Oscar Wilde opined that “Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” Yet, school-age teens need to master such a breadth and depth of subjects that just about every one of them needs teachers. That’s why we have high school. And if academics alone wasn’t enough to fill any student’s days, teens also strive towards their best results in sports, art, and performance. That’s why we have teachers and coaches. Last but not least, college applicants are usually compared not just by grades and extracurriculars, but by SAT & ACT scores. That’s why we have test prep!
Every rule has exceptions. A good friend of mine picked up a guitar and basically learned by ear, going on to become a successful commercial recording artist. But his experience doesn’t reflect that of most musicians, who learn from veritable armies of teachers. Most of us benefit from teaching, particularly when we need to improve dramatically in a relatively short period of time.
No form of test preparation beats tutoring for efficiency and effectiveness, assuming an excellent tutor and motivated student. But the combination of the right kind of class and right kind of student can yield results just as impressive, if not as quick. But what is the right kind of SAT & ACT class?
Consider four essential factors when evaluating a test prep class:
Curriculum should be lesson-based rather than pieced together from old practice tests. Experience is the best teacher in test prep, so effective classes emphasize student work and review over lectures. Check to make sure the curriculum is proven to work and revised to reflect the most current versions of the tests. Also make sure the class you register for is aligned with your test goals. Many classes are SAT-only or ACT-only. If you imagine you might take both, find that rare class that teaches both at the same time. Last but not least, most classes don’t include group review of practice tests… if students don’t take and review tests, can you really call it test prep?
Teacher experience and ability matters at least as much, if not more, than curriculum. Many test prep programs assign their least experienced instructors to teach classes in order to develop the expertise to conduct tutoring. Don’t settle for a brand new teacher in a brand name class; make sure you choose a class led by an expert, not just in the tests but in teaching students to improve on them.
Class size makes a massive difference for students who seek real improvement. A teenager who can learn anything complex in a lecture of 50 students or more probably doesn’t need a class in the first place. Everyone else needs the personalized attention that facilitates understanding and growth. More than 20 students in a class is probably too many, but a better target would be one teacher per 12 or fewer students.
Class length, meaning total hours of instruction, defines just how much students can credibly learn and retain. For example, we can teach certain students all the content and strategies needed to master the grammar sections of both tests in just two hours, while other students will require three or more hours. But those are tutoring hours. Group instruction takes more time and grammar is just one of many domains tested on the SAT & ACT. Consider the following categories of class length, based on our own types of classes:
STARTER (12 or fewer hours): This kind of class, common to community rec and continuing education programs, delivers a superficial review of test content. Don’t expect much improvement. We call these “starter” classes because students should continue to work individually afterwards if they hope for higher scores. We explored classes like these, but stopped running them once we saw how generally ineffective they were.
SUPER INTENSIVE (14-20 hours): A class of this length might still be too short for some students, but can be effective if focused on only one test for a small group of students. Our Super Intensive classes include one full-length practice test and group review.
INTENSIVE (22-30 hours): A class of this scope can address both the SAT & ACT in a way that can promote real score improvement. Our Intensive classes include two full-length practice tests, usually one SAT and one ACT, as well as group review of each test.
COMPLETE (30 or more hours): All things being equal, anyone looking for a test prep class should look for the most complete, unified SAT & ACT prep possible. At this level of engagement, practice tests are non-negotiable. If you can find an extended class taught to a small group by an expert teacher using a proven program, sign up! Our Complete classes include four full-length practice tests, typically two SATs and two ACTs, with corresponding group review sessions.
In summary, if you are looking for SAT & ACT classes, rest assured you will find a ton of options at a range of different price points and structures. Don’t settle for a class that isn’t likely to help you reach your goals. We invest in Driver’s Ed with the expectation that we’ll be able to drive when the class is over. Invest in test prep with the same level of commitment and accountability, and you may be happily surprised by your results.