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Special schools better than tutors at preparing students for USE

After the Russian Unified State Exam (USE) was introduced, additional exam preparation did not lose its popularity. While there was previously a preference for tutors from the university a student had selected, now students are finding instructors ‘off the street’ to prepare them for the USE, Ilya Prakhov, Research Fellow in HSE’s International Laboratory for Institutional Analysis of Economic Reforms (LIA), uncovered in his study, ‘The Dynamics of Investment and the Return on Additional Pre-entry Coaching’

Until 2009, each university had specific requirements for applicants and used its own system of entrance exams. High-school graduates who wanted to study at a particular college resorted to more (external) exam preparation. These additional lessons took into account the specifics of auniversity’s exams.The courses, along with one-on-one tutoring sessions, turned into a kind of ‘coaching’ of the applicant for the test and allowed the student to gain unofficial guarantee that he or she would be admitted to the university. Chances increased if the instructor was from a university that was part of the admissions committee.

The situation should have changed with the introduction of the USE in 2009. It was expected that the exam would reduce the need for additional preparation, as it was not only a unified entry exam, but also a high school exit exam. Research conducted in recent years shows, however, that additional preparation has not lost its popularity despite the unification of admission requirements.

In the ‘Dynamics of Investment and the Return on Additional Pre-entry Coaching’ study, Ilya Prakhov tried to conduct empirical research to identify the particularities of present pre-entry preparation, as well as the most popular types of lessons and a family’s spending on them. The author presented the results of his work at a seminar held by HSE’s International Laboratory for Institutional Analysis of Economic Reforms.

The study is based on data from the Monitoring the Economics of Education, namely, an annual survey on students from higher education institutions. Used in the analysis were first-year students’ answers with respect to additional preparation patterns. The data were collected in 2006-2012.

Tutors are still in demand

The research showed that the share of students who take part in external pre-entry preparation – exam preparation that is not offered by the school – has not changed significantly. The popularity rating of non-university forms of exam preparation has changed, however.

After the USE was introduced, upper classmen became less likely to take courses offered by a particular university. Also down was the number of students who studied with tutors and instructors from the selected university. In other words, ‘ties’ to a particular institution in the preparation process becameless important in the conditions of a standardized admissions system. In fact, such courses and tutoring are no longer able to provide the benefits for admission that were previously almost guaranteed.

In addition, a more significant role was played by extra lessons with tutors who have no direct relationship to the university where a student wants to study. While in 2007 the proportion of students attending tutoring sessions with an instructor from a specific school was 13.3%, in 2012 this number fell more than threefold to 4.3%. Conversely, the popularity of tutors not associated with a particular institution increased to 23.9% in 2012 from 14.1% in 2007. ‘The increased popularity of tutors may also indicate that a gap remains between the knowledge that students attainin school and the knowledge gained in the USE programme. Otherwise school preparation would be sufficient,’ Prakhov notes.

Price inconsistent with quality

In recent years, families have spent more in nominal terms on preparing a child for university admission, while there was only minimal growth in real terms (adjusted for inflation), the study's author comments. In 2010-2012, after the mandatory USE was introduced, the average size of investment was 12,000-14,000 rubles per month, while in 2009 this figure was nearly half – about 7,000 rubles per month.

Additionally, Prakhov emphasizes that average monthly spending on pre-entry preparation is fairly significant in comparison to per capita income. In 2012 average overall investments in additional preparation accounted for around 60% of average monthly per capita income.

It is true that the high cost of additional preparation does not yield a comparable effect, the researcher adds.

With the help of a search method for probabilistic matching, astatistically significant positive relationship was established between visiting paid pre-entry lessons and the final USE results in the subjects of Russian language and mathematics. The same was found for the average exam score for all subjects. Nevertheless, the group of those who engaged in additional preparation scored no more than 3 out of 100 points higher for each subject compared to applicants who do not attend additional preparatory programmes.

In comparing various methods of pre-university preparation, Ilya Prakhov concluded that the most effective consisted of lessons at a special school.

‘In all the models tested, classroom-based learning with a certain specialization was significant, and the result of studying in these classes was nearly twice that of paid additional training,’ Prakhov posits. Thus, the role of the school is of no small importance in improving USE results, and choosing a good school is more important than choosing a pre-entry preparation programme, the researcher concludes.

 

September 16, 2014