More than 1.4 million high school students worldwide are expected to take the SAT this year; however, estimates show that only about 50 percent of all secondary schools offer programs to prepare students for the exam. With a widely diverse range of platforms and solutions, today’s test-preparation software providers are hoping to raise that figure.

As the October SAT approaches, test-prep providers are offering programs via an unprecedented variety of media, thanks to technological innovations in software, handheld devices, and even cellular phone technology. Here are just a few examples.

Cellular and handheld options

The TI-84 Plus Silver Edition graphing calculator from Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) now includes SAT prep applications that the company says are ideal for student preparation in any environment, given the calculator’s portability. The SAT preparation tools come pre-loaded, with 30 educational applications that include more than 500 electronic flash cards containing math and verbal SAT sample questions geared to help prepare college-bound students for the new SAT format.

The company says it makes sense to invest in the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, as graphing calculators are permitted for use or even required for the SAT Reasoning Test and Subject Tests, as well as Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, and Statistics exams and also the ACT.

The device features a built-in USB port and enough memory to hold more than 90 applications. It retails for around $120, though TI says education discounts are available.

Franklin Electronic Publishing has a license agreement with Random House to publish The Princeton Review’s “Cracking the SAT” for the first time on a handheld electronic device. The result is a product called The Princeton Review Pocket Prep for the New SAT, a portable interactive handheld tutor designed to improve SAT scores with a complete test-preparation system that lets students prepare anywhere, the companies say.

This interactive handheld solution offers a complete Princeton Review test preparation suite for the new SAT. Features include self-directed verbal, math, and essay questions; practice exam diagnostics; practice drills; flash cards with 5,000 SAT vocabulary words; links to a Merriam-Webster dictionary and thesaurus; a custom user word list; an advanced grammar guide; and a calculator. Timed, full-length practice SAT exams with answers and explanations also are available.

The same Princeton Review test-prep features are available to Verizon cell-phone users (and soon for other carriers’ platforms) through a new, patent-pending push technology from VOCEL. The Princeton Review can now deliver content to teens on their phones whenever test preparation fits into students’ schedules.

Students can use their mobile phones to get interactive, hands-on practice, strategies, and tips in much the same way they’d play a game or download a ring tone. Once downloaded, the content resides in the phone, so test-prep applications can be accessed even if there is no phone signal.

“For parents and students looking for every competitive edge for school and college admissions, a cell phone can now deliver another new way to learn: early, often, everywhere, and in bite-sized pieces,” said Andy Lutz, vice president of program development for The Princeton Review. “Anything has a bit more cache when it involves the phone. We’ve honestly been surprised at just how excited students are about the idea of SAT preparation via their mobile phones.”

The cell-phone version includes graphics, vibrations, and sound effects designed to make the lessons more compelling. A special feature even allows parents to be notified about their child’s progress by phone or eMail.

The Princeton Review chose to tailor this service to standard cellular phones because research shows about half of American young people (ages 13-17) have a cell phone, making these devices much more ubiquitous among teens and college students than personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other handheld devices.

VOCEL uses QUALCOMM’s BREW solution to incorporate its cutting-edge “push” technology into this application. The technology permits students to choose their own test-prep schedule.

“My 15-year-old son is not yet disciplined enough to study for the SAT on his own,” said Carl Washburn, chief executive officer of VOCEL. “This technology is a godsend–SAT practice questions are automatically being sent to his phone throughout the day. The practice questions are impossible to ignore. Now he is answering SAT practice questions each day without my having to nag him to study.”

The handheld device retails through Franklin for $149.95. To get the cellular phone service through VOCEL, users must purchase or own a compatible phone. If the user is enrolled as a Princeton Review SAT prep student, she or he can download the course free of charge for a four-month period. If not, the service costs approximately $5.75 each month.

Online test-prep tools

LearningExpress LLC offers a variety of test-prep materials, including SAT study guides, through its Advantage web application.

LearningExpress Advantage offers skill-building, assessment, test preparation, reporting, and vocational resources together in a single, online platform. Districts and schools can use LearningExpress Advantage to meet a broad range of needs, the company says–from improving students’ proficiency in math, reading, and writing in middle and high school, to raising scores on college entrance exams, to facilitating data-driven instruction and transitioning students from high school to the workplace.

LearningExpress says its Advantage SAT Preparation Program effectively prepares students for the new essay-writing portion of the exam through in-depth content review, test-taking strategies, ongoing writing practice, instant scoring, and skills assessment. The diagnostic and reporting tools in the application are intended to help teachers accurately evaluate–and aid in the development of–students’ writing skills. In addition, the program’s flexible online format allows it to be used as an instructional resource for teachers in the classroom or as an independent study tool for students.

Through the Advantage SAT Preparation Program, students have access to a wide range of essay prompts to reinforce their writing skills and help familiarize them with the test format. Immediately after writing and submitting a practice essay online, students receive a detailed breakdown of how they performed in each of the five key areas measured by the College Board. LearningExpress says its electronic scoring is highly accurate and is based on the rubrics used to score the official SAT.

LearningExpress Advantage is available on an annual subscription basis. Once a school has subscribed, its students receive unlimited access to the program from any web-enabled computer.

Another online test-prep provider, Boston Test Prep Inc. (BTP), is making its solution available free of charge to certain qualifying schools.

BTP Cares, a philanthropic program from BTP, is designed to help underserved students successfully prepare for the new SAT. Through BTP Cares, the company will donate its premium online SAT preparation program to any high school in the United States that demonstrates financial need. BTP estimates that its total donation could be valued at more than $5 million. Access to test-prep programs is more critical than ever, BTP says, given the College Board’s new SAT format and handwritten essay component.

“The SAT is such an important component of the college admissions process for high school students, but budget cuts have forced schools throughout the country to eliminate curriculum designed to prepare students for the exam,” said Ronald C. Pruett, Jr., chief executive officer of Boston Test Prep. “There is a considerable amount of fear related to the SAT–from school administrators and teachers to parents and students–especially in light of the new SAT. Boston Test Prep is rolling out BTP Cares to help schools and students around the country conquer the SAT.”

Application letters for the BTP Cares program are reviewed by an internal committee. Each approved school will receive unlimited access to BTP’s online SAT prep program for one year, for up to 100 students. Schools can submit application letters for the BTP Cares program online.

See these related links:

Texas Instruments

TI-84 Plus Silver Edition

The Princeton Review

Franklin Electronic Publishing


LearningExpress LLC

Boston Test Prep Inc.

BTP Cares