What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?


Our counselors answered:

What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?

Robin Smith

What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?

Looking into SAT and ACT test prep materials?

The pros: Books and computer programs are an inexpensive alternative to forking over money for a class or tutor. Usually books and CD-ROMs will include old SAT and ACT tests that will allow you to judge just which areas you need more work on.

The cons: Both these products rely on a good deal of initiative and understanding on the part of the person who uses them.

The cost: Inexpensive. Mom and dad will not need to take out a second mortgage. You should be able to buy quality test prep books and/or computer software for the reasonable price of $10-$35. Some publications offer a combined book and CD-ROM package.

If you’re easily distracted, you may want to choose another way to study. It is rare for a book or software to come with a money-back guarantee if you don’t do as well as promised and you most likely will not use everything the book or program has to offer.

Laura Smith

What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?

If you’re considering taking ACT and/or SAT prep classes, the pros are that the classes will most likely prepare you for the SAT and ACT tests by mimicking the exact test day conditions. By the time the test day occurs you shouldn’t be in for any surprises. It is also customary for many classes to offer money-back guarantees or extra class time at no charge, if your standardized test scores do not improve after taking the class.

As for cons, be prepared to be just another face in the crowd. Depending on the class size, you will not receive nearly as much one-on-one attention as you would with a tutor. 

When it comes to cost, independent classes can be expensive. They may help raise test scores but they will not help raise the chance of receiving a nice sports car as a graduation present. You’ll be lucky to receive a used minivan after your parents sign the check for your prep class.

It's worth noting that you may find online-only courses to be more cost-effective. Or, if your school offers an ACT or SAT prep class as a free elective, your sports car dreams may not be dashed just yet. Prices vary depending on the amount of class time each course offers, but be prepared to pay more than $500.

Michael Smith

What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?

If you’re looking into hiring a private SAT or ACT tutor, one major pro is that all those excuses you use to get out of studying won’t hold up when you have a tutor looking over your shoulder. They’ll take you, step-by-step, through the questions and give you a better perspective than some books can offer. Plus, the one-on-one interaction with a tutor will help you concentrate on the parts of the test you really need to work on.

Unfortunately, the cons include knowing that while tutors may help, they aren’t miracle workers. Don’t expect a few hours with your tutor to be enough to get you into your first-choice college. You still have to put in the grunt-work outside of your sessions.

You definitely need to factor cost into this approach. Private tutors are extremely expensive. Not only will you not be receiving your grand grad gift, but you can also say goodbye to your first-choice vacation destination as well. 

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?

There are so many ways to prepare for the SAT and ACT, from studying on one's own to working one-on-one to taking a prep course. Some of these methods can be quite costly, and the most expensive ways to prepare may not be the best for a particular student. I recommend one-on-one prep if available (I have done this with students via Skype) because the professional can really customize the material and teaching method to the particular student. Some students are reluctant to ask questions in a larger setting. I also recommend that the prep teacher or organization use authentic College Board of ACT materials; nothing beats the real deal! While software is available and cheaper than prep classes, some students have not found it very effective. There is too much temptation to wander online for some; for others the feel of the pencil and paper is invaluable in preparing for these tests.

王文君 June Scortino
President IVY Counselors Network

What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?

SAT is used alone with other accomplishments subjected to different applicant pools. SAT is also normally used for scholarships. the studen'ts GPA is the single most important evidence alone with the curriculum selection and challenges of the courses.

Jessica Brondo
Founder and CEO The Edge in College Prep

What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?

There are many different test prep methods, and while they vary in cost, type, and effectiveness, there is not just one way to study for the SAT. Some students do well with the least expensive option: studying from a test book. While for others this does not produce results because they need motivation from an instructor or tutor. For students needing an extra push, the next level of test prep would be an online course and then the more expensive options are in-person classes and private tutoring.

Helen Cella

What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?

Some are better than others....practice, practice, practice

Megan Dorsey
SAT Prep & College Advisor College Prep LLC

Test Prep Works If You Do the Work

The obvious advantage of test prep is improved scores, but other pros include increased comfort with test format and content, decreased test anxiety, and enhanced content-area knowledge. Test prep isn’t magic, though: It only works when students put in the time and effort. While some diligent students are dedicated enough to prepare on their own for a minimal cost (under $50), others need the instruction and accountability of a structured program. The more personalized and time-intensive the program, the more it will cost. Online classes can be found for a couple hundred dollars, and traditional classes typically cost $600-$1,000, while private tutoring can cost several thousand dollars. Don’t be fooled by “bargains”: Ask around for recommendations and seek out experienced SAT/ACT prep instructors.

Patricia Aviezer
President Inside Track To College, Inc.

So many choices, so little time...

Yes, getting familiar with the style, content, flow and timing of these tests will help you score your best, but what type of test preparation will work best for you? Other factors to consider with any option is cost factor, time management, target date for testing and scheduling. Let's discuss some options... 1. Preparing on your own-meaning you purchase a book, DVD or gather materials from "free resources" to prepare. Only try this one, if you're self-motivated, disciplined, organized and able to develop an individualized study plan over time. 2. Purchasing an online study program with feedback and remediation available 24/7-some of these programs are very powerful and if USED can raise your scores. My experience with this, works for about 40% of students who subscribe to these services. 3. Group SAT/ACT Prep classes-you need a structured classroom setting with a teacher in the room and the cost seems more economical. Downside here is there are 25 other students taking the class who are all at different levels of performance and the curriculum is standardized so you're sitting through 6 hours of lessons in areas that won't bring your scores up further. 4. Private one-on-one instruction-Cost factor here can be upwards of $100-$200 per hour and you'll need 8-16 hours of instruction. And where did you get the recommendation for this person from? Make sure you're provided with recommendations and that you follow up on them. Set up an interview to see what the "tutor's style" and expectations are to see if this is a good fit for you.

Pamela Hampton-Garland
Owner Scholar Bound


First the cost is relatively the same....check out the sites for each test because it depends on timing (early or late) and the tests (subject, with writing, w/o writing, etc) Also, confirm that the institution you are applying to accepts both exams and that will help you decide which you shoud take Differences: ACT has a science section and is often suggested for students who are strong in the science field; additionally unlike the SAT the ACT is set up so that when you complete Math, you do not return to it, The ACT has critical reading, math and science sections SAT focuses on Critical Reading and Math only and is set up so that you may start with math, move to a reading section, return to a math section, go back to another reading section and so on, for some students it is more frustrating but if you are well versed in the areas you are fine with the structure. The SAT offers subject area tests that can be used to place out of a general education requirement. Both tests have a writing section that most colleges require. Basically, I advise students to take the ACT if science is a very strong area for them, it can often increase their score comparison and may be an advantage over the SAT alone, I do believe both tests provide an opportuntiy for some students to showcase their ability to tests well on prior gained knowledge, but it is not an absolute indicator for all students. Those who do not tests well may be slighted on either tests, not because they do not know the information, but the test anxiety is so high that they freeze and do less then they are capable of. Test prep courses are expensive and have not been shown to boost scores high enough to out way the cost; reading and practicing using the many self guided resources available in books and on the internet may provide just as much opportunity as enrolling in a course and save your money to take the tests several times to get familiar with it and cut down the anxiety level by knowing what to expect.