The question of whether—or to what extent—the SAT is "coachable" is a perennial controversy. When the recent overhaul to the SAT was announced, College Board CEO David Coleman made a big deal about how the changes would orient the test so that it more closely measured the skills needed for college success. One intended consequence of those changes was that the test would be less susceptible to coaching. Eliminating sentence-completion questions, for example, was meant to discourage students from memorizing long lists of "SAT" words that they would never need again.
A certain number of SAT takers each year find their scores "delayed for administrative review." Whenever this happens, the students affected are naturally upset or worried, but if this happens to you and you took the test in the U.S., it's almost always good news, assuming of course you didn't actually cheat. (You didn't, did you?)
In the first part of this series, I suggested that many strategies taught by test-preparation companies cannot legitimately be called gaming the SAT. Which is not to say that there aren't strategies out there that do amount to gaming the test. But many test-prep people, including myself, take the line that actual improvement comes from building fundamental skills and takes real work. (The test-prep guy writing in the Times debate I mentioned last time takes this attitude.)
In December, the New York Times had a "Room for Debate" piece called Why Does the SAT Endure? The viewpoints expressed include those of two psychometricians, a college admissions officer, someone working for a test-prep company, and an education policy wonk. Taken together, the pieces didn't constitute much of a debate, but the introduction to the discussion poses the question of why the SAT is still around if, as its critics say, it can be gamed.
On March 28, 1990 Michael Jordan scored 69 points against Cleveland. After the game, his teammate Stacey King quipped, "I'll always remember this as the night that Michael and I combined for 70 points."
If you are a high school student studying for one of the big standardized tests (the SAT or the ACT), or if you are the parent of such a student, I have one important piece of advice for you: don't waste your money on commercial test prep books, especially when it comes to the material for writing.