During my junior year of high school, an SAT prep book came into my possession. My vague phrasing there is intentional: I can’t remember whose idea it was to get the book, mine or my parents’. Either way, I regrettably didn’t make the most of it. I paged through the book when I found time during the months leading up to the test. My self-guided approach drove me to favor verbal exercises (which I enjoyed more than math ones) and was not structured well. I didn’t take practice tests, either. The prep that I did helped, and I ended up with decent scores. But I know for a fact that I did not do as well as I would have had I chosen a more appropriate form of study.
The self-study approach is great for some students. Indeed, it worked wonders for me as a college graduate with more motivation preparing for the GRE a few years later. But it wasn’t the best approach for my high-school self, which led me to think about the different versions of SAT and ACT prep that students can consider today. With that in mind, here are some things to consider for each method of preparation:
- Self-study. This approach can work very well for highly motivated, highly organized students. If a student can work through a prep book doing a little each day (or most days) over several weeks and take a few full-length, timed practice tests along the way, then self-study can be an excellent option. An added benefit of self-study is inherent individualization: a student prepping on her own doesn’t need to worry about spending time on content that she has already mastered and can focus on skills where improvement is most needed.
- Group Course. Group courses are often a happy medium between self-study and tutoring. Ample instruction — including strategy and guided practice — is offered during class, and practice tests are scheduled along built-in timelines for each course. As long as students show up and are engaged, they’ll reap the benefits of these instructional pieces. Instructors also assign homework in class, making it easier for students to determine how to improve their scores at home. That said, class instruction does offer a more generalized approach, which means that students may need to rely on themselves to individualize their preparation where needed, although good instructors are happy to offer guidance in that process.
- Tutoring. Tutoring works best for students who benefit from one-on-one instruction. Their approaches to learning might not align well with purely generalized instruction, and they may also benefit from the added accountability that tutoring offers. From an instructional standpoint, tutors need to focus only what students need help with and can tailor assignments to the needs of students. In some cases, students do quite well with a group course and a few tutoring sessions for extra attention on a few problem spots or to review the results of practice tests, too.
We hope you find this breakdown helpful, and of course get in touch if you’d like to chat further about your options. Keep in mind, too, that it could be a combination of approaches, such as a group course with a few sessions of tutoring. Or perhaps it’s a few tutoring sessions to point a student in the right direction before he takes the reins with self-study. Whichever approach your student takes, we want you to be informed about your choices so you can make the best choice from the outset!