Guide to Choosing a Prep System:
Three Test Prep Options That Matter
If you want serious score improvements on your SAT or ACT, there are only three options to consider: one-on-one tutoring, classroom courses, and online courses.
There are countless books, flashcard sets, practice drill websites, etc. for SAT/ACT prep, but these alone won’t do much to improve your scores – they’re supplements to a good SAT prep system or ACT prep system. Without guidance on what to do on a day-to-day, step-by-step basis, students can’t expect much of a score improvement. You need a coherent, step-by-step system to improve your test scores – anything that doesn’t provide it isn’t even worth considering.
Below, I’ll run you through the three major options you should consider. We’ll take a look at the pros, cons, and suggestions for each prep type. By the time you’re through with this page, you’ll have a much better understanding of how to make the proper SAT/ACT prep decision.
One-On-One SAT Tutoring
Research has repeatedly shown that one-on-one instruction is the best way to learn anything – not just SAT/ACT strategy, but anything. One-on-one tutoring provides flexibility, adaptability, and individualized attention – key ingredients in any great educational program. However, while one-on-one tutors can be remarkably effective, they come with their own fair share of problems:
+Customized tutoring programs
+Effective use of time
+Flexible scheduling and lesson programs
+Hands-on, experience-based education
+Potential for true personal rapport
–Extremely high prices (anywhere from $900-$60,000 for a full prep program)
–Total lack of consistency among tutors and firms
–Potential for unreliable scheduling and lesson plans
–Potential lack of chemistry
–Lack of standardization in lesson plans
–Limited availability among the best tutors
When you get a good tutor, you can change your entire college outlook, achieving enormous score improvements in the shortest period of time possible. But getting a good tutor is easier said than done. If you’re going to go for one-on-one tutoring, your selectivity is of the utmost importance.
Suggestions and Key Lessons:
1. No two tutors are the same – do your research before you hire a tutor.
2. On-paper credentials do not mean that your tutor can teach – make sure your tutors have an individual track record of success.
3. Testimonials and references are essential – NEVER hire a tutor without speaking to past clients.
4. Get on the phone – make sure you trust your tutor, ask him/her all your questions, and establish rapport before you begin working together.
5. Avoid large firms. Remember: you’re not working with a company – you’re working with one person. People aren’t brand names. You’re much better off working with individuals than you are working with companies, who often do little if any vetting of their instructors’ teaching abilities.
SAT Classroom Courses
+Good curriculum. Most large firms do have excellent tips and tricks at their disposal.
+“Peace of mind” – many parents would rather go with the “devil they know” than try other, lesser-known options.
–Horrendous price-to-improvement ratio: most SAT classes provide only limited point improvement on average, for upwards of $1,000.
–Lack of any individualized attention, curriculum, or lesson plans.
–Inconsistent and under-trained teachers.
–Distracting classroom environments (one former teacher described SAT classes as a “sea of text-messaging phones”).
–Lack of feedback and extracurricular teacher support.
–Homework geared for the “average student,” rather than for each student taking the course.
–Inconvenient, inflexible locations and schedules, coupled with travel time and costs.
–Total lack of accountability.As you might be able to tell, I’m not a huge proponent of classroom courses. You’re paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to drive to a packed room and have someone read a book to you. You’re better off buying the book yourself and saving the money.
1. Save your money – avoid ACT and SAT classroom courses at all costs.In my 15,000+ hours of experience with these tests, I have literally never come across a student or parent who was happy with their ACT/SAT classes. Ever. In fact, a significant percentage of my one-on-one clients come to me after horrendous ACT/SAT classroom experiences. These classes don’t work, and they’re giving the entire test prep industry a bad name. Save your money – and, more importantly, save your time.