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The name Stanley Kaplan sounds familiar to almost every student. And it's not because he used to live next door. Stanley Kaplan and other test preparation services have made their names ubiquitous on college campus. Their advertisements appear regularly in student newspapers, on bulletin boards, and even in course rosters. And they have sucessfully convinced many students that taking standardized tests for admission to law, medical and other graduate schools without signing up for $700 "prep" is foolhardy. There are no precise figures on the percentage of students who use the courses for standardized tests, but placement officers and prep course officials say the percentage is "very high." Are the courses necessary? University career counselors consulted last week categorically said no, but prep course organizers all but guarantee a rise in scores for any student. Philadelphia Princeton Review Director Steven Hodas said last week that his students average a nine-point improvement on the LSAT, a significant rise on the test's 48-point scale. Hodas added that students who start with lower scores tend to show more marked improvement than students who start high. At the very top of the scale, Princeton Review students average only a 1.8 point improvement. Yet Career Planning and Placement Service's Jane Finkle, who advises students applying to law school, said last week that she sees students learning little more than discipline for their tuition. "I guess maybe the advantage of a prep course is some students do have a hard time disciplining themselves and the prep courses make them more confident," Finkle said. "Most of the time I haven't experienced that there's a real difference in scores." CPPS Counselor Gail Glicksman said last week that the courses have become such an institutional part of professional school applications that many students feel compelled to take them. "Some of the students feel that just paying the money will protect them in a superstitious sort of way," Glicksman said. Even Princeton Review's Hodas conceded that not everybody needs a prep course. "There's probably more prep going on than there needs to be," Hodas said last week. "People may feel that too many people prep -- nobody wants to be the one who doesn't." "There's kind of a herd mentality and a kind of cover-your-ass mentality," Hodas added.

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