At first glance, The Princeton Review seems to be shooting itself in the foot.
Unlike other major test-prep companies, who argue that the SAT is a valid test - albeit one that students can prepare for - The Princeton Review's official stand is that "the test should be dumped," says Andy Lutz, the company's vice president for high school programs.
This despite the fact that the company, which began in 1981 with 15 students, now prepares at least 40,000 high-schoolers annually to take the SAT. Why would the Review want to abolish a test that has been so lucrative?
According to Mr. Lutz, the company's motives are altruistic. "The test is not measuring much, and a lot of resources are being devoted to prepping kids for a test that is not well aligned with our educational goals," he explains. "We're not against all standardized tests. We're against bad standardized tests."
But some critics say this outspoken attack on the SAT is in fact a shrewd marketing strategy. All test-prep companies may be guilty of hyping the test's importance to make kids feel that prepping is necessary. By calling the SAT "flawed," critics argue, The Princeton Review creates an us-against-them mentality, suggesting they've figured out the way to "beat" the test.
"The big companies are saying to kids, in effect, 'ETS and the colleges you're applying to are lying and in fact your future will depend on this test," says Nicholas Lemann, author of "The Big Test" (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux). "But The Princeton Review sends a message to kids that ETS is actively evil." This "breeds a certain cynicism in the name of empowering kids," he adds.
To some, this cynical message has, over the past decade, convinced high-schoolers that the SAT is rigged, making them feel that test prep is crucial.
"It's kind of a chicken-and-egg scenario," says Jeffrey Penn, a spokesman for the College Board. "We're in an increasingly competitive college environment. Is that driving the test-prep industry, or is it the other way around?"
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society