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The Effect of Admissions Test Preparation: Evidence from NELS-88

Publisher: Chance, 14 (1)
Page Numbers: 10-18

For students planning to apply to a four year college, scores on standardized admissions tests--the SAT I or ACT--take on a great deal of importance. A principal justification for the use of the SAT I and ACT in the admissions process is that such tests are designed to be insensitive to the high school curriculum and to short- term test preparation. If short-term preparatory activities prior to taking the SAT I or ACT can have the effect of significantly boosting the scores of students above those they would have received without the preparation, both the validity and reliability of the tests as indicators of college readiness might be called into question. There is an emerging consensus that particular forms of test preparation have the effect of improving scores on sections of the SAT I for students who take the tests more than once, but the actual magnitude of this effect remains controversial. The author analyzes this based upon data taken from the National Education Longitudinal Survey of 1988 (NELS:88, hereafter referred to as “NELS”). NELS tracks a nationally representative sample of US students from the 8th grade through high school and beyond. A panel of roughly 16,500 students completed a survey questionnaire in the first three waves of NELS: 1988, 1990 and 1992. For the purposes of this study, the relevant sources of information are specific student responses to survey items, high school transcript data, and standardized test scores collected during the first and second follow ups of NELS.