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SAT Prep Course Versus Tutor or Self Study

In a nutshell, we believe that the vast majority of high school students would benefit from taking a SAT prep course, hiring a SAT tutor or self studying. (Very few can get away with no SAT test preparation.)

How do you know which category you fall into?

You will not need a SAT prep course to achieve your highest potential SAT score if *all* of the following are true:

  1. you are self disciplined to put the required time into proper SAT preparation,
  2. you can teach yourself the proper test-taking techniques found in this website and published books, and
  3. you can work through practice questions on your own with little need for outside guidance and assistance.

You will benefit from a SAT prep course if:

  1. the competition from your fellow test prep students will give you additional motivation and 
  2. you believe you may have questions about certain test-taking techniques and practice questions and answer explanations.

Some notes about SAT prep courses

Start with the Khan Academy

For starters, it’s free and it’s the official partner of the SAT. A lot of students are using it and the early feedback is that it’s surprisingly effective. The College Board, the SAT’s owner, has been playing up the Khan Academy’s popularity and using it to entice individuals to select the SAT over its rival the ACT. Furthermore, they are going to the states and claiming (perhaps accurately, we don’t know for sure) that the free Khan Academy materials are making the test more colorblind. Given this cozy relationship, we wouldn’t be surprised if the College Board works more closely at providing the Khan Academy with information on the test than the commercial test prep companies. (Go ahead. Call us crazy conspiracy theorists. We’ve heard far worse!)

The other commercial alternatives

sat tutor

SAT tutors, with their personalized approaches, are often the most effective.

Most SAT prep courses (online courses are the exception) do not offer you much flexibility for your schedule. In other words, you may sign up for a class that meets every Saturday morning and you will have to accommodate your schedule around this commitment.

No “live” course is better than the individual instructor that is teaching it. Ask your friends, neighbors, and family if they have had any firsthand experience with the local SAT instructors. While the larger SAT prep courses offer many top-notch instructors, we have heard our share of complaints about instructors who read the presentation material in a very dry and monotonous tone right out of a textbook.

SAT prep courses tend to give an equal amount of time to each section of the SAT. If you are very strong in the math and analogies sections, for instance, you may want to focus most of your efforts on the critical reading and sentence completion sections.

Our final thoughts on SAT prep courses

SAT tutors, with their personalized approach, tend to provide the greatest boost to your test scores and are generally more effective for most students than self study or online or live classes. They can cost a significant amount of money though, so choose a tutor carefully. Assuming you have finite resources, you will want to consider that the SAT is only one part of your college applications and you may want to allocate financial resources to campus visits and other portions of the college admission process.