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Is Taking a Prep Class REALLY Worth It?

As parents, it’s natural to want to do whatever it takes to increase your child’s chances at getting into his or her dream school. But then you take a look at the cost of some of the SAT/ACT Prep courses being offered (e.g. Princeton Review, Kaplan, etc.) and the prices are astronomical. As you contemplate taking out a second mortgage to put your kid in these classes, the immediate question you ask yourself is: are these classes REALLY worth it?

Many tutoring companies will tell you that the answer to this question is “not straightforward” or that it “varies from student to student”. Having tutored the SATs for 7 years, I can tell you that these answers are deliberately misleading. It IS true that the answer to this question is not the same for every student, but over time I have encountered only 3 types of students:

  1. Motivated with a good grasp on concepts
  2. Motivated but with holes in their knowledge
  3. No Motivation, False Motivation, No Interest, or Other Interests

As one would probably expect, a prep course only really benefits the first 2 types of students. Even those who may struggle in many subjects in school will greatly benefit from a prep course, as long as they are motivated to improve. Unfortunately, the reality is that many students fall under the third category…

Now it is important to note that this is not a problem of desire. In fact, if you asked your child if he/she WANTS to improve his/her standardized test scores, most would say of course! The problem is that, just like perfecting any skill takes countless hours of practice, improving your SAT scores also takes time and effort. And the truth is that when it comes to putting in the time, most students will choose to practice their instrument or sport (or worse, play video games) over practicing for the SATs.

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else, and it’s up to you to realistically evaluate how much time your child will (or has time to) spend on practicing. And though your parental instinct might be to put your kid in a prep program to give him or her every opportunity possible, if he or she is not willing to put in the hours of practice, then frankly you are wasting your money on a class.

That does not mean that you are out of options! If you know your child will not make SAT/ACT their priority, perhaps one-on-one tutoring would work better, where he or she will be forced to do the work. Or if your child just needs freedom to work at his or her own pace, then perhaps a guided SAT/ACT software may be best.

However, if your kid falls in the first 2 types of students then a prep course is definitely a good idea. Studies have shown that those who have the means to take a SAT prep course do significantly better than those who don’t. Knowing what to expect on the test and getting all the strategies to “beat the test” undoubtedly put your child at an advantage.

That being said, choosing a class can still be daunting, and you still don’t want to take out that second mortgage. A common misconception among parents is that the more expensive the SAT class, the better it must be. But I’ll let you in on a trade secret: the strategies you get in a $2000 prep course are no different than the ones you get in a $500 prep course. Everyone knows the same tricks… some companies just decide to gouge you for them.

So do your research, and look for a quality prep class that doesn’t break the bank. Also keep in mind that there are new alternative and inexpensive ways to study for standardized tests (as mentioned before, STAFFS Prep offers a great adaptive software that allows kids to work at their own pace and level). But first and foremost, do not ask yourself if the classes are worth it (for the most part they are), but instead ask yourself if your child will take full advantage of them?

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