Every year, millions of high school students in the United States take the SAT, a three- to four-hour standardized test to demonstrate college readiness. Test prep courses for the SAT have been around for decades and typically feature study guides and practice exams with an eye toward score improvement. However, most of these SAT study services cost money. The Khan Academy Official SAT Practice program is an exception.
What Is Khan Academy SAT Prep?
Khan Academy is an online nonprofit educational resource showcasing hundreds of tutorial videos on academic subjects, such as math, history and science. College Board, an American nonprofit organization devoted to helping more students get higher education, partnered with Khan Academy in 2017 to provide free SAT test prep services on the Khan Academy website. Known as Official SAT Practice, this program offers eight full-length practice tests, thousands of practice questions, personalized practice plans and study schedules, and instant feedback. The program’s goal is to boost test-takers’ problem-solving skills to acquire a high SAT score, and College Board and Khan Academy hope to achieve this by targeting students’ specific weaknesses with a personalized practice plan.
How Does Khan Academy SAT Practice Compare to Paid Services?
The biggest difference between Khan Academy and paid test prep services, such as Kaplan and Princeton Review, is that Khan Academy’s services are completely free. As of 2019, Kaplan’s services range from $299 for the Online Only Self-Paced Program to $2,229 for in-person or online one-on-one tutoring, with many other services priced in-between, such as SAT Subject Test practice and a course on the SAT Math section. However, Kaplan provides a money-back guarantee if students’ scores don’t improve.
About 40 percent of SAT test-takers use Khan Academy’s Official SAT Practice program, whereas only half as many test-takers use paid test services. Notably, Khan Academy reports an average score gain of 90 points for students who spent six hours with Official SAT Practice and 115 points for students who spent 20 hours with it. These numbers come from 250,000 students who took the SAT in 2017, and they reflect the difference between their PSAT/NMSQT scores and SAT scores. A 115-point boost is roughly double the score improvement of paid services, including Kaplan, and it holds across many social factors, such as ethnicity, income level and gender. For perspective, the maximum possible score on the new SAT is 1600.
How Does the Khan Academy Official SAT Practice Prep Program Work?
To make an account on Khan Academy and take its free SAT practice tests, students can simply visit the Khan Academy website and make an account. If you’ve taken the PSAT, you can upload the scores to your account by giving College Board permission to send them to Khan Academy. Based on your PSAT score, Khan Academy gives you a personalized study plan to improve your weaknesses. Alternatively, if you haven’t taken the PSAT, you can take some diagnostic quizzes. There are eight such quizzes, four for the Math section and four for the Reading and Writing section, and taking them helps Khan Academy tailor your study plan. Once you’re assigned skill levels for different subjects, you start receiving practice questions and video tutorials to prepare you for the real SAT.
By contrast, the Kaplan In-Person Support Program features 18 hours of live instruction for the SAT and 30 hours of online instruction, and you can upgrade to three hours of one-on-one coaching and other prep resources. Similar to Khan Academy, Kaplan starts students off with a diagnostic test to find out their strengths and weaknesses. The $2,229 Kaplan program comes with all of the In-Person Support program features but also includes heavy private tutoring and practice classes and offers four extra full-length practice tests. Many Kaplan users enjoy the highly specific in-person instruction that Khan Academy doesn’t offer. In addition, Kaplan’s Unlimited Prep program lets students retake prep courses as many times as they want until their last year of high school, providing an implicit guarantee of its services. However, Khan Academy offers pretty much all of the test prep services students need to get ready for test day, even if it lacks some of Kaplan’s bells and whistles, and they’re 100 percent free, to boot.
What Are Some Downsides to Khan Academy’s SAT Test Study Plan?
Although the Khan Academy Official SAT Practice program provides a lot of online tools for test-takers, it doesn’t deconstruct the test itself in detail, such as by showing how the test designers set up traps in questions or how they create a question pattern for each section. Khan Academy also doesn’t give much advice on when to skip questions and manage time. Paid test prep services such as Kaplan and Princeton Review provide all of these services. Also, Khan Academy’s video lessons are somewhat simplistic, in that they each focus on sample problems instead of giving overarching strategies for how to read a passage, decipher an algebra equation and so on.
Some students may also feel that Khan Academy doesn’t simulate the SAT test-taking experience very well. That’s because Khan Academy prefers to give students short bursts of practice questions, usually five to 10 at a time, instead of the raft of 150 or so questions that the full-length SAT includes. Also, most questions on Khan Academy aren’t timed. On the SAT, you only have about a minute to answer each question, so untimed practice may not sufficiently prepare you for the real test. Similarly, there’s no substitute to taking the PSAT or SAT in person, where test anxiety and managing paper and pencils become obstacles. Overall, though, the numbers don’t lie. Khan Academy is more reliable than Kaplan and other paid services at boosting students’ scores.
If you like one-on-one tutoring and in-depth test-taking strategies, you might prefer Kaplan’s SAT prep services over the Khan Academy Official SAT Practice program. However, Khan Academy boasts double the score improvement of paid SAT prep programs, and it’s completely free. All in all, Khan Academy is probably the better service for most test-takers.