A Free, Personal Tutor for One College Admissions Exam. But Will It Work?

A new, online tutor can take a student’s score on a practice college admissions test, and then produce a custom study guide to help the student succeed on the “real” test.

The price? Free.

Students who took the PSAT, a practice version of the SAT, can log in online and link their score reports to a tool that will produce a study guide specifically tailored to help them improve areas where they are weak. Students must sign up for this feature; a YouTube video promoting the program describes the process as “three simple steps.”

The video, which has been viewed more than 12,000 times since it was released Feb. 1, comes at a good time. Scores for the PSAT were delivered to sophomores and juniors last month. And, unlike those who went to high school before the digital craze took root, today’s students received their scores online.

Tools like this come as the administrators of college admission tests, both the SAT and the ACT, are under increasing pressure to ensure that scores are a measure of aptitude and not a marker for affluence. Critics of these tests contend that students from families who can afford test preparation classes – and know enough to put their children into them – tend to do better.

And as colleges and universities face calls to diversify student bodies, some universities are dropping admissions tests. This isn’t just small liberal arts schools, either. It includes flagship institutions such as the University of Michigan and, as of last week, the University of Delaware.

Amid these changes, the makers of the SAT have announced various improvements, including a redesigned test and new online learning programs that aim to increase equality. That includes last summer’s partnership with the Khan Academy, the nonprofit group known for its collection of free, online tutorials. Together, they launched a website that features a growing collection of study materials – all free.

“We wanted students to get more out of the PSAT, so we built a tool that allows students to send us their PSAT scores with the click of a button,” Elizabeth Slavitt, vice president, learner strategy and operations at Khan Academy said in an email. “Based on that information, we very quickly tell students exactly what they should focus on to improve their skills and do better on the SAT. Students save time — no need to take a diagnostic or waste time on irrelevant skills — and get more personalized recommendations.”

It remains to be seen if this venture will help disadvantaged students succeed in an increasingly complex college admissions process. These tutorials are competing for the time and attention of students who need to feel confident that it’s a worthwhile use of their time.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo writes about blended learning. Most of her 10-year career as a reporter has focused on education. She has also covered stories about government, courts, business and religion. She was a staff writer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., The York Daily Record/Sunday News in York, Pa., The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa. and The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and has been published in The Atlantic's online edition. She won first prize and best of show for education writing in 2011 from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. She earned a B.A. in journalism at the Pennsylvania State University.