The Ultimate Guide to Choosing SAT and ACT Prep

There are three ways to prepare for the SAT or ACT: self-study, one-on-one tutoring, and group prep classes.

However, deciding how to prepare for the test can be difficult because everyone is different. Self-study makes sense for the hyper-motivated student. Prep classes make sense for students who prefer traditional learning environments. Tutors make sense for busy students who need a motivational boost.

And then there’s the online component. If you’ve conducted some preliminary research on SAT or ACT prep, you’ve likely come across an online prep service. I’m going to explain the online component to all three to ways to prepare.

The first step towards choosing a prep program is to answer this question:

“What kind of student is my child?”

What kind of student is my child?

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. Yet when the time comes to research SAT/ACT prep programs, you may be unsure what matters most for your student’s success. For instance, you may wonder if your child needs one-on-one tutoring, or should study on their own. There are lots of things to think about!

As you’re researching SAT/ACT prep options, I encourage you to set aside time to chat with your student. Encourage them think about their academic strengths and challenges, learning style, college goals, and schedule. This will help you both decide what type of prep program you’re looking for.

Here are some questions for you and your child to consider during this conversation:

Academic Strengths and Challenges

The questions below will help determine which areas of the SAT/ACT your student should focus on to increase their overall score. Some prep programs provide a general review of all topics on the test. Others help students zero in on their biggest areas for improvement.

  • Which school subjects are my favorite? Which are my least favorite?
  • Which school subjects am I strongest in? Which are most challenging for me?
  • If your child taken a practice or official SAT/ACT: Which sections of the test did I score highest and lowest in? Do these scores reflects my performance in school? Why or why not?

Learning Style

While some students are completely independent with schoolwork and studying, most need support from teachers, tutors, or parents. Understanding how your child learns best will help you choose a test prep plan that fits their needs.

  • What have been some of my favorite and least favorite classes over the years? Any patterns?
  • How much do I benefit from working on projects alone, with classmates, and one-on-one with a tutor/teacher?
  • Am I a self-motivated, independent student? Or do I need some reminders to get things done?
  • Do I take my time on homework and tests, or do I work at lightning speed?

College Goals

To stay motivated throughout the prep process, your student should have a goal SAT/ACT score in mind, or at least a few colleges of interest.

  • What might I want to study in college?
  • What is the typical GPA and SAT/ACT score range my top choice colleges are looking for?
  • What kinds of scholarships do I want to pursue?

Schedule

Going through your child’s daily schedule will help you decide where SAT/ACT prep can fit in. While some prep programs require students to sit in a classroom for several hours, others emphasize shorter, more frequent practice sessions.

  • What is a typical day like for me, during the school year and during the summer?
  • What kinds of activities (sports, clubs, jobs) will I be involved in while I’m prepping? How much time do each of these require per week?
  • Can I adjust my schedule to make time for prep? If so, what’s the plan?

For many families, some of these questions will matter more than others. The goal of this conversation is for you and your child to agree on your family’s priorities around SAT/ACT prep. Once you have an idea what you’re looking for, it’s time to start your research.

Is self-study right for my child?

Many parents ask me if their student should try independent study before their family invests in formal test prep. It’s important to know how each method works, and what kind of student benefits from independent study. While self-study can be an effective, low-cost option for some students, it’s not right for everyone.

Self-Study With a Book

Families purchase the “red book” (The Real ACT) or the “blue book” (The Official SAT Study Guide), which contain real questions from previously administered exams. Students set aside time to independently complete practice problems in the book to prepare for the SAT or ACT. These books also contain practice tests that students should take about once a month, on their own time.

Self-study is right for students who:

1. Are highly self-motivated. They won’t need an instructor or tutor to help them create a study schedule or remind them to prep.

2. Are highly self-aware. They know exactly which areas of the SAT or ACT they need to improve in. They have a goal score in mind, and can independently create and follow a personalized prep plan.

3. Are close to their goal score. They need to gain just a few more points (1-2 for the ACT, 50 or fewer for the SAT).

4. Will study only at home. They don’t need an online program that will allow them to easily prep anywhere.

5. Dislike online learning. They don’t enjoy using a computer to complete schoolwork, and prefer a pencil-and-paper approach.

Self-Study Online

Students independently complete SAT/ACT practice questions on a website of their choice, such as the College Board or ACT site. Most websites provide hundreds of questions, but require students to know what areas they should be practicing in. Students need to create a study schedule for themselves, stick to it, and regularly assess their progress. Testive’s free software offers a personalized platform, where students can complete SAT and/or ACT practice questions tailored to where they need to improve.

Online self-study is right for students who:

1. Are highly self-motivated. They won’t need an instructor or tutor to help them create a study schedule or remind them to prep.

2. Are highly self-aware. They know exactly which areas of the SAT or ACT they need to improve in. They have a goal score in mind, and can independently create and follow a personalized prep plan.

3. Are close to their goal score. They need to gain just a few more points (1-2 for the ACT, 50 or fewer for the SAT).

4. Will study in different locations. They want the flexibility of an online option prep program they can work on anywhere, anytime.

5. Are comfortable with online learning. They enjoy using a computer to complete schoolwork, or at least are willing to give it a try.

Is the classroom the best setting for my student?

Group SAT/ACT prep classes have been available for decades. Education companies run tutoring centers around the country, where students enroll in weekly prep classes. Some high schools offer free or low-cost SAT/ACT prep sessions. The newest way to attend a prep class is online: students in different locations log on, and an instructor leads them through a general curriculum.

While group classes help a lot of students raise their scores, this approach isn’t right for everyone. Some students are more successful with a personalized approach to prep, whether through self-study or working with a tutor.

Before enrolling your student in an SAT/ACT prep class, it’s important to consider their strengths and weaknesses, learning style, college goals, and schedule. Here are the details on how traditional and online classes work, and what type of student succeeds in each:

Traditional Test Prep Class

Students remain at their high school or travel to a local tutoring center to attend a SAT/ACT prep class. Classes usually run once a week, and often last for 2-3 hours at a time. The instructor leads students through a general test prep curriculum, reviewing the content on each section of the SAT or ACT. Students receive weekly homework assignments to reinforce what they learn in class.

Traditional prep classes are right for students who:

1. Have few extracurricular commitments. They have free time on evenings or weekends to travel to a class, prep for several hours, and return home. For students heavily involved in sports and other extracurricular activities, such a class may not fit in.

2. Have long attention spans. They are able to remain engaged in a test prep class for 2-3 hours, focusing on the instructor’s lessons and participating in activities.

3. Are highly self-motivated. Being physically present in a prep classroom doesn’t always mean a student is driven to succeed. To see a score increase, a student must not only attend class, but also complete homework assignments between sessions.

4. Prefer a traditional learning environment. While online prep works for some students, others prefer a traditional classroom setting. If a student is uncomfortable with computers, they may not see a significant score increase with online prep.

Online Test Prep Class

Students around the country enroll in a virtual prep class, usually conducted through video chat. Just as in a traditional class, the instructor gives a general overview of the concepts on the SAT or ACT. To get the most out of the class, a student needs several uninterrupted hours at home.

Online prep classes are right for students who:

1. Are busy, but not too busy. Students’ calendars are too full to travel to a test prep center for several hours. But they can set aside a block of time at home to log into a virtual classroom.

2. Have long attention spans. They are able to remain engaged in a test prep class for 2-3 hours, focusing on the instructor’s lessons and participating in activities. They can also resist wandering onto Netflix or social media sites.

3. Are highly self-aware. They are able to tailor a class’s general curriculum to their individual needs. For example, a student who struggles in math might assign himself extra math problems from the SAT book.

4. Are highly self-motivated – Logging into a prep class doesn’t always mean a student is driven to succeed. To see a score increase, a student cannot miss any classes or homework assignments.

5. Are comfortable with online learning – Today’s teenagers have been using computers from a very young age. They are usually eager to use technology to solve problems, including a SAT/ACT score that’s too low. Students without experience in online learning are often willing to try it.

If your student is highly focused, independent, and motivated, and isn’t excessively busy, a prep class may work for them. On the other hand, if your child will benefit from extra guidance and motivation, or doesn’t have time to attend a class, self-study or one-on-one tutoring is a better fit. Students who struggle with one section of the test (such as ACT science or SAT math) will also benefit from personalized prep, so they aren’t studying material they already know.

Does my student need a tutor?

When parents think of test prep, many think of local tutors. While some tutors start their own full-time businesses, others are high school teachers or graduate students who tutor on the side. Larger towns and cities are filled with tutoring centers, where students can take diagnostic tests, and parents can purchase tutoring hours.

The newest way to work with a tutor is online. Video chat platforms like Skype and Facetime make it possible for tutors to work with students all over the country (and the world!), without compromising teaching quality. Some online tutoring programs are mostly self-guided, requiring students to manage their own prep between tutoring sessions. Testive tutors (“coaches”) use our software to track student progress between meetings, and motivate students to prep throughout the week.

Before signing up your student for tutoring, it’s important to consider their strengths and weaknesses, learning style, college goals, and schedule. Here are the details on how in-person and online tutoring works, and what kind of student succeeds with each:

In-Person Tutoring

Students travel to a tutoring center, library, or elsewhere to meet with a tutor one-on-one. Some tutors travel to their students’ homes to conduct sessions. Certain tutors tailor their lessons to a student’s areas for improvement on the SAT/ACT, offering personalized prep. Others use the same curriculum for every student, and the sessions are similar to attending a prep class. Sessions typically begin with a review of the homework a student completed that week. Remaining instruction time is spent teaching new concepts and strategies, and explaining the next homework assignment.

In-person tutoring is right for students who:

1. Aren’t excessively busy and have consistent schedules.

Students have time to visit a tutor at least once a week, or can host a tutor at home for an hour or more. Tutors’ schedules are often packed, requiring families to schedule sessions weeks in advance.

2. Have long attention spans.

If a student remains engaged throughout an hour-plus tutoring session, this is an opportunity for lots of learning. For many students, sitting still and listening for an hour is difficult, making this time less valuable.

3. Are reasonably self-aware.

Before choosing a local tutor, a student should have a good idea of where they need to improve on the SAT or ACT. While some tutors adapt their instruction to a student’s needs, others use a general curriculum. Before signing up for tutoring, you need to know what type of instruction will work for your student, and what a particular tutor can offer.

4. Are reasonably self-motivated.

Sitting down with a tutor once a week doesn’t always mean a student is driven to succeed. To see a score increase, a student cannot miss tutoring sessions, lose focus during instruction time, or neglect homework assignments. 99% of tutors won’t be around every day to check in, so students must be held accountable for their progress.

5. Prefer a traditional learning environment.

While many students use their computers and smartphones for everything, others are more traditional. A student who strongly dislikes online learning is better off with an in-person tutor or class.

Online Tutoring

Over the last five years, online SAT/ACT tutoring has become increasingly popular. Unlike traditional tutoring, online instruction allows students to meet with a tutor virtually anywhere, anytime. Many online tutoring programs require families to purchase a certain number of tutoring hours, as a supplement to independent study. Some companies, like Testive, have software that allows tutors to view student work and monitor progress.

Online tutoring is right for students who:

1. Are really, really busy.

Many parents I speak with just can’t believe how busy their kids are. Between homework, sports, volunteering, and college applications, most students struggle to find time for SAT/ACT prep. Being able to meet with a tutor online, rather than traveling to a class or tutor, makes fitting in prep much more realistic.

2. Have shorter attention spans.

While every online program is different, some allow students to schedule shorter tutoring sessions (30-45 minutes, for example). For students who struggle to focus throughout a 1-2 hour meeting with a tutor, shorter and more frequent learning sessions lead to greater improvement.

3. Are not sure what they need to work on.

Even if a student has taken the SAT or ACT before, interpreting a score report can be overwhelming. Knowing your student needs more help with ACT reading or SAT math is a start, but there are ways to make prep even more focused. Some online tutoring programs, like Testive, help students determine their areas of weakness, and provide a personalized curriculum. Testive’s software also adjust students’ assignments to their performance, ensuring they’re always prepping at the right level.

4. Need an extra motivational boost

Some students have the discipline to make a study schedule and stick to it. But most do not, and need regular encouragement to prep. Most traditional tutors focus exclusively on instruction, and their students must be driven to succeed. Through weekly meetings, daily practice monitoring, and study reminder emails/texts, Testive coaches make sure students stay on track for score improvement.

5. Are comfortable with online learning

Today’s teenagers are usually eager to use technology to solve problems, including an SAT/ACT score that needs a boost. If your student is always using their computer or phone, they may prefer online tutoring to a traditional approach.

Ideally, any tutor should help a student raise their score faster than self-study can. But every tutoring program is different, and families should do some research before hiring a tutor. If your student has never taken an official SAT or ACT, they should take a practice test to get an idea how much prep they need. Once you know what will allow your student to succeed, whether it’s a personalized curriculum or daily study reminders, it’s time to find a tutor or program that fits.

If you think one-on-one tutoring is right for your student, consider Testive Coaching. Your student will be paired with a top 1% scoring tutor who is also an experienced educator. Your child will receive weekly assignments tailored to their areas of weakness, and their coach will teach essential concepts and strategies over video chat. Our coaches will monitor your student’s work daily, and through our Parent Portal, you can see their progress anytime. You can view our Coaching programs here, or you can schedule a call with me to decide on the right plan.

By | 2017-08-11T21:20:39+00:00 November 1st, 2016|Articles|0 Comments

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