So Are All SAT and ACT Test Prep Places the Same?

A common question we receive from prospective clients concerns the different types of providers of test prep.  Basically, they ask what makes one different than another, and is the only bottom line factor cost?

Test prep for SAT and ACT takes various forms.  The most common involves a set of classes, some set in small groups and some in larger groups, that meet on given days at given times.  These classes usually provide the opportunity to take sample tests and also give lectures on the “tricks” to help the student score higher and beat the test.  These classes tend to be offered by national companies who also publish their own test prep materials.

Another common test prep delivery method is the online course.  These usually offer videos to watch of what would happen in a class and allow you to take seemingly endless practice tests or practice questions.  As with the classes, online test prep tends to be delivered by national companies using their own published test materials.

The common denominator between most (if not all) online courses and classes is that they believe in the “one size fits all” theory, that one style of preparing for the SAT or ACT works for all high school students, and that the same feedback on missed questions in practice tests works equally well for all students.

We disagree with that premise.  We know that students learn in different ways and respond differently to different styles of instruction.  Some students learn best visually, some aurally; some through modeling, some through explanation.  We also know that some students do not respond well to group instruction because they cannot relate to the lecture format and do not get to ask individual questions.  We know from years of experience that the most effective form of test prep instruction is individualized and customized.

Individualized means that the instruction is delivered one-on-one, not in a small or large group.  It also means the instructor has the training and the skill to relate to the student based upon his or her learning style and can provide instruction in a format that meshes well with that learning style.

Customized means that the instruction is not designed as a “one size fits all” format, but is tailored specifically to the needs and goals of the individual student.  Students have different goals, from the score they wish to achieve to the time they wish to commit to the deadlines they need to meet.  A customized test prep program schedules individually with the student, structures the length and breadth of the program after an initial meeting setting goals and expectations, and delivers instruction and materials that best suit the instructional needs, goals and learning style of that particular student.

Those who shop around will discover, not surprisingly, that online courses tend to be the least expensive, because they are pre-programmed and cost next to nothing to deliver to more and more students.  Large classes also tend to be less expensive, again because of economies of scale and the “one size fits all” model.  Sometimes looking for the least expensive store makes sense — where can I get the best deal on an iPad or a new phone?  Those are good apples to apples comparisons.  But some services should not be based solely on price, as the adage “you get what you pay for” reminds us.  Would you choose your doctor or lawyer or investment broker solely by the hourly rate?  Or would you look at what he or she offers in terms of results and fit to your particular needs?

When you look at test prep options, as a smart consumer consider these different models and what fits best for you.  Some students may like the “cookie cutter” style; most need more individual attention delivered by the same person each session who has an ongoing working relationship with the student and his or her progress and learning style, a person who has years of experience in the art and science of test preparation.

We always ask prospective clients to think of test prep not like a good you would buy at Walmart but as an investment you would make after considering the return on investment.  If your child could reach the desired ACT or SAT score, what will that mean in terms of admission to the college of choice?  Can you place a value on that?  And for more practical minded investors, think about the cost of prep and the return of merit scholarships colleges give for reaching a certain SAT or ACT score — usually five to twenty times more than the test prep investment.  And finally, think of the intangibles that come from an individualized and customized program that results in great success — boosts to self-esteem and self-confidence, skills in terms of critical thinking and performance-on-demand that last a lifetime.

We believe that when a parent or student evaluates a test prep program in full terms, the decision of which format best fits becomes readily apparent.

If you have questions about ACT or SAT prep instruction, contact us — we can help.