By now, you’ve likely heard the news. The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to offer free online test preparation for the SAT starting in spring 2015. We’re definitely talking about it in the Magoosh office. You might think this is bad news for a test prep company like us—one that has a for-pay product similar to Khan Academy’s—but we’re genuinely excited.
We have never had any shortage of love for Khan Academy, and with the partnership announcement, our respect for Sal Khan and his creation has grown even more. Here’s why we support it:
A shared mission
We share a mission with Khan Academy. They aim to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere, and we want to make education more accessible, effective, and enjoyable. Overall, we both want to level the playing field. Historically, test prep and education have favored those with greater means, and we both plan to change that. In fact, one of our core values is Accessible > Exclusive. We’re in full support of anything that helps achieve this mission.
Now, exclusivity might be attractive at times, but we believe no educator should ever embrace unfair separation between students, especially one based on income. Khan and David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, seem to get that. We’re impressed to see a test-maker taking action on closing the gap—hats off to the College Board.
We know that leveling the playing field is a lofty goal and that free online SAT prep is just a start. Income inequality and its links to U.S. education are bigger than test prep, but the partnership is clearly a step in the right direction!
Changing the perception of online test prep
Over the years, we’ve seen a number of online test-prep tools for students. Unfortunately, they’ve more often than not been sorely lacking, easily outshone by expensive classes and tutors. Students would spend three to six months using subpar material, without the help of an expert, wasting time instead of money. Because of these experiences, parents and students alike have had a negative perception of online prep.
But at Magoosh, we’ve learned that online test prep can be successful. Focusing on the GMAT and GRE at first, we found that with high-quality content and support from experts, motivated students using online material can improve their scores as much or more than those who dish out hundreds to thousands of dollars on classes or tutors. Quality does not correlate with cost. Even so, we still battle that misconception daily.
With Khan Academy’s tool, we imagine that the perception of online test prep will continue to improve. A product that comes with officially curated questions and the teaching experience of Khan Academy will be a fantastic resource for any SAT student. Changing the perception of online learning can’t be done by one company. With Khan Academy in the game, we know that more and more students will be open to online resources.
The SAT is changing, but test prep still matters
The upcoming SAT changes will impact every test prep company, including Khan Academy. According to the College Board, the new test will be more closely linked to the curriculum at an average U.S. high school than the current test. Many of the changes announced seem to bring the SAT a little closer to the ACT, a test that, according to its creators, may be a better measurement of students’ performance in high school courses.
For example, the vocabulary will be heavily toned down (no more “perfidious” or “munificence,” it seems). Some changes go a step further, e.g. a new optional essay that’s based completely on a provided text—you won’t be able to invent history to suit your argument anymore. With the new SAT, there’s no doubt that students will need to study differently and learn different skills. That said, the new SAT will definitely have some things in common with the current version, and a lot of what test prep companies now offer will remain relevant to the next test (30-60-90 triangles will still have the same proportions).
Interestingly, with the Khan Academy partnership, the College Board has embraced test preparation a bit more than they have in the past. Again, we can only give our kudos, here. The test can be taught. High-school classes are hugely important, but the partnership demonstrates that the College Board believes preparing for the SAT outside of school can make a difference.
Magoosh has a vested interest in test prep, but from our experience, students who practice the test—focusing on the specific topics that are tested most, how they’ll be presented, and the simplest strategies for answering—do increase their scores, sometimes by large leaps. We’ve seen thousands of students retake a standardized test and improve their scores after using Magoosh. If our students didn’t improve, we wouldn’t be around today.
So it’s important to us as a team to see that the College Board is publicly recognizing that test-specific preparation is important. And that they’re entering the arena with such a respectable partner makes the news all the better.
We’re hoping for high-quality SAT prep
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the College Board has provided some sort of study material. The Official SAT Study Guide is without question one of the most important resources on the market, and they offer an online course, as well. But these materials have lacked details on the fundamental concepts and strategies that a struggling student might need, so we’re hoping that the upcoming free prep tool will address those issues. Our students have told us there’s enormous value in step-by-step explanations and careful attention to strategy, and from what we’ve seen of their before and after scores, they’re right.
We’re hoping that the tool Khan Academy and the College Board are building will not only have a substantial number of officially curated questions but also have those clear explanations and strategies from Khan Academy. But one way or another, we’re massively excited to see what comes out of the collaboration!
Will free online prep kill our business?
We believe Khan Academy’s free SAT prep won’t hurt Magoosh. First off, we are no stranger to free. We offer free eBooks, videos, flash cards, practice questions, articles, and more. Our paying students sometimes chide us for giving away as much as we do. We even have students tell us to raise our prices, saying that the value of Magoosh is much higher than the price of one hour with a great tutor. But ultimately, it’s this balance of free and paid that lets us stay in business without increasing the education gap between the haves and have-nots.
When students pay for Magoosh, they receive access not only to videos and practice questions (as they will from Khan Academy), but also to our team of test-prep experts. Our team works hard to help students through math concepts or study schedules, and ultimately we are agnostic to what materials we recommend as long as they are high quality. Often they are Magoosh materials, but not always, and so we have a strong feeling that we’ll be recommending the Khan Academy tool to students in the not-so-distant future!
Ultimately, we believe that we can be a personal link between students and tests, the thoughtful ear of an expert only an email away. Regardless of the effect that the new tool has, our mission remains the same, and we’ll continue to support students in any way we can and work toward more accessible education.