High stakes testing tends to trigger anxiety in both students and parents alike. High schoolers afraid of exams like the SAT, ACT, APs, or state tests naturally fret about potential performance, but what do parents–mercifully spared from the trauma of test day nightmares–have to worry about? Generally, parents suffer the most stress in finding the right test prep provider.
What makes choosing a test prep provider such an important and potentially problematic process? Basically, once you recognize that a systematic combination of practice and coaching is the only real path to substantial score improvement, you may realize how rare programs that provide both elements effectively really are. The right provider can help a motivated student meet or even exceed score goals in a relatively short period of time, while the wrong one will do nothing but waste time, money, and enthusiasm, all of which tend to be in short supply during the test prep process.
How can a parent choose the right test prep provider? If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with abundant live local test prep offerings to supplement the plethora of online and electronic programs, your first step should be to do the research. Consult trusted sources like school counselors, parents, and students and supplement with geographically-driven web research. An obvious winner may emerge if multiple sources enthusiastically recommend the same provider; this is more common that you’d expect as most regions tend to be dominated by one superior test prep provider, usually a local rather than national firm.
Whether your search uncovers one or many providers, due diligence demands that you ask the right questions to ascertain fit for your own family circumstances. Consider all the factors that define a superior test prep experience, and ask the right questions to assess them thoroughly:
Outside of student commitment, instructor quality is the single most important factor in test prep success. If you can work experienced, well-trained and supervised teachers or tutors with histories of success, you’ll have a headstart towards your targets.
- How do you hire or assess teachers?
- What qualifications do you require/prioritize from teachers?
- How much experience do your teachers have?
- How do you train teachers?
- Do teachers report to other teachers or non-educational staff?
- How do you determine which tutor works with my child?
- What options are available if my child doesn’t connect or work well with the tutor?
- Do you assign different instructors for different subjects or test sections?
ORGANIZATION AND HISTORY
All things (especially teacher quality) being equal, working with an organization is often better than working with an individual and working local is better than working with a distance provider:
- For how many years have you or your organization been in business?
- For how many years have you or your organization served this area?
- What connections do you or your organization have in this area e.g. free seminars, practice tests, school relationships?
- Do you have a physical location or center in this area?
- What else should I know about you or your organization?
No curriculum can compensate for ineffective or inexperienced instructors, but an effective professional curriculum elevates the quality and outcomes of skilled test prep:
- Do you have a set curriculum?
- Who develops your curriculum?
- How often is your curriculum revised?
- Does every student go through the same curriculum?
FLEXIBILITY OF OFFERINGS
Since every student has different needs, you should inquire about how broad and deep a provider’s services are:
- Do you offer group instruction e.g. classes, seminars, group test review?
- Do you offer individual instruction?
- Do you offer small-group (2 or 3 students at once) instruction?
- Does your individual instruction entail a tutor working with a student 1-1 for the full session?
- How long are your tutoring programs?
- Do you require certain commitments or work session to session?
- Do you have resources and/or expertise for students with learning disabilities?
- Do your classes include practice tests?
- Do your tutoring programs include practice tests?
- Do students review these tests with teachers?
- Do you host proctored practice tests?
- What is the source of practice tests you assign?
When parents or students see exceptional score gains or experience very high quality instruction and service, they tend to tell others. Look for strong testimonials, preferably from people you know:
- Where can I find testimonials for you or your organization?
- Where can I find reviews for you or your organization?
- Do you have contact information for someone I can speak to you about you or your organization?
Believe it or not, pricing shouldn’t be the primary driver of test prep provider, any more than it determines where you eat dinner on special occasions. High test scores can be worth a lot in terms of scholarship or access to highly competitive schools and programs, so expect the best providers in your area to be priced accordingly:
- How much to your classes or tutoring programs cost?
- Are discounts available and to whom?
- Are special packages available?
- Do you offer any kind of guarantee?
Important decisions deserve the time and effort required to make choices you can not only live with but feel good about both in the moment and many years later. Consider all the factors that define exceptional test preparation, then ask yourself whether you and your child should settle for anything less!