Although many colleges remain test optional, there are good reasons to prep for and take the SAT or ACT. Most students feel some anxiety about taking college entrance exams. A good test prep course or working one-on-one with a tutor can help alleviate some of this anxiety by allowing students to become familiar with the exams and test-taking strategies. Here are some questions to ask if you are shopping for a test prep class:
Who will be teaching the class?
Some test prep companies use recent college graduates who had high SAT/ACT scores when they took the exam in high school. Be cautious if this is the case. There is a difference between scoring well on an exam and being able to teach others how to do well. Be sure to ask about the training the instructors receive to help them become effective teachers, not just effective test takers. The best programs either use experienced educators as instructors or use educators to train instructors.
What is the content of the class?
Does each class session divide time equally between the different sections of the exams, or are whole sessions devoted to specific sections? Is more time spent on particular sections or particular skills development? Additionally, ask how many full-length practice exams, using real exams, will be given during the course; the more, the better. But, also ask how the practice exams are scored and shared with students. Do they receive any personal feedback on their strengths and weaknesses on the exam? Of course, you should always consider how you learn best, and then look for programs that are a good match for your learning style. Some students will do best with private tutoring, while other students can do well in a group setting.
What materials will be used in the class?
The best test prep classes and test prep tutors will use actual SAT and/or ACT exams for practice. They will not create their own exams. While many test prep companies use their own proprietary study books, it’s helpful if they also incorporate the College Board’s and the ACT’s own study guides into the classroom.
What is the class size?
Look for smaller groups, and be sure to ask how much time is allocated in each class session to answering individual questions.
What is the refund policy?
If you think the course isn’t helping after a session or two, can you get a refund? What happens if you get sick or have a scheduling conflict that requires dropping out of the course?
Can the tutor provide references?
Checking references is especially important if you are considering hiring a private tutor. However, keep in mind that what works well for one student isn’t necessarily the best fit for all students; in checking references, be sure to dig deeper in your questions to try to get a sense of the tutor’s style, approach, and ability to adapt to your or your child’s needs.
What is the tutor’s or prep class success rate?
Use caution here. If a class or tutor suggests that all students who take the course will raise their scores by 100 or 200 points, it should set off warning bells. Students in any class will learn and improve at their own rates; it is very rare to see the same increases across the board for all students. Similarly, don’t be overly impressed by promises that you can retake the prep class for free if your scores don’t increase. You want a course that helps the first time.