SAT prep courses are becoming quite popular. A few years back, when I was applying to college, these courses existed but they were rare. Now it seems as if just about every high school junior or senior is taking an SAT prep class. This is understandable considering how hard it is to get in to some colleges. But all this begs the question; are SAT prep courses worth the money?
For several months after finishing medical school, I taught an SAT prep course for a major company that specializes in these types of classes. The course was taught in the evenings one day a week, with practice exams given each Saturday for six weeks before the real exam. Because of this experience, I was able to gain some good insight in to what goes on in these classes.
SAT prep courses have a wide range of costs. Depending on the exact company you go with, and what particular tutoring package you buy, they can cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars. The SAT is an important part of getting in to college (some colleges count it up to 25% of the application), and scoring well can make a difference, but this is certainly a lot of money for most families.
One of the biggest factors in deciding if an SAT prep class is worth it is your child’s study habits. Some students are quite capable of studying for the SAT themselves without much assistance. There are certainly self-starters when it comes to preparing. Some students are just naturally able to score well on standardized tests. This doesn’t make these kids more intelligent, it just means that they are able to do well on this type of exam.
On the other side of the spectrum in the student who really needs structure and a kick in the pants to get motivated. These are the types of students who have the most to gain by taking an SAT prep class. If your child does better with a solid structure, these types of classes can be a big help.
Sometimes a student will have a problem with one particular part of the SAT, and be fine on all the other parts. I saw this a lot as an instructor – a student would be good at writing and horrible at math, for example. These students can benefit from an SAT prep course, no doubt. But it is sometimes more efficient to hire a private tutor that can go over the weak spots, without wasting time and energy learning about things that the student is already solid on.
Ultimately, the decision to take an SAT prep course is a very personal one that must be made by the parents and the student. They can certainly help improve scores, there is little doubt about that. However, they are not always the best study solution for every college applicant.