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SAT Preparation Software Reviews

Inside the SAT '97
by Princeton Review


See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other SAT Preparation software titles, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of PC and Mac versions.


Reviewed on:
Children's Software Screen Shot Pentium90 with 24MB and a 2XCD
PowerMac 6100/60 with 8MB and a 2XCD

Description
Inside the SAT '97 is the latest software incarnation of the well-known SAT preparation course taught by the Princeton Review. Just like its classroom cousin, the software program includes sections on test-taking strategies for the math and verbal sections of the exam, basic math and vocabulary building drills, and lots of practice tests.

The program also includes an interesting college counselor facility, where the user can query a built-in database of many US colleges and universities, and connect to the schools by the Internet for more information. The database feature provides nice summary descriptions of the schools. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for the Internet feature: we were unable to make this feature work on any of our test machines. A call to Princeton Review's toll-free technical support line told us that "this is a known problem, and they're working on it."

Ease of Install / Use
Our reviewers reported no difficulty installing Inside the SAT. On a PC, the installer asks just a few questions: a minimal install (< 1MB) or a full install (36MB); where you want the directory; and whether or not you have a WWW browser.

Ease of use was also reported as straight-forward, with two commonly reported exceptions. The first was a navigation difficulty: "I frequently clicked the mouse when I was supposed to hit return, and vice versa," said one recent SAT test-taking veteran. "It was a little frustrating." The second difficulty was a technical problem in how the program would redraw the screen image during some video clips. Without warning, the screen image would sometimes turn into a jumbled jigsaw puzzle of rectangular tiles. Princeton Review's technical support people acknowledged that this was another bug in the program.

Methodology
The main screen is an impressionist-style drawing of a high-school hallway (complete with graffiti). Clicking on doors labeled "math," "verbal," "general strategies," "tests," or "college counselor" takes the user to that subject. Inside each door, the user is greeted by a small video that introduces the subject, and the options available.

The Verbal section includes materials for studying each of the different types of questions in the college entrance exam: analogies, sentence completion, and critical reading. In addition, a section on vocabulary building is included that our recent SAT test-takers thought was "super valuable" -- it covers 300 words The Princeton Review claims have most frequently appeared in previous SATs!

Each of the sections offer test-taking tips, content reviews, and drills. For example, in the analogy section Inside the SAT tells the user that the key to correctly answering these problems is to create a single sentence using the two words. This sentence should define one word in terms of the other, begin with one word and end with the other, and be short. The test-taker then simply inserts each of the other word pairs until one is found that makes sense.

WARDEN : PRISON :: ?
A warden is in charge of a prison
A captain is in charge of a ship
WARDEN : PRISON :: CAPTAIN : SHIP
The Math door revealed study opportunities for math strategies, arithmetic, algebra, more algebra, geometry, and quantitative comparisons. Here, The Princeton Review proposes a more radical test-taking approach -- to "get inside the head of the test-writer" rather than learn how to do math so basic that they state you learned most of it before high school! For example, when you encounter an algebra problem, they state, "If you feel like writing an equation, don't! Backsolve instead." Inside the SAT then teaches the user methods for taking advantage of the multiple choice design of the SAT. Does it work? We're not sure. Some of our reviewers thought the strategies were "way cool." Others found them confusing.

"The College Search feature is neat!" according to the recent test-taker we had review the program. Using either an "interview wizard" or a checklist, the user can define certain characteristics of the student and of the desired college, to produce a "hotlist" of matching schools. Admittedly not-scientific, the program does a reasonable job of offering schools to consider. SuperKids would not, however, recommend limiting a student's college explorations to the schools in the list produced.

As an interesting test, we had three staffers try it out, entering their scores, grades, and interests from a few years ago (some, more than a few!), to see if their actual college choice was suggested by the program. The result? One out of three. Nonetheless, all felt the schools proffered were worth considering.

Best for...
When it functions properly, Inside the SAT is an excellent program for a student willing to dedicate the neccessary time. It's more interactive and far more captivating than an SAT study book, and more convenient than attending a class. Any student preparing for the SAT will benefit from the general strategy and vocabulary sections. Many slightly below to above average students will also benefit from the strategies espoused in the verbal and math sections. Very strong students, however, may find some of the math and verbal strategies distracting.

One cautionary note: some of the language used in the examples, and by the video characters, may be considered overly permissive by some parents. For example, one of the examples in the verbal section included the following:

I'd love to go out with you and...
(D) ...I hope you don't think I'm being forward, but would you mind if we had wild sex as well?
In another video clip, the speaker tells the user to prepare to "go kick some b--t" on the test. Our kids reviewers had no problem with the language, saying they hear far worse on TV and from their friends every day, but our parent reviewers made note of it.

Bottom-Line
Inside the SAT '97 focuses on "beating the test-writers." It is an interesting program, with lots of valuable advice for the SAT student. Although the two technical problems we encountered don't render the program entirely unusable, based on our experience we believe most users should wait until bug fixes are available before purchasing this program. (Ed. Note: we will update this review when we learn that the problems have been solved.)


See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other SAT Preparation software titles, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of PC and Mac versions.



Children's Software System Requirements


PC

Macintosh
Operating System Windows 3.1 or later; Win 95 System 7.0 or later
CPU Type and Speed 486DX/33 or faster Any 7.0 capable machine
Hard Drive Space <1MB to 36MB optional <1MB
Memory (RAM) 8MB 8MB
Graphics SVGA 256 color 14" or larger color screen
CD-ROM Speed 2X 2X
Audio Windows compatible sound card n/a
Other Needs QuickTime SW (incl) QuickTime SW (incl)

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