The stress of standardized tests is real because so much might be at stake.
Even though some colleges and universities have paused consideration of standardized test scores, at least temporarily, because of test delays from coronavirus-related concerns, students’ SAT scores may still influence many admissions and scholarship decisions.
Students’ SAT test prep options include free resources from the College Board – which administers the SAT – their high school and other sources; online or in-person classes; or one-on-one lessons with a private tutor.
This guide can help parents and students decide which options might be best.
Parents might get overwhelmed when they start researching all of the SAT test prep programs because there are many companies, methods and price ranges.
One way to start is to look at the free options. The College Board has a personalized, interactive and free prep program in partnership with the Khan Academy, a nonprofit educational organization. It includes lessons, videos, practice questions and test-taking tips.
Local high schools and Boys & Girls Clubs of America chapters nationwide also help students prepare for the test at no charge. National test prep companies often offer free practice tests and other services, although that could be a way for them to sell you fee-based services, such as classes and tutoring.
For some families, the free SAT prep options might be enough or all they can afford. The success of some of these programs hinges on a student’s ability to fit in the practice tests and videos while keeping up with high school, jobs and extracurriculars. That’s also the case with self-directed SAT test prep offered by some companies. You pay a fee for the materials and receive access for several months or more, but it’s up to the student to get the most out of them.
In contrast, a scheduled SAT course, whether in-person or online, makes it easier for students to plan for test prep. Curriculum for SAT classes is meant for a general audience, usually focusing on best practices for test-taking and what to expect academically from each subject area.
Private tutors are usually the most expensive option, but personalized one-on-one sessions are most valuable for students who have particular academic needs or who have trouble with standardized tests.
Test prep companies often bundle two or more of these options into packages, such as pairing online SAT prep materials with online courses and an optional personalized tutoring offer.
When you’re debating SAT prep options, realize the best one is based on your student’s college acceptance goals, academic record, studying style and general approach to the test.
For example, if your student is not organized or motivated enough to complete self-directed SAT test prep or needs help in a particular subject, the personalized attention of a private tutor might be the best option.
- Draw up a personalized plan. A class offered through an SAT test prep service might claim to tailor study plans to your student based on test data, but that might not be enough for those who get nervous on standardized tests or who struggle in areas such as math and English.
- Build accountability. Showing up for a class, whether online or in-person, is one thing, but preparing for a weekly meeting with someone who gives a personalized homework assignment is another. Regular one-on-one meetings can inspire even reluctant students to keep pace with lessons.
- Provide feedback. Students want to know they’re improving. Sometimes interaction with another person – not just seeing a higher score on a practice test – is the best way to encourage them to keep learning.
|Self-Guided Test Prep||Yes||Yes||Maybe||No|
SAT test preparation should improve students’ scores, and different test prep organizations may publish their own data on the effectiveness of their offerings.
For example, a 2017 study by the Khan Academy in conjunction with the College Board showed that students who studied for 20 hours with its free, self-guided Official SAT Practice improved their scores by an average of 115 points, nearly double the score improvement of those who didn’t use the preparation at all. The study also showed an improvement average of 90 points with six hours of preparation.
Massachusetts-based Sexton Test Prep & Tutoring reported in 2017 that students improved 100 to 140 points on the SAT if they used the company’s 12- to 16-hour SAT tutoring package. The highest test score gains took place within the first 10 to 12 hours of tutoring, the company’s analysis of its own services found.
Some national test prep companies are willing to guarantee SAT score improvements or provide a refund based on enrollment in selected programs.
- PrepScholar: Promises a score increase of at least 160 for specific programs
- Kaplan: Guarantees a score increase for specific programs
- The Princeton Review: Guarantees a score of 1,400 or 1,500 or more if the student takes specific programs
- Varsity Tutors: Offers a score improvement guarantee for specific programs
The College Board recommends students start preparing two to three months before the test, which is usually scheduled in the fall of junior year.
The first step is to look at a student’s PSAT score and compare it with the desired range for admissions at his or her target schools. Once a score goal is set, research the options that make the most sense. For example, it’s best to focus on personalized tutoring if students need to improve their scores quite a bit.
In-person and online tutoring classes could last a month or two, so it’s a good idea to schedule those as soon as possible, as they might fill up. One-on-one tutoring sessions usually range from about 10 to 40 hours, which might occur in two-hour increments once a week over several weeks. Students trying for a very high score to get into the most competitive colleges might even need several months to prepare.
Also remember students need to spend hours taking and reviewing practice tests as homework. Students need to fit in all of this preparation around a heavy class load, extracurriculars and jobs.
SAT test preparation could range from several weeks for students who are doing a quick review before a second or third test to several months for first-time test-takers who want to get into a school with highly competitive admissions requirements.
Self-paced test prep options usually allow students to have several months of access to materials such as sample questions, videos and tips. Test preparation companies have a variety of options for prep programs and personalized tutoring. A one-on-one tutoring package might range from 10 hours for specialized instruction on a particular subject to 40 hours for a huge scoring increase or a high target score.
In all prep scenarios, a student needs to set aside extra time for practice tests and other tasks recommended by the instructor.
The costs of SAT prep vary, from the extensive free preparation offered by the College Board and the Khan Academy to individualized tutoring from a local or national company.
Students who prefer self-directed study can find a variety of packages that give them a few months to a year of access to prep materials. For example, Kaplan offers six months of online access for $149, and may offer a discount on top of that, while Higher Scores Test Prep provides 18 months of online access, unlimited email support and more for $647.
Personalized tutoring prices vary as well, with regional and national tutoring services offering hourly rates from about $60 to $200. For 20 hours of tutoring, a parent is likely to spend from about $2,000 to $4,000, although many services offer packages from about 10 to 40 hours.
Companies might change their pricing structures based on where the student lives or might offer discounts.
|Applerouth||National||$599-$999, depending on class size|
|Benthall Test Prep||Charlotte, North Carolina||$995|
|Inspirica||National||$249 to $1,649|
|Pittsburgh Prep||Pittsburgh||$499 or $1,899, depending on the course|
|Testmasters||National; Chicago-area prices||$749|
|The Princeton Review||National||$899|
|Varsity Tutors||National||Free online course; $499 personalized online course|
|Green Test Prep||Lifetime access (if you enroll during the pandemic)||$497|
|Higher Scores Test Prep||Six months of access for SAT Quick Prep course; 18 months of access for SAT Complete Package course||$187; $647|
|Kaplan||Six months of access||$149|
|Khan Academy||Through the SAT site, unlimited access||Free|
|Method Test Prep||Unlimited access, until your student graduates from high school||$199|
|PrepScholar||One year of access||$397|
|Testmasters||Four months of access||$699|
|The Princeton Review||One year of access||$199|
|UWorld||360 days of access||$99|
|Winward Academy||One year of access on two self-paced test prep options||$249.99; $499.99|
|Applerouth||National, online and in-person||20-hour tutoring package; price depends on tutoring tier||$2,700 to $3,700 for online; in-person tutoring rate varies based on location|
|ArborBridge||Los Angeles-based, online||20-hour tutoring package||$4,040|
|Artful Tutoring||Herndon, Virginia||24 hours of tutoring over 12 sessions||$2,500|
|Benthall Test Prep||Charlotte, North Carolina; online and in-person||Tutoring offered by the hour||$3,000 for 20 hours of tutoring|
|Breakaway Test Prep||Minneapolis metro area||Tutoring offered by the hour, plus one-time materials fee||$2,600 for 20 hours of tutoring, plus materials fee|
|ClearPath Advantage||National||24 hours of one-on-one instruction||$2,450|
|Denver Test Prep||Denver metro area||Tutoring offered by the hour||$2,600 for 20 hours of tutoring|
|Edison Prep||Atlanta metro area, in-person||18-hour package||$2,730|
|Educere Tutoring||Houston||Tutoring offered by the hour||$1,100 for 20 hours|
|Equitas Prep||Louisville, Kentucky||Tutoring offered by the hour||Starting at $1,980 for 20 sessions, 55 minutes each|
|Huntington Learning Center||National||14 hours of instruction in one subject||$1,050|
|Kaplan||National||20-hour tutoring package||$2,899|
|McElroy Tutoring||National||20-hour tutoring package||$7,900|
|Pittsburgh Prep||Pittsburgh||20-hour tutoring package||$3,280|
|PrepNow||National||30-hour one-on-one program||$2,400-$7,800, hourly price varies by instructor tier|
|PrepScholar||National||20-hour tutoring package||$2,995|
|Sandweiss Test Prep||Seattle metro area||Tutoring offered by the hour||$1,800 for 20 hours|
|Sexton Test Prep & Tutoring||Boston area||Tutoring offered by the hour||$3,200 for 20 hours of tutoring|
|StudyPoint||National||Tutoring offered by the hour; price depends on the tutor you hire||$1,600-$5,200 for 20 hours of tutoring online; $2,400-$5,200 for 20 hours of in-person tutoring|
|Testmasters||Chicago-area prices, online||Tutoring offered by the hour||$1,380 for 20 hours, if need help in a particular area beyond the online options|
|The Princeton Review||National||18-hour tutoring package||$2,700|
|Varsity Tutors||National||Tutoring offered by the hourly packages||Pricing is customized to each family|
Parents and students who set a target SAT score at the beginning of the test prep process might be the best to judge whether a test prep method was a successful one.
The upfront cost might be several thousand dollars, but parents might think it’s worth it if the student gets accepted to the colleges of his or her choice or gets an academic scholarship that is worth much more than the cost of a tutor.
The key is to set a realistic goal based on the PSAT score and early practice tests. An unrealistic goal could set a student up for failure during test preparation and cause that student to struggle to hit the desired number on practice tests or during the actual exam.
Even if a student gets an unsatisfactory score on the first test, it’s worth it to try again. College Board statistics show more than 50% of second-time test-takers score higher than on the first exam. Also, if one test prep strategy didn’t work for the first test – such as a free, self-directed program – a personal SAT tutor might help the student for the next test.
Online search and local references are two of the most common ways parents find an SAT tutor.
While online search can seem daunting, using the charts above may help you compare the costs and offerings of some of the major test prep companies. You could also look for companies that offer classroom instruction in your area.
Word-of-mouth recommendations can be even better, especially from your child’s school guidance counselor or a parent whose child had a successful experience with a test prep service or local tutor.
Once you make a list of the top three or more companies and review all their packages for self-directed prep, classes and personalized tutoring, here are some questions to ask:
- What experience do you or does your company have? It should be clear from the website that the test prep company’s specialty is SAT test prep. A tutor should be able to show his or her credentials as an SAT test expert.
- What preparation materials do you use? Most companies create their own materials, so it would be good to find out what they are and why the company believes they work. Tutors also ought to have test prep techniques and materials that have proven results. You also want to make sure prep tests and questions are from the College Board, which administers the SAT.
- How many hours of tutoring or class time are recommended? Ask the company or tutor what the options are for class packages or private tutoring sessions. They ought to have a point of view on how much is needed based on your students’ goals.
- What results should we expect? The answer depends on the student’s commitment as well. While some companies offer a guarantee for certain prep programs, don’t expect it from everyone. You can ask for references, which may indicate whether the tutoring service has met the goals of others.
If you’re hiring a personalized SAT tutor, make sure the tutor’s style and schedule are a good match for the student.
It is possible to get combined ACT and SAT test prep from test prep companies, which is ideal for students who want to tackle both tests or who are still deciding which one to take.
Kaplan: Students can get online access to ACT, SAT and PSAT preparation materials, including practice tests, through the Unlimited Prep course. Personalized tutoring is possible as well.
The Princeton Review: The combined ACT and SAT self-paced program includes classroom options and practice material.
Varsity Tutors: The company offers live online group classes on both the ACT and SAT.
Both the ACT and SAT feature sections on English and math, which makes it easier for students to study basics in each subject as preparation. Also, test prep services help students improve skills such as time management.
SAT test prep programs and tutors provide students with insights on how to tackle the academic aspects of the test as well as tips on how to manage their time for each section and question. You might find a tutor who can tackle all topics with your student or one who specializes in a particular section.
The SAT includes two sections: math and evidence-based reading and writing. The reading and writing section includes two tests, one on reading and the other on writing and language. The math test includes one section that can be taken with a calculator and another that cannot. The essay section is optional, but students should check whether the schools they’re applying to require it for admission. The SAT total score ranges from 400 to 1,600 and is the total of the two section scores. Each section score falls between 200 and 800 points.
Time management is key for the 58-question SAT math section, as there are multistep problems and an extended thinking problem. The math sections include heart of algebra, which covers linear equations, functions, graphs and inequalities; passport to advanced math, which covers quadratic equations, word problems and exponential expressions; and problem solving and data analysis, which covers ratios, percentages, rates and data inferences from graphs and tables.
Practice questions help students effectively manage problem-solving for the noncalculator and calculator-eligible sections.
The reading section accounts for half of the score for the evidence-based reading and writing area. Students answer 52 questions based on five written pieces covering social studies, history, literature and natural sciences. An SAT reading tutor helps students learn how to strategically read each piece, to glean what information they need to answer the multiple choice questions.
The questions are likely to test students’ vocab skills, ability to determine the meaning of each passage and ability to compare written pieces.
SAT Writing and Language Tutoring
For this 35-question test, which is 50% of the score for evidence-based reading and writing, a writing tutor helps students think like an editor working on a deadline. Students may need to brush up on their vocabulary skills and knowledge of proper sentence structure, and they must know how to rewrite part of a story to make it easier to understand. A tutor can provide much-needed feedback on how a student can improve a piece of writing without altering its meaning.
The optional essay section does not factor into the SAT composite score, but it’s good for students to complete if a college they’re interested in requires it. An essay tutor gives students an idea of likely writing topics and what an essay on a standardized test looks like. Also, students can get valuable feedback on their writing when they complete a practice essay.
Students should expect the tutor to help them create a study plan based on their score goals and the time period the tutoring will take place.
The plan should include a schedule of one-on-one sessions and time for the student to complete practice tests and other homework. It should also be tailored to the student’s work style and needs.
Tutors and test prep companies provide SAT test-taking and problem-solving strategies, including:
- How to answer questions. Some methods encourage students to answer the easy questions first, then concentrate on the ones that take more time. Some tutors may show students how to figure out the right answer to a multiple choice question by process of elimination.
- How to manage each section. Tutors and test prep materials help students figure out how each section is set up and what actions – such as jumping around too much in the writing and language test – might waste time.
Test prep experts suggest students take multiple full-length SAT practice tests to get familiar with the length and intensity of the test. The practice tests should be the official College Board versions, and students should time themselves – taking breaks when needed – to be sure they are getting a realistic taste of the actual SAT.
Practice test results are a valuable piece of information during SAT prep, as they can help students understand whether they are improving and whether they need help on timing for one or more sections.
Students who have taken several full-length SAT practice tests and have confidence heading into the exam need to think about their test day plans as well.
They need a photo ID and their SAT admission ticket to get in. Students should have two No. 2 pencils, an eraser and a calculator with fresh batteries. And it’s a good idea to bring snacks and a water bottle, as the five-hour test has few breaks.