Not so very long ago on an internet not so far away, I received an email asking me to review an SAT- related book. Normally, I don’t read the SAT books that currently flood the market; I’ve glanced at some of the books about the SAT (which I’m distinguishing from SAT preparation books) and mostly found them uninspiring. Many of them are too narrow, too poorly researched, too general, or too biased. But for some reason the email I got this day intrigued me and I foolishly said yes I’d read the book and post my commentary on it. So here goes.
At first glance the title is probably what caught my attention. SAT Sneak Attack How Computer Geniuses Hack, Beat and Cheat America’s Most Feared Exam. It was catchy. It was sensational. It was inflammatory. This boded either really well or really poorly. I’ve been in SAT prep for over 20 years and I’ve pretty much thought about and discussed with friends, students, and colleagues every way to cheat the exam, yet this book suggested that there were folks out there who’d thought of ways to cheat the exam that I’d not considered and that this way worked. I was intrigued… I was skeptical, but I was intrigued.
So I opened up my Kindle app, downloaded the book sent to me digitally and got to reading. Immediately I noted that the book was exceedingly short and from there it went downhill. I tried to buck up and chalk my sinking feeling up to my being a bit of a book snob (if I bother to read something I want it to last. I typically only read series that have 3 or more books. I loved and read twice the Wheel of Time series that lasted 14 books each at 300+ pages) But I rallied; I was wanted to give this article/novella/research paper a chance to see what hidden gems I might find and to mine the secrets that the computer geniuses have to reveal about cheating your way to a better SAT score.
The tale begins with an anecdote of what sparked the author’s interest in “investigating” this SAT “cheating” phenomenon. This is followed by the requisite criticism of the College Board, the inconsistency of proctoring, and the exorbitant salaries paid to executives. This set up period lasts too long for me, and includes too many phrases like “friends doomed to live with going to a less prestigious college.” Additionally, the author makes many unsupported assumptions like “the average kid has a four function machine that can add, subtract, multiply, and divide.” But putting all of these quibbles aside I read on hoping to find the much ballyhooed secrets to hack the SAT.
Finally almost 1/3 into the article we get to the crux of the matter and the secret begins to be revealed: programs can be purchased for the calculator to allow you to solve some questions faster and easier. I should have stopped reading there. Everything after that was anticlimactic and only tangentially related to what I was interested in. I felt cheated. I’d expected to learn some awesome new strategy for beating the test but all I learned was that programs exists that will make calculators do more than their original programming planned for. The author did a good job conveying some of the history of Texas Instruments and the College Board and the growth of supplemental programs used for cheating, but this really didn’t do much to reveal “secrets to hack the SAT.” Having spent an hour reading this Sneak Attack I certainly didn’t feel I’d learned anything, and certainly not a way to sneak attack the SAT or how to hack, beat, or cheat the feared exam.
Summary and Questions
The greatest disappointment in this novella was that I was left with tons of questions. I would have appreciated the work if the author, who gives citation after citation about the reprogramming of the calculators, would have given some data on the effectiveness of these “cheating” tools. Here are a few of the questions this article left me with:
- What is the maximum impact on the score you could achieve using the calculator cheats vs not using them?
- Which of many cheat programs referenced are most effective? Which are ineffective?
- How do these programs impact the 2/3 of the test that is not math?
- What percent of students have access to the $189+ TI calculator?
- Does using these programs require any knowledge of the underlying math?
- Is there a difference in effectiveness in using these programs based on student score level?
- Have you had any actually 17 year olds actually test out the effectiveness and usability of the programs?
Given that the report was touted as a secret to hacking the SAT, it seems a pretty glaring omission not to address impact on score or ease of access (as in ability to purchase the TI calculator). In the short this was a nice story, mildly interesting to parents and teachers of high scoring affluent potential SAT test takers but having no real value for the vast majority of college bound high school students.