Kaplan’s Tutoring Business Made the Grade

Keith Winstein:

When Stanley Kaplan began tutoring high schoolers for the Scholastic Aptitude Test in his Brooklyn, N.Y., basement in 1946, the exam was surrounded by secrecy.
The student’s score was confidential, revealed only to a college-admissions office and sometimes a guidance counselor — never to the test taker. The test was uncoachable, according to the College Entrance Examination Board, which oversees the SAT. “If the Board’s tests can regularly be beaten through coaching then the Board is itself discredited,” the Board wrote in a 1955 report.
Mr. Kaplan, who died Sunday at age 90, changed that. Initially derided as a “cramming school,” his private tutoring business eventually launched a $2.5 billion test-preparation industry.
Mr. Kaplan used to pay his grammar-school classmates a dime to let him tutor them for coming tests, but his own history with testing and admissions was troubled. He adopted the middle name Henry after a teacher confused him with another student with the same name and gave Mr. Kaplan the wrong grade. In the mid-1930s, he took the New York Board of Regents college-entrance examination, and received a terrible score — it turned out to be another grading error.
Mr. Kaplan launched his tutoring service after being rejected from five medical schools in the late 1930s, despite graduating second in his class at the City College of New York. Mr. Kaplan attributed the rejections to being Jewish and his public-college pedigree.
“I remember the admissions process before standardized testing, and I believe tests open doors, not close them,” he wrote in a 2001 memoir. “I might have been accepted to medical school if I had been able to display my true potential to admissions officials.”