SAT Prep is Not “Gaming the System”

Written By Mark Greenstein, Founder of Ivy Bound Test Prep, June 2015

Parents and educators routinely post comments that SAT prep is “gaming the system”.  I happen to agree.  But no student should feel guilty about gaming.   “Gaming” is simply making use of coaching to improve skills that are improvable.

Students who take advantage of SAT or ACT coaching improve their testing skills as wholesomely as students who improve their athletic skills by listening to their team coaches.  The “blockhead belief”, that a mid-range student could not change his SAT scores and was thus “stuck” with that mid-range score, was disproven long ago (by Stanley Kaplan and other test prep pioneers).  Meekly following the “blockhead belief”, thinking that your scores won’t improve much, relegates you to second-tier choices.

The stoic way of being “above coaching” is a LOSING way.   SAT skills are valuable in their own right — the SAT tests grammar, essay writing, reading skills, vocabulary, basic math, practical math, and resourceful math.  The lone impractical element on the old SAT was “analogies”, and the College

Board rid the SAT of analogies in 2004.  SAT coaching is abundant, and often less expensive than athletic coaching, so it’s wise to take advantage of a good SAT coach.

Test prep firms help their students MASTER; that’s not cheating any more than mastering an instrument gets you into some elite ensembles or higher seating in an orchestra.  Gaming is a good thing, especially where ingenuity is one of the very elements that colleges like seeing in applicants.  Colleges embrace the SAT in part because the skills tested there reveal an element of “resourcefulness” that a transcript alone does not reveal.

Highly ranked colleges’ use of the ACT and SAT is one of the most meritocratic things possible for

students.  The SAT largely replaced the “primping, poise, and pedigree” that held sway up until the 1960s.  The College Board makes the SAT eminently accessible to students with low financial means, and colleges bend over backwards to admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds if they possess strong SAT / ACT scores.   When more educators banish the thought that SAT gaming is tawdry, they will help make the SAT the greatest democratizer in human history**.

Again, an athletic analogy.  No counselor would suggest that a student who aspires to be on a varsity team eschew coaching.   Please find me an athlete who has reached elite status in the last 20 years who has done so without a coach.  (Many succeed by having a SET of coaches, including a trainer, nutritionist, and even a sports psychologist.)  The SAT is a gateway for far more students than athletics; SAT prep takes less time than athletic development, costs less, and offers surer rewards.

“Gaming” the SAT is improving yourself for life.

The ACT and SAT are coachable tests.  That is a fact.  The days of the SAT being perceived as a test of innate intelligence are also long over.   Stubborn guidance counselors who finally wise up to this are 30 years too late, but at least they have a few more years of students they can serve well.

It is infuriating to hear of urban schools not pushing their students to excel on the SAT or to apply to top-ranked collages.  The rewards from attending a top tier college are higher than ever.  Students with good grades at top tier colleges have never had more opportunities for great work and great earnings in their 20s.   Good students with math or engineering degrees have NOT experienced a recession.

If your school is not alert to the realities of modern college admissions, please implore the administration to get with it, for the sake of all the students.  More about college admissions realities is contained at, and I personally give a “Know the SAT / Understanding College Admissions” seminar for parents the first Sunday evening of each month.   (Reform-minded administrators are welcome!)  Contact [email protected] for the upcoming seminar.

** The democratizer aspect of the SAT (and ACT) is that once a student graduates from a “melting pot” college she or he is now a “_________ grad”.  Fill in the blank with any four-year college.  That destroys pedigree and geography as employment factors.  When Ambrose, Bucic, Ciccarelli, Davis, Eloho, Farber, and Gagne are Duke class of 2015 grads, employers don’t care about their prior backgrounds.  Just GETTING IN eradicates prejudice against you for internships. Staying in and keeping a decent GPA is not hard (don’t party on weekdays and stay away from lairs that suck up your attention; you’ll have an average or above GPA).  Voila! Almost-instant meritocracy.

See also: Tainted Success (?) What happens with my June SAT Score?