To Ben Franklin's short list of certainties—death and taxes—we can now add another sure-fire item: educational testing. Even before this past January, when President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which mandates state testing in elementary and middle schools by 2005, many states already required entry and/or exit exams to test student achievement and competency. By 2008, all 50 states will have to administer periodic science tests to students in elementary, middle and high school. The NCLB Act therefore insures that the burgeoning field of test prep is going to be bigger than ever in the future. Not only are several veteran test prep publishers bringing out new lines to address this ever-expanding market, but a number of publishers are entering the field for the first time (see sidebar, p. 38).
Players in this category concur that, ironically, the biggest positive impact on their business over the last year has been the soft economy, particularly in the graduate areas where students are required to take the GRE, GMAT and LSAT. At Peterson's, test prep program manager Ben Paris explains this anomaly: "Test prep is an anti-economy business. Quite a few people who see that the job market is inhospitable will hide out in graduate school to get better credentials." Their hope, he says, is that by the time they graduate, the economy will be on an upswing and, if it hasn't improved, they will at least be in a more competitive position in the job market. Paris adds, "There's always a good reason to improve your credentials, and there's always a good reason to do better on a high-stakes standardized test."
Princeton Review's associate publisher Tom Russell agrees: "Sales of the books for graduate school tests like the GRE and GMAT are up dramatically; we feel this is because recent college graduates are very hesitant to test the waters of a soft job market."
This increased activity has been noted by retailers, too. At Denver's Tattered Cover, backlist buyer Nancy Hogue tells PW, "I've definitely seen a big burst of activity in the GRE, GMAT and LSAT. Many people are looking to at least have another option for a career, even if they're not actually planning to change jobs right now. A lot of people are thinking about going back to school."
Both the GRE and GMAT have been offered exclusively online since the late '90s. (Due to a security breach in Taiwan, where answers were posted on the Internet, the GRE there is offered as a traditional pencil-and-paper exam.) Another factor contributing to increased sales of GRE books is the fact that, as of October 1, the test will have a new format. Instead of being entirely computer adaptive, where the answer to each question determines the subsequent difficulty of the next question, there will be a new analytical writing section. Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., offers the only "official" test prep book for the new GRE, GRE Practicing to Take the General Test, 10th Edition. The new guide has been updated to include information on the new analytical writing test measure and is designed to supplement ETS's free Powerprep software, Test Preparation for the GRE General Test, Version 3.0, which is sent to all test-takers who register for the GRE.
Yet another area of increased sales seems to have been brought about by two personnel shortages in critical professions. Kaplan publisher Maureen McMahon says, "The stories about the nursing shortage have really been in the news and nursing schools are trying very hard to recruit more students. We're certainly benefiting from that." She notes that the house has seen a marked upswing in sales for its books dealing with the licensing of nurses—"Our NCLEX [National Council Licensure Examination for Nursing] business is up 23%."
Roger Romano, national sales manager for the Research and Education Association, which, among other study aids and test prep books, publishes teaching certification test prep books—the PRAXIS PLT Tests series—notes another major shortage. "The U.S. is facing a staggering teacher shortage. The state of California alone is looking to hire a quarter of a million teachers over the next 10 years. So they can be expected to use a lot of study guides to prepare for the certification tests."
The ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test prep books used by those who want to enter the military is another expanding field. Wiley is publishing its first ASVAB for Dummies in January and its updated CliffsTestPrep ASVAB is due out next month.
The September 11 Impact
In addition to concerns about the economy, last September's terrorist attacks have certainly affected the test sector. For example, Princeton Review's Guide to the Best Business Schools now includes a section for foreign students who want to go to graduate school in America. Post—Septermber 11, institutions of higher learning are adhering to stricter rules regarding foreign student admissions and the book addresses new areas of concern to foreigners.
According to McMahon at Kaplan, "A year ago, the NCLB Act was the biggest thing on our radar screen—state testing, how that was going to shake out and how we could provide parents with the tools that they would be looking for once all of the testing began. Obviously, education has taken a back seat to the economy and terrorism issues."
At Peterson's, editorial director Laurie Barnett feels that the terrorist attacks motivated young people to reevaluate their education. "Kids are more interested in school. I think something like 9/11 makes everybody stop and think, 'What am I doing with my life?' Kids are thinking about their future and the years ahead in a way that they weren't before. They are taking life more seriously."
Advanced Placement Pressure
The enormous expansion of the Advanced Placement field seems to dovetail with students taking their education more seriously. Years ago, only a handful of AP courses in core subjects were offered both in private and the better public schools; now there are more than 25 AP courses available, and the NCLB Act is providing funding to ensure that more inner-city students will have access to these specialized courses. Barbara Gilson, test prep editorial director at Schaum's/McGraw-Hill, says, "Over a million AP tests are taken every year by about 800,000 students, so clearly that's an enormous market."
The growing financial pressure to get college credit under one's belt in high school is even more intense in today's economy. In addition, the fact that some colleges will accept only the highest possible AP score—five—to give course credit adds further test-taking pressure on high school students.
Responding to this demand, McGraw- Hill recently published six titles in a new series, 5 Steps to a 5. The subjects include calculus, biology, English, English literature, U.S. history and Spanish. Says Gilson, "What's special about these books is that they're geared to three different categories of students. There's the serious student who sits down in September and works his or her way through until the tests are given in the spring; there's a kind of intermediate student who gets around to it maybe around New Year's; and then there's the last-minute, do-it-all-now type of student." Another five titles will be added to the series next fall, says Gilson.
Another familiar name expanding its AP line is Cliffs Notes. According to senior editor Greg Tubach, "Between now and the end of the year, we're going to be focused on publishing some advanced placement test prep books that we haven't done in the past—CliffsAP U.S. Government and Politics, CliffsAP European History and CliffsAP Spanish. The number of Advanced Placement test takers increases about 10% year after year, and I don't see that stopping. It's just a really solid field to be in."
The State of the SAT
There's long been controversy about how much the SAT scores count when it comes to college admissions. Every institute of higher learning treats them differently and some are even weighing AP scores more heavily than SATs in the admissions process. However, this exam remains an important college-entry barometer. As Peterson's Paris puts it, "Standardized tests are supposed to provide a common measuring stick for everyone. People who understand how the tests are structured, how it's scored and the best way to answer all of the questions have a big edge over the people who don't, so students who don't prep are at a real disadvantage."
The test, which has gone through several changes over the years, is due for a major revision in March 2005, when the verbal section will incorporate some of the essays now given in the SATII English exam.
The College Board's 10 Real SATs continues to be one of the top sellers in this category. At Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., it tops the SAT test prep list, says backlist buyer Nancy Perkins. Alison Amdur, assistant director of marketing for the College Board's SAT program, notes that sales have increased 17% every year for the past two years. CD-ROM, she says, is also an important study aid tool. "The CD that comes with 10 REAL SATs book is a mini-SAT that gives students a predicted score and includes strategies and tips as well. And that is a kind of prelude to our full-length software program, One-on-One with the SAT."
(In general, says McMahon at Kaplan, test prep books that come with a CD-ROM continue to do well. "Students really like the combination of having a portable book with software that gives them instant feedback. The one thing that we see in this category is that customers are not price sensitive—their goal is to get a better score and they're willing to pay a few extra dollars for software with a book if they think that will help them score higher.")
What separates the College Board's test prep book from the others in this category is that the Board is the only publisher licensed to print actual SAT tests in their entirety. Other publishers can print a portion of the real thing, but their practice tests are, for the most part, simulated. Still, the fact that other veteran publishers in this field—such as Barron's, Peterson's, Kaplan and Princeton Review—all report strong sales of their SAT titles is a clear indicator of this test's importance.
Looking for an offbeat SAT approach? Workman's Up Your Score: the Underground Guide to the SAT 2003—2004, now in its fifth edition, was created in 1987 by three high school students who believed they could create a better SAT book than those on the market. Workman bought the rights in 1992 and holds a contest every two years to bring in guest student editors to revise the guide. Although not a prerequisite, all of the editors just happened to have used the book to score a perfect 1600 on their SATs. Editor Margot Herrarra says, "What makes Up Your Score special is that it's got top-notch strategy, and it's also funny. Obviously, not every single page is funny, because it's also a bona fide guide. But it's full of contemporary pop culture references, so it feels fresh."
Kaplan is also taking a creative approach to one aspect of the SAT verbal test prep. In January, it will publish the Flip-o-Matic, an SAT vocabulary-building guide designed as bound flashcards. (For more publishers with innovative approaches to test prep and study aids, see sidebar. p. 34.)
The GED Explosion
Since 1942, when the General Education Development test (GED) program first began, more than 12 million adults have earned their GEDs, including such celebrities as Nicolas Cage, Waylon Jennings and Mary Lou Retton. Currently, about one in 20 incoming college freshman hold GEDs and the degrees are accepted by more than 90% of U.S. colleges and universities. The new 2002 GED tests will be released in October and, while the topics have remained the same, the test has become more difficult and new or repeat test-takers need to be aware of the updates.
Wiley's Dummies series, which has a handful of titles in the test prep field, is coming out with GED for Dummies in February. Editor Diana Graves Steele notes, "The book will really open doors for people and make it possible for them to access information easily that will get them started on the road to getting their certificate or diploma."
Gilson at Schaum's/ McGraw-Hill believes the soft economy is motivating people to get their GED degrees. "You may have people who dropped out of school young and now they're deciding, 'I don't want to keep working in fast food.' Or maybe they want to become a manager in the job that they've got, and they need a high school degree or a certain level of calculation and skill. Over a million tests are taken every year, and 300,000 GED degrees or high school degrees are awarded. The federal government has earmarked something like $235 million dollars for an educational effort in these areas. More than 50% of all these students are over 25; 7% of that group are people over 60 who are studying to increase their literacy and be qualified for take the GED. That is an underserved market."
McGraw-Hill has a GED Workbook Series coming out in October, which includes core GED subjects in language arts reading and writing, science, social studies and mathematics.
For students heading to college, there is the perennial problem of how to pick the best school to meet one's needs. College guides abound, each with its own personality, style and information presentation. Some rely on experts in the field, others compile facts from college admission offices, while still others rely on student surveys. Many of these titles boast a lengthy pedigree—Barron's Profiles of American Colleges 2003, for example, is in its 25th edition; The College Board's 2003 College Handbook, in its 40th edition, features 3,600 accredited four and two-year colleges, along with a CD-ROM that includes SAT test prep, scholarship information and additional college search programs.
Peterson's 2003 Four-Year Colleges also has a CD-ROM and includes basic information on 2,100 undergraduate institutions, as well as an expanded section for which nearly 1,000 colleges and universities have paid to list additional copy.
One of the biggest changes comes from Kaplan, which has completely revised its guide, from a traditional college resource book to something more hip, entitled The Unofficial, Unbiased, Insider's Guide to the 320 Most Interesting Colleges, 2003 Edition. Bill Tipper, the bestsellers editor of barnesandnoble.com who works on the What America's Reading section of B&N's Web site, says, "That book is really trending over their previous edition, which was a lot more conventional-looking." He also notes that both online and in stores, the most popular college guides are Princeton Review's 2003 edition of Best 345 Colleges and the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2003.
Princeton Review's college guide generates a lot of publicity every year because the book has 63 different ranking lists, from the best academics to the best party school—which, not surprisingly, usually garners the most media attention. The only guide to survey 100,000 students, it incorporates their answers into both its college profiles and rankings.
Tom Russell, Princeton Review associate publisher, tells PW, "If you wanted to know about a restaurant, you'd ask somebody who ate there—and it's the same thing for a college. Who better to ask than somebody who goes there? Not all the people who buy the book can afford to visit all of the campuses. We go to those 345 campuses and get, on average, 300 student opinions. We ask 70 questions, including some that a prospective student might not be able to comfortably ask, or that a kid giving a tour couldn't exactly answer—for example, we have a list of gay-friendly and gay-unfriendly communities. We ask every conceivable question that a person might want to ask and compile the answers so that readers can get a sense of what it would be like if they were to visit the school."
Interestingly, the other most popular college guide also uses student surveys in its profiles. Author Edward B. Fiske, the former education editor for the New York Times, has been compiling his guide for more than 20 years. When he began, there was a student shortage and colleges for the first time became aggressive about marketing. Fiske explains, "The mailboxes of good students were filling up with all this propaganda from colleges and universities. I thought there was a need for somebody to come in on the side of the consumer and cut through the hyperbole and say what it's really like at these places."
The big change for Fiske came when Sourcebooks started publishing his guide last year: "They are much more conscious of marketing. First of all, they gave the guide a whole new look. One of the truly brilliant ideas was the poster collage of photos of college doors and entrances. How do you get into college? You walk through a door or drive through a gate." Sourcebooks sent the posters to 2,000 high school guidance offices, and reports that annual sales are up 50%.
Despite the plethora of information that has always been available about colleges, Barry Beckham of Beckham Publications Group in Silver Spring, Md., felt that the needs of black students were not being met. "When I graduated in 1966 from Brown University, there were three African-American males in my class, including me. When I went back to teach, there were hundreds of black students. Yet it seemed to me that some of them had the discomfort I did. I wondered if it would be better if they were at another school." None of the guides at the time addressed the issues he knew black students were interested in, so, using Brown University's resources, he developed the first Black Student's Guide to Colleges in 1993. "It talked about the programs and services that colleges are offering black students and it also had statistics that never had been collected before: the number of black students, the number of black faculty, the number of black students on financial aid. It also discussed the social life for black students and, finally, what the overall climate is like for black students." Beckham also created the Black Student's Guide to Scholarships.
In recognition of the fastest growing minority population in schools, Beckham is renaming his college and scholarship products the Urban Student's Guide..., to address concerns of Latino, Asian and Native American populations. The new guides, along with a new College Selection Workbook, will be out in November in book form, with updated information on Beckham's Web site. The current Black Student's Guides are available as books as well as free e-book downloads at his Web site (www.theurbanstudent.com).
Quick Lit and Future Testing
Of course, test pressures don't change once you get into school, and the Continuum International Publishing Group, based in New York and London, has come out with Continuum Contemporaries , which address the needs of students studying contemporary literature. Editor David Barker used the Internet to research the fiction curricula in U.S. universities and colleges, as well as the A-level syllabus used in the U.K.
The genesis for the line came about when Barker was teaching first-year undergraduates at Newcastle University in England. He says, "I realized that they would really like to be studying and reading a lot of contemporary fiction. There simply wasn't a great deal of support material out there that I could use or that they could use to help them get to grips with the books."
Continuum plans to print 10 new titles a year. In terms of worldwide sales to date of its 30 titles, JK Rowling's Harry Potter Novels by Philip Nel and Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible by Linda Wagner-Martin top the list.
It's clear that test prep is an ever expanding field, as students from k—12 and beyond seek to meet required standards, increase the odds of getting into better schools of higher education and acquire credentials that will give them a leg up in the job market. The pressure on children to test well is certainly a trend that is going to continue.
In the adult education market as well, current economic conditions act as a catalyst for people to get their high school equivalency degrees or upgrade their credentials. As Schaum/McGraw Hill's Gilson concludes, "The market for self-teaching and for supplemental materials for whatever courses you may be taking will expand. Books that teach test-taking skills and study strategy—that kind of thing is going to be very, very big."