Thursday, April 20, 2017

SpeedyPrep (A Homeschool Review Crew Review)

College is expensive, no matter where you go.  CLEP exams can provide an affordable way for strong students to demonstrate what they already know "test out" of nearly 33 different college-level courses.  Like all tests, though, it's better to be prepared.  SpeedyPrep is a test prep program that allows a student to review and practice for his exam(s).

When Luke graduated last spring, he decided he wanted to take a "Gap Year" before starting college. He wanted to travel with us last summer and fall, work in our family business, and just have a bit of a breather before diving back into studies.  Over the past few months, he has been gearing up to start school again.  We have an excellent four-year university nearby that partners with our county college, guaranteeing admission and full credit transfer to the four-year program for county college graduates with a 3.0 average.  Since completing the first two years at the county college would cost about half the four-year school's tuition, my checkbook agreed that this path made a lot of sense.  He's gotten most of the application process out of the way and is preparing to take the placement tests in the next few weeks. He took a practice test, and although he scored fairly well, he felt as though he still needed a refresher on some topics, especially in the advanced mathematics.  While this isn't the real focus of SpeedyPrep (his school requires students take the AccuPlacer), he thought it couldn't hurt to review sections on math with SpeedyPrep.  For that, he did do a little of the SpeedyPrep testing but focused more on the review videos to help him prepare, choosing to test/retest with online mock AccuPlacers to make sure he didn't get distracted.

However, Luke also is considering taking the CLEP exam for a few subjects, especially American History, to try to earn college credit that reflects the honors courses he took in high school.   With a price tag of  $80 for the CLEP exam vs. $99 per credit hour for the college of his choice's classes, my checkbook likes this plan, too. However, just the thought of just diving in and taking the test seemed a bit risky -- he might do well, but having no idea what to expect, a test prep program made sense.  SpeedyPrep prepares students to take the CLEP exam and guarantees passing if the student has completed between 90 and 100 percent of the program.  That seems like a good deal to me. Since he was the one heavily using the program, I asked him to write down his thoughts, so you'll see them interspersed through the review.

Personally, I  like the idea of the program.  It uses the Mastery Learning approach, where questions are repeated over and over; repeated exposure allows you to program an answer into your brain.  SpeedyPrep starts out with a fill-in-the-blank presentation...

...then after several correct attempts, the questions go to a multiple choice presentation, like an actual CLEP exam. From Luke:

As far a question variety goes, the majority of tests seem to be exact word-for-word questions, though order asked scrambled, across multiple takes with only a few interchanged questions. Of those interchanged questions however, a majority are merely a rephrased version of another question.  I think this is good, becasue you're memorizing the content, not the exact question.
However, in practicality, the fill-in-then-multiple-choice method was really frustrating for Luke.  The questions are extremely particular on spelling/usage.   Luke says:
When the question was a fill in blank question answer and involves a number, it counts answers incorrect if you use numerals instead of words (like 10th amendment vs tenth amendment). Most times fill in blank answers aren’t caps-sensitive, but are extremely spelling sensitive (like if you spell Vespucci as "Vaspucci", it will count it incorrect).
As he worked, I heard a lot of "I SAID THAT!!!" coming from his end of the couch.  He was mad that he knew the answer but wasn't getting credit for it.  He also was annoyed that if spelling doesn't count on the actual test (since it's multiple choice), did (for example) 10th vs. tenth amendment really matter, since he knew the final amendment of the Bill of Rights limited federal powers.  Yes, a name is important, but he felt that he was getting penalized for not being a good speller vs. being a good rememberer when ultimately it was the remembering that was important.  After getting a lot of questions "wrong," he was frustrated and switched over to the videos.  As a parent/teacher, I understand where SpeedyPrep is coming from, but Luke said if we hadn't been reviewing (and he wasn't forced to keep going), he'd say "I want to try something different."  We would both be frustrated because I'd watch him enter in correct answers, but have them marked wrong because of the program's semantics.  I think it would be great if there were a way to accept closely phonetical/synonymous answer options.

From Luke:

 While the videos, for the concepts covered, were brief yet thorough, I feel as though they were too short, either not having enough examples practiced, or core ideas to understand the lecture overlooked. Granted it is supposed to be merely a review of topics for students and not a "learning for first time" deal, if the student will be questioned about topic a, topic b, and topic c, then review topics a, b,  and c, not just a and b.  Going back to the tests that went with a video, I was surprised to see topics not covered in the videos.  I mostly knew the answers (or at least thought I did, until I found out I couldn't spell them "properly"), but sometimes there were questions about things we might not have studied really in depth when I took American History.  Sometimes I didn't get a review and just had to focus on memorizing the answer.

Something as a parent I found frustrating was that the progress bar was not intuitive. Progress bars show only count correct answers as progress.  I would see/hear Luke working, but there was no program-recorded effort.  I wish there had been a way to tell if it was that kid didn't do the work or if he didn't know the answers.  I would log in and see "last work, x days ago" and be thinking "WAIT.  I SAW him working on this yesterday.  I KNOW he's been working."

After being frustrated with the test section, he decided to watch the videos to review what he knew.  When Luke switched to reviewing videos, logins stopped counting.  As a parent trying to keep tabs on kiddo's progress, checking his progress online wasn't working, and it meant he had to work where I could see/hear him so that I could honestly say he was working.   If you were a paying-your-own-way adult working on this, it's no big deal -- it's all on you.  However, as a parent expecting kiddo to put forth effort (since I'm the one footing the bill), it involved more hovering than I'd expect to need for a high school student.

When we were presented with this review, Crew Reviewers were told that SpeedyPrep's expectation is that three months of consistent study will provide enough review to pass the test, provided the student was at least 16 and had already (recently) completed the base course. I think if you are able to work on this daily, three months is sufficient.  Also, the closer you are to the end of the course you studied, the less review you have.  However, if you're looking to "go back" and fill in CLEP exams after a little while (for example, as a non-traditional adult student), or if you're on the "part-time/night school" plan, you probably will need a bit longer.  Luke generally worked for about an hour at a time, three days a week, for six weeks, but is nowhere near ready to take his tests. I expect he'll probably take closer to the full six months that SpeedyPrep provided reviewers with.

Overall, I think the content of SpeedyPrep is good, and with a (conditional) money-back guarantee, it's worth using.  I definitely plan to have Luke continue working with the program while he studies for the CLEP exam. However, the mechanics of the program were what we struggled with.  It's a program that I would recommend, though with reservations.

To learn what other Crew Members thought of SpeedyPrep, click the banner below.

College Level Examination Program Preparation {SpeedyPrep Reviews}

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