A STUDENT TESTS S.A.T. SOFTWARE
Grades for KreII and HBJby DIANNA HARMS
My dad, Ken Harms, is an Antic contributing
editor. He reads a lot of computer magazines and sees reviews of programs
that are supposed to improve your SAT scores. But those reviews are written
by computer buffs. Why not a review by a high school student who's actually
going to use these programs to prepare for the college placement tests?
I'm about to start my high school senior year in Danville, Caliornia. I have taken the SAT and ACT tests about four times during the past six years-twice as part of a research project. I have a 3.75 + GPA and I score very well on verbal and TSWE. But don't ask me about math! And I'm certainly no computer whiz kid.
For this article, Antic sent me copies of Computer Preparation for the SAT ($79.95) by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (HBJ) and the much more expensive Krell's College Board SAT Exam Preparation Series ($229.95) from Krell Software Corp.
HBJ's nice plastic package contains three double-sided disks, a 50-page User's Manual and a 469-page workbook, How to Prepare for the SAT, that's also sold separately for $7.95. Quite intimidating, do I really have to read all this?
Krell's package is a smaller, bookshelf-sized cardboard box. Open it and out fall eight single-sided disks, a 47-page booklet and all sorts of contest posters, catalogs, guarantees, etc.
Krell costs more, but the company offers to refund the purchase price if you fail to increase your score by 50 points after using the program for at least 6 hours. However, normal classroom learning over the months between SAT tests would probably get you most or all of those 50 points.
HBJ's disks are divided into three major sections: math and vocabulary drills, vocabulary flashcards, and four full-length tests. The User's Manual stated: "To run the software, simply insert the disk and turn on the power." I did. Nothing happened ... several times.
Dad had to rescue me by suggesting that I try putting the BASIC cartridge into our 800 model. Thanks a lot, HBJ.
I followed HBJ's suggestion and tried the tests first. After several centuries of load time, I was rewarded with a simple screen giving several columns of numbers and blanks.
It seems you're supposed to read the question from the workbook, type the question number and then the answer, followed by [RETURN]. The program is so slow that I had to pause after each key.
For instance, the answer "23A" was , pause, , pause, [A], pause, [RETURN]. After all this, the program doesn't tell you if the answer is correct until the whole section is finished.
The section is automatically scored, wrong answers are highlighted and the correct answer is given so you can look in the workbook again. User friendly, it wasn't.
The drills are well organized by learning category (analogies/sentences, analogies/categories, etc.). For each question, you get two chances to answer correctly and you know immediately if you are right or wrong.
After answering, you can request an explanation. In general, I found the explanations helpful. They showed why the answer is correct and gave suggestions for solving similar problems. Although the math explanations were sometimes too simple, at least they made sense to me!
But after answering each question, the program infuriatingly asks, "Do you want an explanation? (Y/N)." A [Y] response tells you to "Press [E] for explanation". And if you press [N] the program says "Press [C] to continue." Even to me, it was obvious that these extra steps could be eliminated by intelligent programming.
On the plus side, HBJ'S workbook is a strong feature. It offers good old-fashioned study guidance, all the answers to test questions, and a good review of each subject area. Although it takes a lot of work, I think it'd be helpful for a brush-up. And it's only $7.95 without the software.
Krell's booklet gave simple and accurate loading instructions-a quick plus! The eight disks are divided into verbal and math, four apiece. Krell provides an "Automatic Learning Feature" (ALF) which is supposed to look at your performance and "alter the way in which problems are selected for presentation."
But I didn't see any change when I answered some questions with ALF turned on and some without. Vocabulary words were repeated anyway, even when I got them right the first time.
When the first analogy appeared on the screen, I was relieved that there wasn't a timer. That's because I spent most of the time thumbing through my trusty pocket dictionary. The words are ridiculous-much harder than I ever found on the actual SAT.
Example: The antonym of "RECAL CITRANT" is "EMBLAZON, COMPLIANT, PROBITY, INCUBUS or SATURNINE." Yep, it sure is!
The drill gives no help or explanation, just the right answers. Questions appear quickly. Responses are accepted rapidly.
After each question, the program stops to show your cumulative score and waits for you to press a key to continue. I didn't like this. It broke my concentration and I wanted the score only after the end of a session.
Krell uses a scoring system of 4 for right, 0 for skip, and -1 for wrong. I have no idea if that approximates the SAT, especially for the small sets of questions Krell lets you choose.
Krell's math is terrifying. The questions seem to be from medium to hard, mostly hard (at least to me).
Example: WHAT IS THE LENGTH OF A LINE BETWEEN POINT A (5,-2) AND B (2,-4)?
Now look at Krell's explanation:
THE DISTANCE BETWEEN ANY TWO POINTS IS EQUAL TO THE SQUAREROOT
(sic) OF THE SUM OF THE SQUARES OF THE DIFFERENCES OF THEIR X AND Y COORDINATES.
(THE PYTHAGOREAN THEOREM)
IN THIS CASE: THE SQUAREROOT OF 13
That's no explanation, it's a death sentence! If you can understand their explanation, you obviously don't need one. The explanation ends with a question: "Do you want another question of this type?" Not a chance! And once again, you must look at your score.
Krell's little booklet contains reading selections and a few math-related diagrams. Neither program includes diagrams for the geometry questions on the disk.
WOULD THEY HELP?
These programs have two purposes: 1) get the student familiar with the SAT testing style. 2) increase the student's knowledge.
The HBJ package certainly familiarizes the student with the test, but at the cost of a huge time investment. And if these programs also intend to make the student feel more comfortable with the exam, I think Krell fails. It made me feel most uncomfortable, even ignorant.
HBJ's explanations in the verbal sections seemed to help increase knowledge. Their flashcard set did just that. But Krell's entire verbal sections were simple flashcards. With both, however, you won't get much help unless the word you studied appeared on the SAT-only one did on my last test.
HBJ's math sections could provide learning increases, especially if you studied the workbook. But Krell's math instruction was way beyond me.
You have to be really motivated to put up with either of these programs. The hours and hours of real work required to study are even more difficult to endure with both HBJ and Krell's built-in frustrations.
These are serious programs-no sound, no color, no special effects- just dry, unremitting drills. Be sure you're ready for this type of experience before you lay out any money.
COMPUTER PREPARATION FOR THE SAT
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
757 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
$79.95, 48K disk
KRELL'S COLLEGE BOARD SAT
KreIl Software Corp.
1320 Stony Brook Road
Stony Brook, New York 11790
$229.95, 48K disk