What Students Should Know About SAT Prep Classes

AMONG STANDARDIZED tests, few exams hold the same weight as the SAT. The role of the SAT in the college admissions landscape is only rivaled by the ACT, a popular competitor. Even in an era when more colleges are beginning to go test-optional, these exams still weigh heavily on the minds of students who hope a high score will open the doors to their dream schools.

RELATED CONTENTCompare ACT, SAT Math Prior to Testing

With SAT testing running from October through June, test prep is likely underway for thousands of students who are studying to achieve their best possible result. How students prepare for the SAT varies, thanks to an abundance of available options. Families have access to free resources and a robust marketplace of paid test prep options.

Free SAT Test Prep Options

Realistically, not every family can afford to pay to prepare their student for the SAT. With that in mind, the College Board, which created and administers the SAT, partnered with Khan Academy, a popular online learning repository, to provide free practice materials to test-takers.

“Not everything has to be paid,” says Christine Chu, a premier college counselor at IvyWise, a New York-based education consulting company. “Khan Academy is wonderful; it has lots of free resources.”[ 

READ: SAT, ACT Fee Waivers and Other Ways to Take Entrance Exams for Free. ]

According to the College Board, it’s this free option that most students turn to when getting ready for the SAT.

“Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is by far the top choice of students preparing for the SAT,” Jerome White, a College Board spokesperson, wrote in an email. “In a survey of over 65,000 SAT test takers, nearly four times as many students said they practiced with Official SAT Practice instead of paying for commercial test prep.”

Paid SAT Test Prep Options

The popularity of Khan Academy and other online tools aside, commercial SAT prep options are widely available. They’re offered in groups, individually and virtually, and at varying price points.

But before families pay for test prep which can easily cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars for intensive high-end packages they should determine whether it’s necessary, how it can benefit their student and the ultimate goal.

Set your goals first,” advises Sam Pritchard, director of college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep. He recommends that students look at the SAT scores of students who were accepted at their target schools.

Pritchard notes that schools release SAT scores of the middle 50% of students, not the top or bottom 25%. From that data, students can see how they size up and set a goal for the test score needed to be considered for that school.[ 

READ: Understand What’s a Good SAT Score for College Admissions. ]

“With that information, you’re equipped to make a better decision between doing a group class, tutoring or doing a self-guided course online. But having that information about yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish is the best antidote to being overwhelmed by so many different options,” Pritchard says.

To get a sense of where a student stands, Pritchard recommends taking diagnostic practice tests.

Different Types of SAT Prep Courses

Like the test itself, homework is required to find the best test prep solution for an individual student.

“I think, generally, it’s very helpful to talk to a couple of different companies before launching in and to really get a sense of the difference between how they work, what their style is and what would be best for your child. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Kelly Fraser, owner and principal consultant at Green Apple College Guidance & Education, which has offices in the Boston and Washington, D.C., areas.

SAT prep offerings tend to come in three formats: Group classes, individual tutoring and virtual courses. Regardless of the choice a family makes, all should offer a content review of what’s on the exam as well as test-taking strategies.

“A lot of the anxiety that some students feel is due to unfamiliarity with the test. We try to give them a window into what they’re going to see on test day so that they know what to expect,” Pritchard says.[ 

READ: How Long the SAT Is and How to Manage That Time. ]

Group classes may work best for students who are looking for a general framework and test-taking strategies, Chu says. This can be a good launching point for motivated students, but others may need one-on-one tutoring.

“There are definitely personalities in kids who if they don’t feel the heat underneath them, they’re not going to do the work. And if they don’t have somebody meeting with them once a week, or they don’t have a deadline, they’re so busy and overwhelmed with school, that (test prep) is never going to happen,” says Brooke Hanson, CEO and founder of California-based SupertutorTV, which offers paid virtual tutoring and free YouTube videos.

But some families aren’t content with one option, choosing instead to mix and match their test prep approach.

“Sometimes students will take both,” Fraser says. “They’ll do the class and then after that, they’ll go and work with an individual tutor for some very specific areas of need on the test.”Play Video

And then there are virtual options that come in different models, with some self-guided and others led by distant tutors.

“The biggest difference with online delivery versus in person is that the onus is really on the students to pay attention and get what they need. With a digital environment, you are in control,” Hanson says.

Before spending money on a virtual test prep course, Chu recommends asking companies for a free demo.

“It’s a way for them to get a sense of what (virtual tutoring) feels like,” Chu says.

It’s also a way to determine whether a family should spend money on test prep, the value of which some experts question. Research on the topic is mixed, but two University of Minnesota봗win Cities professors argued in the Wall Street Journal last year that test prep courses rarely yield the large gains that are often promised by commercial providers.

As such, some test prep providers, including Kaplan, offer money-back guarantees, or extended access to practice materials, if a student doesn’t improve his or her score after certain paid programs.

Ultimately, while experts say paid options are convenient, families shouldn’t stress if it’s a financially unrealistic option. Students can turn to free resources like Khan Academy, or go old school with test booklets.

“If you don’t have a huge budget, don’t fret,” Hanson says. “It’s just a little bit more legwork to get it done, and it’s not as easy because you have to assemble a plan yourself.”

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.