When you want to prep for a standardized test–and you should always prep–the right class can offer the optimal mix of insight, expertise, and value. Assuming you can find a class taught by proven experts that includes both curriculum instruction and practice testing and review, you should sign up… as long as group instruction makes sense for you. Just keep in mind that even the best class should be seen not as a complete package but rather as a powerful foundation for success.
What does this mean? A class is a start. When you take a cooking class, you don’t instantly master cuisine just because an instructor supervised the preparation of one easy recipe. Becoming a great chef requires the same elements mastery in every field demands: practice and coaching. The right class provides essential information and techniques for success that only become yours through additional work.
Over the years, I’ve seen many students move right from a class to a test with great results. More often, though, test takers need more time and opportunity to refine skills, master content, and internalize strategies. Here are four and a half ways we help students make the time between the class and the test count:
1. SEMINAR SERIES
Some topics are tough to master, no matter how thorough a class may be. Since specific SAT & ACT content like punctuation, algebra 2, and archaic passages tends to trip test takers up again and again, we’ve created special seminars to address them. Seminars like these work really well for students who have taken classes because they offer additional group instruction that extends prep into the most challenging areas. Plus, we can also explore related topics like test anxiety and academic personality profiles.
2. MASTER CLASSES
Because our seminars are only one hour long, we can’t address some of the topic continuing students need most. We’ve designed our Master Classes to take deeper dives into critical content. Students focusing on earning top scores on the SAT will want more instruction in Advanced SAT Math, while ACT students should review both Advanced ACT Math and ACT Science. Perhaps I’m biased, but every teen would enjoy our Vocabulary Master Class based on The Office! These two-hour online sessions provide critical ongoing group prep.
3. PRACTICE TESTING
At the end of the day, classroom instruction can only take a student so far. Test prep must include practice testing. Of course, the best practice incorporates official test material under simulated testing conditions, along with a commitment to deliberate practice and incremental improvement. We believe so much in practice testing that we proctor free exams every week, either in-person or, for as long as the COVID crisis requires, online. Students should definitely take practice tests during the span between the end of a class and test day. How many? Keep testing until you consistently earn the scores you’re dreaming of.
The choice between group and individual instruction doesn’t have to be either/or. I often recommend that students start with a class, then continue to progress with a tutor. This works in our model because the same experts who work 1-1 also teach our classes, so we know how to extend each student’s progress. But don’t think you have to commit to a full course of tutoring to benefit from individual coaching. Arranging single sessions to review practice tests is the perfect way to break through plateaus in progress and advance to the next level of accomplishment.
The final suggestion doesn’t work for everyone but can be extremely effective for students who still score below 60th percentile after completing a class: take the class again! Obviously, the same class means the same curriculum and practice questions, although we make sure students don’t take the same practice tests. But repeating a class can have the same benefit as re-reading a book or seeing a movie more than once, in that you can observe much more the second time. Classes tend to be much more cost effective than tutoring, so I’ve suggested retaking a class to a number of students, especially when months have passed without further practice or review.
The COVID crisis has left countless students stranded, having completed their classes without being able to take an official SAT or ACT. However, these strategies apply to any student who has time to fill–and room to further improve–before test day. Mastery is not a destination but rather an unfolding process. Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong!