RATING COMPUTER SAT PREPARATION COURSESby GEORGE J. ADAMSON
Just about every U.S. high school senior
who wants to attend college has to overcome the barrier of the Scholastic
Aptitude Test (SAT). To do well on SAT, a student must develop the problem-solving
skills necessary to master fairly hard verbal and math questions.
How do students develop such skills and become test-wise? Repetition
and practice, of course.
Because of the intense college entrance competition, all students need to improve, their SAT potential. With sofware publishers zeroing in on the home educational market, what better way can computer-owning parents spend their software budget than for something that will supposedly produce measurable improvements in their kids' academic scores?
Prices for the SAT preparation disk packages reviewed by Antic range from $69.96 to $299.95. The low-priced leader is Computer Preparation For The SAT from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, a respected book publisher. HBJ's package includes three double-sided disks, a copy of the thick text How To Prepare For The SAT, sold separately for $7.95, and a user's manual. HBJ integrates book media with a computer by letting each do what it can do best-the book for reading the practice questions and the computer for timing and scoring the results to give immediate feedback. My son found it more time-consuming to input answers via the keyboard than to blacken circles on the book's answer sheet. There was also a delay between the keystroke and the letter's appearance on the screen, but substituting BASIC XL for slow old Atari BASIC solved that problem.
After the six test sections are completed, the screen displays the correct answers. The computer then tallies scores and constructs a study plan to meet individual needs. The SAT content has been divided into 15 categories: antonyms, analogy sentences, analogy categories, sentence completion indicators, sentence completion context, reading comprehension inferences, comprehension facts, arithmetic problems, quantitative comparison, geometry, word problems, fraction-decimal-percent, algebraic expressions, ratio-proportion, and exponents-roots.
Performance in each category is rated as high, medium, or low study priority. The student is told which "Three Step Strategies to Success" to read in the text and which disk banks to access in order to seek improvement. There are 540 verbal and math items available in 27 banks of 20 questions each, and a timer keeps track of response time. Explanations are available immediately after the correct answer is shown. After 20 questions are answered, a summary screen not only shows number right and wrong but also the average time spent per question.
Another valuable feature is 1,000 flashcards of prefixes, roots, and sufflxes in banks of 20 each. Marking the words not known while stepping through all 20 will let the computer repeat them until total familiarity is achieved.
The user's manual is easy to read and to follow except for a "boo-boo" in failing to mention that a BASIC cartridge must be inserted in an 800 or 12OOXL Atari computer. (Both other programs reviewed here are very specific about that.) HBJ should print an insert to note this. But overall the program does give the buyer money's worth at about $13 per disk side. Any game disk costs more than that.
Costing about $23 per disk side, Preparing For The SAT And Other Aptitude Tests uses all Atari's special features: synchronized tape soundtrack narration, large text, animated graphics, color, and sound effects. The Program Design Inc. package is focused on making students test-wise to all types to aptitude and IQ tests rather than just the SAT.
Included in the package is the book MAKING THE GRADE ... HOWTO TAKE AND PASS A TEST. The first course, with soundtrack, explains purposes of IQ and aptitude tests and suggestions for using test time more wisely and improving test scores.
Two perhaps unnecessary items are the world "FALSE" radiating a rainbow of colors on the screen long after the taped voice has announced it and the monotonous PDI animated loop appearing after each lesson.
One disk does include a timer for taking a practice SAT test, but unfortunately the package does not include such a test. Users must find their own SAT samples, type in answers, and then type in the answer key. Finally, the computer will handle all the scoring, but by now this is far more trouble than it's worth.
The vocabulary builder consists of 20 lessons of 40 words each with both synonym and antonym questions. Analogies shows common types of word relationships, and the questions are answered by recognizing the actual relationships instead of just picking "hot" as the word related to "cold" the same way "big" is to "small."
Number series (using taped narration) teaches recognition of sequences typically found on IQ tests (3, 7, 11, 15 ... What comes next?) Quantitative comparisons run from elementary arithmetic to algebra and geometry in seven lessons reviewing the kinds of problems on standardized tests.
PDI's package may possibly be the better choice to become test-wise for a variety of standardized tests, and it's not boring, but it doesn't really offer individualized instruction. However, it is the only package with cassette users in mind.
The Cadillac of SAT programs is Krell's College Board SAT which at $299.95 may be beyond the budget of some Atari owners. Krell has the smallest box and the smallest manual, but the most disks (11 at an average cost of $27 per disk).
Krell notes that its purpose isn't just to promote higher SAT test scores (although its claim to fame is its 70-point increased score guarantee) but to "convey a genuine mastery of the essential verbal and mathematical skills involved. Noticeably it does not reserve computer memory space for timing answers, but it stresses individual needs. "The infinite patience and tolerance of a computerized tutor will be of particular value in assisting the underachiever," its manual points out.
Krell also includes a bonus book in its package, The A's And B's Of Academic 5cholarships listing scholarships available at most of the nation's colleges and universities and their SAT criteria.
Krell promises to refund the purchase price if transcripts of tests taken before and after the purchase sales-slip date don't show an average increase of at least 70 points. It also offers a $15 bonus certificate if one can verify an increase of 75 points or exceed 1350 total. Also, 34 winners in most improved score and highest score categories will share in the $50,000 Great American SAT contest prizes. Buyers of the $139.95 condensed version are not eligible for the 70-point warranty, however.
The complete packages consist of 42 tests. Verbal consists of eight vocabulary lessons, two on sentence completion, two on reading comprehension, and three on word relationships. Twelve standard written English tests dig into sentences and paragraphs. The 15 math lessons include not only specific math computations but also "equal to-greater than-cannot be determined" decisions.
Krell's sophisticated presentation uses artificial intelligence techniques and random selection to customize for the needs of the individual user. The automatic learning strategy continuously monitors students' performances and presents more of the kinds of problems they are having difficulty answering.
Each of these three programs appeals to a different market: the low-priced HBJ to the masses, PDI to cassette owners and those who want to survive all kinds of standardized tests Krell for those who want the most sophisticated in educational technology, regardless of cost.
George J. Adamson, a regular contributor to Antic, has been a language arts public school teacher in Pennsylvania for over 20 years. He is an avid Atari user and supporter, and is active in his local Users Group.
COMPUTER PREPARATION FOR THE SAT
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
1250 Sixth Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
toll free 1-800-543-1918 in CA (619) 699-6335
$79.95 48K disks (6)
PREPARING FOR THE SAT AND OTHER APTITUDE TESTS
Program Design, Inc.
11 Idar Court
Greenwich, CT 06830
$59.95 16K cassettes (6) $69.96 disks (6) with audio cassette
KRELL'S COLLEGE BOARD SAT
Krell Software Corp.
1320 Stony Brook Road
Stony Brook, NY 11790
$299.95 48K disks (11)
$139.95 48K abridged version