SAT prep services get into video games

NEW YORK -- With SAT scores at their lowest level in years, two of the country's largest test-prep course providers are pairing with video game companies for the first time, to give students another way to practice for these oft-dreaded exams.

Aspyr Media Inc.'s "futureU" PC game, designed with Kaplan Inc. to help students study for the SATs using simple math, reading and writing games, is now selling for $40. A portable version for the handheld Nintendo DS is expected to be available in mid-October for $30 and a downloadable version is also in the works.

Princeton Review Inc. is also collaborating on a test-prep game, with France's Ubisoft Entertainment SA. Called "My SAT Coach" and available for the Nintendo DS, it is due to go on sale this month for $30. It includes timed drills and more than 2,000 practice questions, as well as two full tests.

While there have been many computer-based learning and drill programs to prepare for standardized tests, this is the first time the test-prep giants are delving into video games for systems like the DS.

Both Kaplan and Princeton Review say the games are just one aspect of the plethora of test-prep materials and courses they provide. But as video games, along with social networking sites like Facebook, become a larger part of students' lives, it "makes sense to take our curriculum and deliver it in a fun way," said Kristen Campbell, director of Kaplan's college prep programs.

"FutureU" lets players customize a stick figure-like character with some very basic attributes, then jump into games like "Glyphs," a vocabulary booster that splits complex words into their roots to help people figure out their meaning. For example, the correct answer for "symbiosis" is "together" and "life." After a player clicks on both words correctly, the game will give a definition ("two associated but dissimilar organisms") and pick out the root words ("sym" and "bio").

"FutureU" also includes games based on test-taking skills, such as eliminating obviously wrong answers and skipping questions that are too difficult. Unlike the SATs, there are no time limits in "futureU." "My SAT Coach," however, is timed.