SAT and ACT classes: overpriced and antiquated

December 10, 2018 — by Daniel Bessonov

Studying for either the SAT or ACT is an integral part of many juniors’ summer schedules. Students often attend test prep centers in order to receive instruction and practice — aspects critical to succeeding on the highly anticipated tests.

Many students attend local prep centers such as the Jay Koo Academy, AJ Tutoring or Elite Prep — all institutions that specialize in SAT, SAT Subject Test and ACT tutoring. While some students have no doubt seen their test performance improve in these programs, many others have echoed the sentiment that these grueling, summer SAT and ACT prep sessions are unnecessary and overpriced, stating that they would’ve opted out had they known prior to signing-up.

As one of these students, I can confidently attest to the fact that I would’ve been much better off had I used the 47 hours I wasted at one of these institutions learning on my own.

To start, College Board has recently started democratizing the SAT — attempting to take away the advantage affluent students have in preparing and hiring help for the test. Accordingly, they’ve published a wealth of free, official practice tests and resources.

The “proprietary” content provided at most prep-centers are in reality just these freely available resources. What’s the point of paying upwards of $2,000 for printouts of something that’s free and available online? Ink might be expensive, but these prep centers aren’t printing the practice tests on four-karat, gold-plated paper.

In addition, the coveted strategies that some instructors provide are often easily found online. A simple search for “SAT and ACT strategies” on Google yields a plethora of test-taking tips and advice.

Sites such as Khan Academy, uWorld and College Board’s own Collegereadiness, along with books from publishers including Barron’s,  Princeton Review, Ivy Global and Erica Meltzer all provide resources for a fraction of the cost of these summer sessions. Logically, these prep-services can’t provide much more than books can. If they’re not making the test, there’s no way they’re more knowledgeable than another publisher.

Self-study materials also provide students with a more tailored approach toward standardized testing. Prep centers often employ a “mass training” mentality, wasting hours going over content and strategies that aren’t applicable for all students. By buying and using only what they need, students can optimize their schedule and get more out of less study time. Although this requires serious self-discipline, students can exercise “self-control” tools (that block certain websites, etc) to recreate a prep-center-like environment.

As previously mentioned, Khan Academy, which is sponsored by the College Board, provides free lessons, practice problems, and full tests for students, which are available through the web or an application for your phone. Not only is it more convenient than going to a prep center, but it also provides tailored analysis for a student’s weaknesses and strengths based on the tests they take online. What prep center can come close to the functionality, convenience and overall effectiveness of such online resources?

Many argue that the value in prep centers lies not in the content they provide, but rather the studying and test-taking environment they create. Some students find that they simply can’t focus for long enough to take a full practice exam at home.

However, there are still options for such students that don’t entail paying thousands of dollars to take tests in a quiet environment. C2 Education, another test-prep center, offers a service in which students can sign up to take individual practice tests. This way, students that have trouble focusing don’t have to break the bank to find an optimal studying environment. Students could also exercise the time-tested strategy of going to the library with a couple friends, and all taking tests together — holding each other accountable for not checking phones, texts, and social media.

In large part, the only reason many of these services are still alive is peer and parent pressure. If one hears that a friend or son of a distant auntie got a 1580 after attending X academy, they automatically assume that going to X academy will yield a similar score. In reality, the academy’s don’t have anything new or groundbreaking to offer. They simply regurgitate already-existing information and create an easily recreatable quiet environment.

Ultimately, summer SAT and ACT prep-courses are antiquated and overpriced. Stop wasting your summers cooped up with forty-other overpaying students and take matters into your own hands.

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