On tour and bound for glory
The Kaplan folks know that no matter how intelligent you are, what really counts is how well you outsmart standardized tests. As a result, everything in this study software package--from its near-constant stream of jokes to its goofy interface--aims to build confidence, demystify the tests and make them less daunting.
The program opens on a cartoon scene showing a college-bound dude wearing a baseball cap backwards, driving a convertible, and zooming past the admissions building, the reference lounge, and the test center. Before you can even start to feel lost, video tour guide Caseem pops up to explain what you'll find in each building, then urges you to take a 30-minute diagnostic test to determine which areas you need to focus on.
You can skip the tour and go directly to the math and verbal lessons by clicking the dude's suitcase. Like the SATs themselves, Kaplan's lesson plans divide math prep into regular math, quantitative comparisons, and grid-ins (bubble tests) and the verbal prep into analogies, sentence completion, and critical reading. Each section is essentially a slide show with audio narration, cartoon illustrations, and the occasional pop quiz, all presented in a friendly, low-key style.
Each segment offers scads of invaluable time-saving tips. For example, instead of actually performing PEMDAS (which stands for parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction) on a complex algebraic equation, it's often faster to find the correct answer by backsolving, or plugging in, each multiple choice answer until you find the one that works. And because the choices in SAT math tests always range from low to high, you can immediately eliminate two of them by starting with answer C--the one in the middle. This is the kind of stuff you wish your high school counselor had told you about.
As you complete each section, the program flashes interesting tidbits such as unusual mascot names (the Bryn Mawr Mawrters, the Stetson Hatters) or student nicknames for courses (Georgetown's Modern Foreign Government is known as MoFoGo). These small touches help keep things lively. Kaplan's customer support is also top-notch. The company offers a toll-free support line and generous hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., PT, five days a week.
Once you've finished the lessons, you're ready to enter the Test Center, where you can take 10 30-minute practice tests or 5 versions of the PSAT or SAT (or 8 practice and 2 full-length tests for the ACT). Kaplan analyzes the results and explains each answer; it even shows you where you switched from the right answer to the wrong one or how well you did on the questions you took the most time answering. If you're really up for a challenge, you can set the program to play distracting noises, such as the sound of someone eating chips behind you.
Sis-boom-bah: scholarship and extra info
In addition to improving your PSAT, SAT, and ACT scores, Kaplan can help you figure out which colleges to consider. Visit the virtual Admissions Office to get the scoop on scholarships (St. Joe's offers one for cheerleaders), search for schools that meet your criteria (for example, low tuition rates or high entrance scores), and see how their students fared on the requisite standardized tests. Additional discs offer Newsweek's Guide to Colleges and information on how to succeed in school and how to pay for it (that one's for you, Mom and Dad).
He shoots, he scores!
Alas, Kaplan fails to score a perfect 1,600. The multimedia presentations (video and audio clips) feel like they're stuck in a time warp back to 1996. For example, the videos load at a snail's pace, and we found the jokes a bit hokey and strained.
But these are minor quibbles. Kaplan software offers top-notch test-prep and college counseling for 1/20 the cost of Kaplan's $800 SAT prep course. College-bound students (and their parents) will need every penny.