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The Effectiveness of Coaching for the SAT: Review and Reanalysis of Research From the Fifties to the FTC SAT

Messick, Samuel J.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Coaching, Federal Trade Commission, Literature Reviews, Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)


This report presents a critique and reanalysis of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) study of commercial coaching for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT®). The FTC study is one of the largest studies of coaching ever done and one of the few studies of commercial coaching extant, so it merits careful examination. But it is not the only coaching study ever done nor is it free from problems of design, so it should be examined in the context of prior findings. Although there was considerable variation in score increases reported for particular groups of students and for particular coaching programs, the studies from the fifties and sixties as well as two more recent studies on the average reported score increases relative to control groups of about 9 points on SAT-Verbal and about 13 points on SAT-Math, on a score scale ranging from 200 to 800 points with a standard deviation of 100 points. The FTC study found negligible effects for students attending one commercial coaching school and average score increases of about 20 to 30 points for both SAT-V and -M for students attending another school. Because random assignment could not be employed in the FTC study, this 20- to 30-point effect for students at one school is actually an estimate of joint coaching and self-selection. The results of one major reanalysis confirmed the FTC results but, in addition, revealed two interactions: one involving race and the other self-reported parental income. A second major reanalysis employed a statistical model which takes account of differential rates of growth in SAT scores over time, if they occur, for the coached and noncoached groups. Differential growth in the abilities measured by the SAT appeared to operate more for the verbal score than for the math score. The resulting estimates of the combined coaching/self-selection effect, taking differential group growth rate into account, were about 11 points for verbal and 30 points for math.

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