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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Trupkovich M.Ed

How to Choose a Test Prep Tutor

What should parents look for in a tutor for the SATs/ACTs?

Look for a tutor that fits the learning style, personality and schedule of the student. Start by asking friends, neighbors or your college counselor for referrals. Set up a meeting with the tutor or agency to find out more about their professional background, the types of services they offer and how standardized test preparation instruction will be delivered.

Consider the following when hiring a tutor:

References. Start by contacting tutors and test prep agencies recommended by friends and family. Did their student connect with the tutor? What was their success story? Ask the tutor for references. Speaking with other families about their experience with the tutor will provide you good insight on how the tutor creates and delivers a study plan.

Tutor experience. If you are investing in test preparation services, you want to hire an expert. The tutor should have both knowledge of both the content and test taking strategies needed for the SAT or ACT. Find out if your tutor has taken or continues to take the SAT or ACT. How did they score? Ask about their professional background and training in this field and how they stay current on the latest standardized testing trends.

Find out who will work with your student. Will your student be assigned a specific tutor or will the classes be taught by different instructors throughout the assigned time? Individual tutors get to know your student well, create a supportive rapport and modify preparation as needed. Agencies with a larger pool of tutors can offer flexibility to change tutors if the fit or scheduling needs adjusting.

Assessing your student's test prep needs. Identify what type of diagnostic will be administered or used prior to developing a tutoring plan for your student. Will the tutor use past PSAT, SAT or ACT score reports? Full length SAT or ACT practice tests? A hybrid SAT/ACT assessment?

Types of services. Is test preparation the main services offered? Or do they offer additional services? Look for a tutor who specializes and focuses on standardized test preparation.

Delivery of instruction. Will instruction be delivered one on one? Small group? A combination of both? Online or via video calls? How often will students be taking full length practice tests? Consider the type of environment that works best for your student. At home at the kitchen table? Or at a tutoring center where they can be focused only on test preparation?

Be upfront. Discuss learning styles, preferences, differences or disabilities that may impact your student’s success. You may want to share any accommodations your student currently receives at school. Has the tutor worked with students with similar needs? How will your student be supported throughout test preparation process?

Cost. Ask the tutor how they charge for services. Do they charge by the hour? Offer packages? It is important to know upfront what the study plan looks like (weekly, bi-weekly, etc.) and the estimated cost for the whole study course. This helps families plan out an appropriate and reasonable study schedule that works within their budget.

How long should students plan on studying/preparing for the test?

The preparation timeline for the SAT or ACT varies for each student. Length of study time and number of hours needed depends on how familiar a student is with the test content, their score goals and preparation resources available to them. Students should identify their ideal test dates and work backwards to target a start date for test preparation. This may be anywhere from two to six months. Start early and aim for a test date in late winter or early spring of 11th grade. Some students with advanced knowledge of the test content may opt to take their first test in fall of 11th grade.

What's your best tip for studying for the SATs/ACTs?

Have a plan! Use student PSAT, SAT, ACT or a diagnostic assessment score reports to identify strengths and areas of weakness to create a study plan that fits your student’s standardized test score goals and schedule. Determine the SAT or ACT scores needed for admissions to schools of interest. Review your college and score goals with your college consultant or school counselor to determine reasonableness. Whether you work independently using a free test preparation tool like Khan Academy or work with a professional tutor, a plan will help you stay on track, focus on content areas and reduce test stress.

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