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The SAT Critic Who Helps Students Crack Aptitude Tests

IMAGINE the beef industry promoting vegetarian diets, and you get something of the idea of John Katzman and the Scholastic Aptitude Test. John Katzman is president of the Princeton Review, the iconoclastic SAT prep course. He started nine years ago tutoring in the living room of his parents' apartment in Manhattan. Now he has expanded to in 35 cities, and by all accounts is doing very well.

Yet Katzman is an outspoken critic of the SAT. He says it is less a test of aptitude than of ``ability to take the SAT.'' His critics have faulted him for making money off a test he thinks is wrong. But Katzman puts his money where his mouth his, plowing profits from his school into efforts for reform.

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Katzman is a disarming young man in his late twenties, who seems at once shrewd and without guile. There is no denying his entrepreneurial flair. Among his new ventures is a tutoring service aimed squarely at yuppie parents. (``What does it take to get into selective colleges?'' the brochure begins.)

But Katzman's business instincts are tempered with a social conscience. His company has started the Princeton Review Foundation, which helps under-privileged students prepare for the SAT. He's launched Insider, a sort of Parade magazine for high school newspapers, which includes such features as a pro-and-con debate on working on Wall Street.

Katzman's latest project is a challenge to the National Merit Scholarships, which are awarded mainly on the basis of SAT scores. ``Is that the only way a high school kid can show merit?'' he asks. ``Blacks have merit too, and blacks never win a National Merit Scholarship.'' (Females don't do well either.)

So Katzman is planning a new award, ``The National Merit Portfolio Scholarship,'' to be based on achievements in the creative arts, community service, and the like. He will finance it through a special credit card for high schoolers, which will include discounts at bookstores and computer outlets.

Katzman's ultimate goal is to apply what he's learned running Princeton Review to the problems of inner-city education. ``If you are going to do this seriously,'' says Erica Gregory, who heads the Princeton Review Foundation, ``you have to start a school.''

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