The question should never be whether you will prep for the SAT or ACT. These exams are far too important and practicable to take without preparing as fully as possible. Instead, the pivotal question every high schooler must consider with his or her family is, “Do I take a prep class or get tutoring?” Unless a student has shown the rare ability to master complex subjects independently, some form of expert instruction is essential.
At Chariot Learning, we know exactly how remarkably efficient and effective individualized instruction can be. We’ve focused on 1-1 tutoring from our inception and will always suggest that as the fastest, most convenient path to the highest score increases. However, we’ve also been exploring a variety of class concepts over the past few years.
Obviously, the lower cost of classes compared to private tutoring can be very attractive. But what factors make this commitment of time and money a good investment rather than a waste of resources?
1. You have proven that you work well in groups.
Some students exhibit the focus and independence required to thrive in a classroom setting. Others get lost or distracted during group instruction and require a one-to-one connection to absorb challenging content and skills.
2. Your scores are somewhat average.
The classic complaint about classes in general is that instructors have to teach to the middle. However, this is hardly a problem if you are in the middle yourself. For test prep purposes, we can consider PSAT, SAT, or ACT scores between the 40th and 75th percentile the workable middle. While this range does not conform to the standard distribution, the scores approximate the most productive level of subject comprehension for group instruction. Students scoring lower than 40th percentile or so in a given section may require individual attention to master fundamental concepts or skills. Conversely, students scoring in the upper quartile may not find themselves sufficiently engaged or challenged in a group.
3. Your schedule is flexible.
When a student has to juggle a variety of academic, extracurricular, and social commitments, scheduling becomes a nightmare that only a tutor can solve. However, with sufficient amounts of planning, flexibility, and good luck, you may be able to find the right class on the right schedule at the right location for you.
4. You can find a professional class taught by experts.
Every high school has amazing, talented English and math teachers that transform students’ lives in their classrooms. However, though these teachers may be willing to teach SAT prep classes, they are not always able. SAT & ACT preparation is so far removed from conventional subject tutoring that you are much more likely to have success working with trained test prep professionals. Test experts experienced in delivering a proven, systematic curriculum (rather than teaching out of a retail book) are much more likely to make a prep class worthwhile. You don’t trust amateur doctors, mechanics, or tax preparers with the things that matter most, so don’t make that mistake with test prep. Seek out trained professionals.
5. You are starting early.
Even if the previous four factors fall in your favor, you cannot be sure that you’ll get as much preparation as you need from a class. Maybe the teacher won’t be as good as you need or the curriculum as effective or your classmates sufficiently supportive. You may think you can learn in a class only to find out the hard way that tutoring would have been better. The good news is that, if you start your prep early enough, you can recover from an unproductive classroom experience by following up with more of what you really need. In fact, allowing extra time for individual preparation after a class is an excellent idea in just about all cases, since most classes don’t build in enough of the high-quality practice testing that supercharge score increases.
In a perfect world, we’d all have the resources to pursue the very best of everything. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead, most of us have to make concessions, balancing requirement to find the optimal combination of quality and cost. When it comes to test preparation, the need for successful prep is great, but then again, so are the rewards. Don’t default to the cut-rate class offered at your school. Consider whether group instruction is right for you and then find the best possible option!