Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

A Useful Study Aid or Jazzed-Up Novelty?

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

A Useful Study Aid or Jazzed-Up Novelty?

Article excerpt

Some are calling test-prep software on cell phones a democratizing equalizer, others say it increases the gap between the haves and the have-nots

Carl Washburn wondered how to push his teen-age son into studying for the SAT. After all, it's well-known that prepared students tend to score higher than those who aren't. Then Washburn realized his son's cell phone could prove a compatible study buddy. So he and others at his company developed a cell phone application that offers sample SAT questions for studying on the go.

"My son and his friends either have their phones in their pockets or nearby in their chargers," Washburn says. "They already love the technology of the phone, the color screens, the fast processors. Now, the study becomes the distraction."

Indeed, various software developers have introduced programs transforming cell phones into study aids. And studying for the SAT, considered by teens as glamorous as cleaning their rooms, is becoming hip. Unlike phone calls and Internet surfing, however, the technology allows users to download sets of SAT flashcards, drills and practice tests onto the handset so that no-call zones don't affect them. In other words, they can study during camping trips in the wilderness. And some wireless carriers don't count SAT studying against a user's monthly minutes.

SAT review programs vaiy from one carrier to another. They typically feature multiple-choice math, grammar and vocabulary questions. Once a user selects an answer, feedback and tips appear on the phone's screen.

A correct answer can elicit special ring tones, beeps or flashes oflight. In some instances, phones can be programmed to ring at certain times of the day so that students answer questions during "dead time" such as waiting on the school bus. Some applications let parents check on a student's progress by surveying the question-and-answer results online. Costs vary from carrier to carrier, but arc often less than $10 a month.

Proponents praise the wireless applications as fun attention-grabbers compared to mundane options such as taking the PSAT; studying from guides as hefty as phone books; and enrolling in brick-and-mortar review courses. However, they're skeptical of students relying on cell phones as a sole study aid. The College Board encourages students to take "rigorous courses" in high school and to read a lot, says spokeswoman Sandra Ri ley.

And in fact, the phones have limitations. They can't help students practice essay writing, which is a requirement of the new SAT being rolled out this month. …

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