Test Prep Advice:

I get many calls from parents about Test Prep is necessary and/or which Test Prep option to take. The short answers to these questions are: 1) yes, Test Prep is essential for all students for any of the following: SAT I, ACT, SAT II subject tests.; 2) the option you should choose depends on your child’s motivation and learning style. The longer answers will take some paragraphs!

All formal Test Prep is expensive. A small amount of time on the phone will help you determine which is the best investment for you and your child. Based on my student clients’ feedback (this is NOT scientific,) it seems that the one-on-one prep offered in a tutorial format by companies such as Catalyst Prep, Ivy West and Eureka Review and some private tutors is the most successful. Students say that the classroom formats, offered in the past by Kaplan and Princeton Review among others, were not as helpful. (In some areas these companies and others are now offering tutorial formats, too.)

The reason for this difference is perhaps the most obvious: tutoring focuses on YOUR need, not those of others. Ask to look at the study materials. In this case, it may be that the larger companies may have invested in specific test materials rather than relying on textbooks, which may be what the independent tutor uses. Another choice is to work through one of the variety of test prep materials offered on line and in bookstores.

While I seem to be encouraging formal preparation, some students are disciplined and talented enough to manage prep on their own. Most simply will not stick with it without the structure of a series of tutorial sessions. Whatever you decide, I recommend that unless your student is particularly motivated, an experienced tutor guide your student through the process. The number of sessions needed should be determined by a pre-test and post-test.

That said, I must also add that your prep is only as good as the effort you put into it. If you don’t do the typical three hours of homework per session, you are simply wasting your time and money.

The New SAT with its writing component is somewhat new to the whole academic world. While the essay section and objective questions are almost identical to the former SAT II writing test, which was offered to a small percentage of students, has been available for years, no one has ever seen how the test will work or be scored when given to all college bound students.

I do believe it is only fair for you to ask for an experienced tutor. Ask for tutors, who will fit your particular needs. (Take time on the phone to clarify what you are looking for in these tutors. It is okay to ask about age, gender and experience. You have a good idea of your youngster’s success with different teachers. ) Compare materials and prices. I have actually done this in order to feel confident in offering my take on specific companies that my clients have asked about.

Some programs offer a guarantee of an increase of so many points. Read the fine print on this. If the tutor is not a good fit, ask the company for another. Remember, you call the shots.

I wish standardized tests were not necessary. As long as some schools inflate grades, however, we will have some sort of standard evaluation. How else can the colleges compare students from widely divergent academic environments?

Students with documented Learning Differences may qualify for additional time on the tests. It is essential that you look into this possibility no later than the student’s junior year. Individual Educational Plans or a thorough battery of tests by a educational psychologist will be necessary. Start the request early because, as you can imagine, the process is quite lengthy. Once the board for the SAT or ACT approves, your child will be given a test under special conditions.

Each college has its own testing requirements. As you search for the best fit, don’t forget to note whether you are comfortable with their process. Also, look at the ranges accepted by former applicants. Compare your PSAT/SAT/ACT/SAT IIs. These requirements may focus your list.

If testing is not your strength, you might consider looking into colleges, which have tests as optional. The list of these colleges is constantly changing. An internet search for “SAT Optional Colleges” will give you some direction. You may be surprised at the caliber of colleges that are in this group!

A word of encouragement: the tests are only one facet of the colleges’ picture of you. Your overall GPA, the rigor of the program you have taken, extra summer experiences of various types, extra curricular activities and community service are all factors in the college admission process.
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