The New York Times reports that Stanley Kaplan, founder of Kaplan, Inc., passed away recently at the age of 90. We at MSS feel strongly that it’s important to mark the passing of the man who essentially began test preparation. Back then, you had to argue that standardized tests were something for which you could study. The folks at the College Board averred that the SAT tested native intelligence and contended that preparation was a waste of time. As if the ability to solve an algebra problem on the SAT was a measure of IQ.
The real issue that Kaplan’s death raises is one that the test preparation industry has been grappling with since it began. Namely, is test preparation a fair industry? After all, if one can pay to become better at the LSAT (for example), and a higher LSAT score gets you into a better school, then aren’t people with money gaining an unfair advantage?
The short answer is yes. If a person can afford a test prep course, then he or she has access to tools that a person without money does not.*
In defense of test prep companies, all things are easier with money. Let’s face it: having money for a personal trainer makes losing weight easier. Being able to shell out over $1,000 for a computer makes writing papers easier. This does not mean, however, that you can’t lose weight on your own by running laps around your neighborhood and watching what you eat, or that you can’t write a paper without the latest MacBook Pro. All you need is paper and a pen. In fact, a personal trainer won’t work unless you put in effort, and a computer doesn’t make you a better writer. Test prep is the same way. Purchasing a test prep class may make things easier, but it won’t get you there if you don’t put in the requisite time and energy.
If we dig a bit further, we can also see that the prejudice between people preparing for standardized tests with and without money has always existed, even before Kaplan began tutoring students in his basement in the 1930s. There were no testing companies to tell people the best way to tackle questions, but students who attended better schools—schools that actually taught students how to read and think critically—were still clearly at an advantage.
At least the bias now sits firmly where it belongs—on access to better education, not some intrinsic intelligence as the College Board thought once upon a time.
So thanks, Stanley. We think.
*Which is part of the reason why Blueprint has an extremely liberal financial aid program. One of our goals is to provide LSAT preparation for students regardless of their financial background. Another is to find out how Donny Osmond will fare on Dancing with the Stars, but that’s another blog entry.
Article by Jodi Triplett of Blueprint LSAT Preparation