “right sort”, much as the aristocracy in England was all about keeping the “right people” running things.

    Actual education and scholarship? Oh, dearie me… That’s not what the system actually produces. Nor is it meant to–Instead, it is meant to produce endless numbers of the anointed, who are usually actually dumber than posts and stone ignorant, to boot.

  3. CVLR says:

    Kirk, you’re almost, almost there. The purpose of the “education” system is, as you say, to produce endless numbers of dumber-than-posts and stone-ignorants. But it isn’t really anything to do with the “right sort” or the “anointed”, it’s really about control. The educated are a threat to the system, its biggest threat, and so the optimal disarmament strategy is to suck up the genetically intelligent in order to isolate them from, and immunize them against, the great thoughts of the past.

    When thinking about these sorts of things, I have a number of axioms, and one of them is that the true ruling class is always and forever educated according to something resembling more or less an authentic liberal education.

    Another is that power cloaks itself. I think I got that one from Hobbes.

  4. CVLR says:

    Harry Jones: “Didn’t Bill Gates drop out?”

    He did drop out, but mostly he dropped in.

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