When it comes to the SATs and ACTs, students today have a multitude of test prep options availble to them, such as classes by Kaplan or Revolution Prep. Classes like these claim to raise test scores as much as 200 points—for fees as much as $1,000. But the truth is that most students do not need to shell out hundreds of dollars to prepare for the SATs or ACTs. More worthwhile and often cheaper alternatives exist.
What are students really paying for when they enroll in these courses? The average SAT prep course costs approximately $600 for about 30 hours of class time. In most test prep courses offered by businesses like Kaplan or Princeton Review, classes range in size from 5 to 20 students.
There is no doubt that test scores will improve after taking a prep class. These classes force students to actually sit down and study vocabulary or take practice tests. They provide instructors who can answer specific questions and give test-taking tips. An argument in favor of these classes is that some students need the direction and structure of a formal setting to get motivated.
However, the advantages of these classes are not necessarily all that helpful. For one with up to 20 students, it is unlikely that an individual student would be able to truly benefit from the lessons taught. Second, the strategies given are often nothing new.
“Revolution Prep … taught you tips that you already knew, like process of elimination,” senior Erika Mizuyama said.
Erika took three different SAT prep classes—Revolution Prep, Flex College Prep and Excel Test Prep.
Also, according to Laurence Bunin, the general manager of the SAT program at CollegeBoard, “short-term commercial prep courses don’t take the place of rigorous education.” So actually, most do not need a class to prepare for the SATs or ACTs—a few books and some time to take practice tests are all that’s necessary. In fact, students who take such courses rarely raise their scores as substantially as the companies proclaim, especially since taking the test a second time, regardless of preparation, generally averages an increase of 40 points due to familiarity with the test.
However, if outside help is still wanted, there are valuable resources beyond a general class. Tutors are a good solution to getting individualized guidance; there are many college students who are majoring in education or received high test scores in high school who would love some teaching experience and a job for reasonable rates.
The price of a private tutor ranges from as little as $10 per hour to however much one is willing to spend. Although some tutors cost even more than a class, tutees reap much more for their money. A private tutor will not only provide the structure some students need, but he or she will also be able to give one-on-one attention and focus on the things with which a student needs the most help. Consequently, it’s much more beneficial than generic group prep.
“I chose to have a private tutor … because I knew that individual attention would help me to really focus and get everything done,” senior Lauren Taylor said. “By having someone constantly check my work and progress, I made sure I could work on the specific areas I needed to improve.”
And while Princeton Review and Kaplan may not offer the best classes, their prep books are excellent help in studying alone. Talking to friends who recently took the tests never hurts either. So when getting ready for the SATs or ACTs, choose the method of preparation wisely, and remember that prep classes are not necessarily the best option, especially in relation to their costs. There is no need to spend hundreds of dollars simply to take practice tests and get a few tips. There are alternatives that cost less money and will better help students get the best possible test scores.