That’s a great question. I’m glad you asked. Perhaps the best way to show why hiring an experienced independent tutor is the best way to prepare for the SAT, or any standardized test, is to detail the problems with your other options. So I’ll do that. Here are the only options I know of.
1. Go with a test prep service like Kaplan or Princeton Review.
Test prep classes are a wonderful way to get a good solid foundation before taking a standardized test, especially if it’s been a while since you took algebra and geometry, English isn’t your first language, or the schools you attended just didn’t teach those subjects in a way that reached you. They also show you the SAT, ACT, etc.’s approach to the subject matter in a way that will help you get a higher score, even if you already know the subject matter quite well. I really respect Kaplan, Princeton Review, and (most) other services. Kaplan basically invented the test prep industry, in an attempt to make these tests fairer. I received much of my SAT tutoring training from Think Tank Learning, an excellent test prep and tutoring service.
The problem is, just as in your regular school classes, test prep classes aren’t places where you will receive much individual attention. You can end up spending too much time on classes and exercises covering things you already know well. You may not spend enough time on the topics where you’re behind and need extra help, unless you’re willing to pay more money for individual tutoring.
So even test prep course companies know some students need additional, individualized help to do their best on a standardized test. Individualized tutoring makes a great supplement to a prep course, and is also effective by itself. Of course, as with any service, your results will be best if you work with an experienced professional. You probably wouldn’t want to get your hair cut by a first-day barber college student right before the prom; why would you hire an inexperienced tutor before the SAT?
Finally, some services focus mostly test taking “tricks” instead of focusing on actually teaching the material. While test tricks and tips are essential to getting a high score on the SAT, they are NOT the only things, or even the most important things, to learn. The math, writing, and reading skills tested on the SAT are tested for a reason – you really need to learn them to succeed in college and in life. Being able to guess the correct answer to an algebra problem on the SAT won’t help you when you need to solve the same equation for your college physics class. Why not hire a real tutor and learn the real way to solve a problem as well as the “SAT Trick” way? The balance between real academics and “test tricks” is something any good individual tutor will show you.
2. Study by sitting down with a test prep book –
i.e. “Do It Yourself.”
I am a big fan of test preparation books. All I had available to study for the SAT and most standardized tests I’ve taken in my life were test prep books. I highly recommend Barron’s books for most test prep (I generally use Barron’s SAT for SAT prep, and supplement it with other materials as necessary, unless the customer requests that I used other materials). While I did well on the SAT, I know, from teaching the SAT for Think Tank, from individual tutoring, and from practicing the methods in test prep books, I would have done even better if I had really learned the test tricks and a few more vocabulary words and math principles that courses and books cover, and I got a perfect score on an SAT I took as part of the application process for an SAT tutoring job. Test prep books are an important part of my services.
However, a test prep book, by itself, can’t keep you on track. As a friend of mine put it “We like to work on things we’re already good at, and shy away from the things we’re bad at.” A tutor can make sure you focus on your weaknesses, and strengthen up for the test. Think of a tutor as a personal trainer for your brain.
A tutor can also answer questions not covered in the book, including questions about college admissions, career paths, and “Just when will I ever use this stuff again, once I take the SAT?” Standardized tests can determine so much about your future; it’s worth a little extra time and effort to hire a tutor.
For all the reasons above, an independent tutor is a smart, cost-effective way to guarantee you’ll do the best you can on the SAT or any standardized test.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.