Test Prep Right for Your Child

Test Prep Right for Your Child

The Six Types of Test Preparation and How to Know Which is Right for Your Child

Nowadays, parents feel a tremendous amount of pressure when it comes to their children’s SAT and ACT scores. Some parents feel overwhelmed by the test prep options, while others feel overwhelmed by the financial commitment. The bottom line is that this process can be very stressful.

This article will present to you the six types of test preparation and how to know which is right for your child.

  1. Self-Study: There are numerous, high-quality resources available all over the web and at local bookstores and libraries to help students self-study. These include books, video tutorials, chat rooms, discussion boards, and more. The upside to this approach is that the cost should come in between $0 and $100, which is great. However, there is a major downside as well. Imagine if your child told you that they wanted to learn guitar in 12 weeks. Would you buy them one book and hope for the best? Probably not. Self-study is EXTREMELY difficult even for simple subjects, let alone complex ones like test prep. The Verdict: This option is great for low-income families that simply do not have more than $20-50 to spend on test prep or for students that have very little need for score improvement.
  1. Online Course: In the last five years, many companies have developed full, dynamic online courses for test prep. Some of these follow a self-study approach and some of them are live. The majority that you will see follow the former option. This provides a much higher level of prep than simple self-study or watching a YouTube video, as described above. These courses are custom-made to make them intriguing and easy-to-follow for students. However, even though they are better, they are still far from perfect. The Verdict: This option is great for low-income students that have a greater need for improvement or for students looking to go up 100 points or less.
  1. In-Person Group Course: This is the most classic option available to students, and it is really what got this industry off the ground to begin with. Many of us parents can remember taking a class from one of the big national companies while we were in high school. These have the wonderful distinction of being both relatively affordable, yet able to provide students with an opportunity to learn with their peers. Being in the group setting encourages students to show up, do their homework and take the studying seriously. The downside is that there is virtually zero customization. The Verdict: This option is great for families looking for value. You can get a solid course for around $500-$700 and learn a lot of good information. But the lack of customization is limiting for score improvement. This is useful for relatively independent students who are looking for 150-180 points of improvement.
  1. Private Tutor: Some parents opt to hire a private tutor that is not affiliated with a company, for instance, a family friend or someone they find on Craigslist. This is probably my least favorite option. The major issue here is quality control. How do you know that what this person is teaching is actually good? Although this choice provides customization, it also provides too big of a chance for random people to sell themselves as experts. And although this is more affordable than hiring a tutor from a company, it is not worth it. Verdict: I would stay away from this option. If money is an issue, I prefer to see a student take a group class from a reputable company.
  1. Company Tutoring: Some parents find a tutor from a company that does not specialize in test prep. In other words, just like the company offer tutors for Algebra and Spanish, so too they offer tutors for SAT and ACT. Once again we have a major quality control issue. The good thing with this option is that it is usually cheaper than tutoring from a proper test prep company and it provides customization. Plus, there is a company who has interviewed this person and done a background check on them. Those are all positives. However, since the company does not train the tutors, you have no way to know that the methods they employ are actually good. Verdict: If you have to keep the cost of test prep around $1,000 or $1,400 and your child needs to see around 200 or so points of improvement, then this is a good option? that is, unless they are pretty independent, at which point I would recommend a group class.
  1. Test Prep Tutoring: Finally, we have private tutoring from a proper test prep company. This means that the company has its own customized methods and materials, and their tutors are trained in that methodology. This is the absolute highest level of preparation available. Students are not only able to get personalized preparation, but they can rest assured that the methods their tutor use are genuinely tried and true. When a company invests the time and money into creating materials, and they train their tutors in the program, these programs tend to be very good. Obviously, there is a spectrum, and some programs are better than others, but it is still generally the case that the programs are solid. The bad news is that this type of tutoring is very expensive. At truly qualified companies, you are looking at programs running from $2,500-$5,000 or more. Verdict: If your child is looking for a significant improvement of 250+ points, and you have the means to pay for it, this is the best option.

As you can see, there are a lot of great options for test prep for your child. The main takeaway here is that test prep is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. For some students, pricey private tutoring would be unnecessary and wasteful. Likewise, for some students, taking a class would be more or less a waste of time. Its important that you get to know your child and what their needs are.

Steve Doorman is the founder of Tier One Tutors, a test preparation and private tutoring company serving students across Southern California. Learn more at www.tieronetutors.com

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