College Board, Khan Academy team up to offer free SAT prep program

Sage Hill High School students in Newport Beach take the PSAT in 2007. The test helps prepare students for the SAT.
(Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times)

The revised version of the SAT college entrance exam won’t be offered until March but students can start preparing for it Tuesday with a new, free online study program affiliated with the test.

The College Board, which administers the Scholastic Assessment Test, has joined forces with Khan Academy, the well-regarded online education nonprofit based in Silicon Valley, to create tutorials in math and English and practice tests that evaluate students’ knowledge of those subjects. Officials with both organizations said it will help familiarize college applicants with changes in the test that are meant to better align it to curricula taught in high school classrooms.


SAT prep: In the June 2 California section, an article about new online tutorials for SAT preparation misspelled the last name of Khan Academy founder Salman Khan as Kahn. —
The Khan program presents a challenge to commercial test prep firms, which maintain that their more personalized classes will remain in high demand. It also represents something of a concession from the College Board, which in the past minimized the need for rigorous preparation beyond what’s learned in school.


College Board President David Coleman said in a telephone call with reporters that he wants to eliminate surprises and anxiety over the new test. He predicted the Khan tutorials and their personalized diagnostics would perform like good coaches aiding athletes before a game so that students “can be cool and ready” on test day.

Coleman, who previously had a hand in creating the national Common Core standards for K-12 education, suggested that the Khan programs also might be used as teaching aids in classrooms.

The SAT’s main test will return to two parts — one for math and another for reading and grammar — as it had been for generations before 2005, and the essay-writing portion will be an optional supplement for many students. (Some schools, including the UC system, still require it.) Calculators will be banned on some math sections, and students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers. The most obscure vocabulary words will be dropped.

The College Board and Khan Academy also announced a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America that will make the prep sessions available at the clubs for students who don’t have computers; in-person tutors will be available there for extra help. Officials said they hope that as much as 70% of the 4,100 clubs around the country will join the effort in a few years.

Salman Khan, the founder of the online academy that offers popular lectures and classes on math and many other subjects, said the SAT tutorials will allow students of varying skills “to start wherever they are” academically. The tutorials have the advantage of being created in cooperation with people who write SAT questions, he said. The free and open access, he said, will start “to level the playing field” with students able to afford private tutors or coaching from commercial firms.




June 2, 10:07 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled Khan Academy founder Salman Khan’s surname as Kahn.


Seppy Basili, Kaplan Test Prep’s vice president for college admissions and K-12 programs, said the company will offer classes and online material for the revised SAT in the fall.

Basili said that the Khan classes are “a recognition that test preparation works, and works pretty darn well” and added that he does not think Khan’s Web presence will hurt his company’s business. Many students will want “something extra to set themselves apart” beyond the free classes, he said.

Kaplan’s SAT prep courses range from about $300 for an online program to $3,500 for 20 hours of private tutoring.

In March 2016, the first group of test takers will be mainly high school juniors, although some seniors may need to take it for scholarship or athletics qualifications. The new version of the PSAT will be offered this fall.

About 1.7 million students last year took the SAT, which has been losing market share to its rival, ACT. Critics of the SAT contend that the changes are mainly designed to make the test more like the ACT.


Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, an organization that advocates for all colleges to make admissions tests optional, noted that other free test prep classes and material have long been available. Though he praised the connection with the Boys & Girls Clubs, Schaeffer said the new classes “will do nothing to reduce the demand for high-priced personalized tutoring of the sort provided by Kaplan or Princeton Review.”

Online tutorials such as those offered by Khan Academy “require a degree of self discipline that is not typical for teenagers,” he said.

Twitter: @larrygordonlat