Tackling the SAT and ACT tests: The good, the bad, and the money


With so much riding on how high school students handle the standardized tests from Hell known as the SAT and the ACT, it’s not surprising that parents empty their wallets with hopes that their son or daughter will score that perfect 2400 on the SAT test or that flawless 36 on the ACT. Nowadays the common question isn’t whether to spend money to prepare for standardized tests, but rather how much to spend and how to spend it. With that in mind, we here at Unigo decided to examine three kinds of study techniques: books and computer programs, test prep classes, and private tutors, in order to help give you, the student, a better understanding of what study weapons will aid you in combating the SAT and ACT test. 

ACT and SAT Prep Materials

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.

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

“For Christmas my dad bought me the Leapfrog SAT prep portable piece,” Megeen Clabby, a junior at James Madison University stated in an e-mail. “[It] seemed like a good idea but when it came down to it, it was really difficult to motivate myself.”

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

“I mostly just used the book to help make note cards for words I didn’t know,” said Courtney O’Keefe, a freshman at Gettysburg College.

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. 

Check These Out: SAT – The Official SAT Study GuideCracking the SAT, How to Survive the SAT (and ACT) (By Hundreds of Happy College Students). ACT – The Real ACT Prep Guide: The Only Official Prep Guide from the Makers of the ACT, Cracking the ACT, Increase Your Score in 3 Minutes A Day: ACT Reading.

ACT and SAT Prep Classes

Pros: 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.

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. 

“If you had an individual question, you didn’t always get the answer you needed,” O’Keefe said.

Cost: Independent classes can be expensive. These classes 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.

Check These Out: Knewton, The Princeton Review-SAT, The Princeton Review-ACT, Kaplan, Sylvan, TestMasters-SAT, local community colleges, high schools.

ACT and SAT Tutors

Pros: All those excuses you use to get out of studying won’t hold up when you have a tutor looking over your shoulder. 

“Having tutors really helped because they forced you to do the work. They took it step by step through the questions…You get more than one perspective on than test than you would using just the book,” said Kelsey Lind, a freshman at Lehigh University. 

The one-on-one interaction with a tutor will help you concentrate on the parts of the test you really need to work on.   

“My math tutor helped a lot. He made my score improve by 100 from my PSAT to my SAT,” Clabby stated. “He taught me many tricks on typical problems SAT creators normally choose. He also taught me new ways of doing math which went against a lot of the techniques I learned in my high school math classes. They did the trick though.”

Cons:  Tutors may help, but 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. 

Cost: Extremely expensive. Not only will you not be receiving your grand grad gift, but also say goodbye to your first-choice vacation destination as well. 

Check These Out: The Princeton Review, Kaplan, local tutors (your best bet is to ask around and see who had a tutor who really succeeded in helping other students raise their scores)

In the end it comes down to which study technique fits your personality and your back account. No matter which of the three you choose, your own effort will be what makes the difference. Although the SAT and ACT tests may be stressful, remember that after you’re done with high school you don’t have to worry about a test that hard again – that is, until your first midterm in college.

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