One of the first choices you’ll face when preparing for your SAT or ACT is: how should I study? If you know you need a little extra help, then you may be considering private SAT or ACT tutoring versus a group class.
Conventional wisdom suggests that private tutoring is the best option for students looking to score well on the SAT or ACT. Individual coaching has significant benefits – from an individualized curriculum to a careful match between tutor and student. But is it the right choice for you?
Every student is different — from their learning style to their personality to their goals. So no test prep program will be right for everyone.
Here we look at the advantages and disadvantages of one-on-one test prep. We’ll also explore the pluses and minuses of a group class.
Read on to explore the factors to consider and the questions to ask when choosing your SAT or ACT study plan. Investing time and thought early in the process puts you in a position to choose the test prep that will get you your best score.
One-on-One Test Prep: What to Expect in Your Tutoring Sessions
First things first. Before you choose your test prep plan of action, you need to learn what personalized tutoring and group classes entail.
Let’s paint a picture of what you’ll experience with a private tutor. At Tungsten Prep, we start with a detailed consultation to learn all about a student’s strengths and weaknesses, their learning style, goals and the type of teachers or tutors they’ve enjoyed working with in the past. We ask a lot of questions up front, so that we can match you with your ideal tutor. That’s because students learn best when they work with an educator who they admire and who can motivate them to do their best.
Next, we give students a timed SAT or ACT practice test (or both). That baseline score fuels our goal setting and curriculum development — all of which is tailored to the individual student.
Finally, tutoring begins. The tutor and student typically meet once per week for 90-minutes. That doesn’t sound like a lot when there’s so much ground to cover. In fact, an individual tutoring session is very intensive. The tutor prepares a lesson plan in advance based on the student’s goals and progress to date. Every session varies, but a typical session consists of several core elements:
It’s easy to forget a few grammar rules or lapse on a math formula. But without some core knowledge, it’s hard to do well on the SAT or ACT. The benefit of personalized tutoring is that you can review the information you need. But you don’t need to spend your scarce time rehashing material that you comfortably understand. So, one session you might review trigonometry, while another session you’ll revisit the rules of comma placement.
Master Test-Taking Strategies, Tips and Tricks
Standardized tests aren’t just about academic skills. To do well, you also need to get inside the mind of the test-makers. Your tutor will help you recognize the types of questions that appear on every test and how to conquer each one of them. They’ll also train you to recognize and sidestep the pitfalls that keep students from getting their best scores. From tricky wording to time traps, your tutor spend time during each session unveiling the questions that slow, frustrate and confound students.
Equally, you’ll learn to implement strategies that will help you conquer any standardized test. Your tutor will help you practice Process of Elimination with rigor. You’ll learn to ferret out the answers that are tempting but subtly wrong. And you’ll never again fall down the rabbit hole of a question that can be solved in 15 seconds once you recognize the pattern.
Review Your Practice Test
When it comes to the SAT or ACT, students generally understand that practice makes perfect. They accept the necessity of regular timed practice exams. Unfortunately, they often don’t make the best use of this all-important but underutilized tool. It’s not enough to take the test, check your score, and tuck the results in a desk drawer to gather dust. A practice test is your roadmap to success on college admissions exams. Your tutor will help you delve into the results to understand and redress the weaknesses that keep you from your goal score.
Do you understand the material but work too slowly? Does a certain type of reading passage bore you into careless mistakes? Or perhaps it’s word problems that consistently foil you.
Each week, your tutor will guide you through a review of your own mistakes. You’ll scrutinize your latest practice tests and review questions similar to the ones that tripped you up. With personal coaching, you’ll also come to recognize your most common errors. Over time, and with multiple tutoring sessions, you’ll internalize that critique. And that’s when you stop yourself before you fall into a trap.
Manage Your Time With Time Trials
Did you know that students have 83 seconds to answer each question on the SAT Math section? On the ACT Science section, your time is pared to a brisk 36 seconds.
It doesn’t matter if you know the material cold if you can’t finish the test. For many students, time management is a major impediment.
Standardized tests always test time management. The SAT and ACT are no different. After all, in college, you’ll be asked to juggle a chemistry lab, a 10-page paper and hundreds of pages of reading. And you’ll have to do it all on a timeline that may feel compressed. Or even downright impossible.
For those reasons, your tutor will teach you to pace yourself. You’ll learn to build stamina for a three-hour exam. You’ll memorize how much time you get for each question. Equally, you’ll recognize which sections require a blistering pace, and when you need to decelerate for the sake of accuracy. Finally, you’ll refine your internal body clock so that you naturally maintain the tempo to complete each section with time to spare.
To ace time management, your tutor may conduct time trials. For example, if the ACT Math section allots 60 minutes for 60 questions, your tutor might give you 10 minutes to complete 10 questions. Or, they might give you 8 minutes to complete 10 questions, so that you learn how to stay accurate and keep your cool when facing serious time pressure.
Assign and Revise Homework
Your tutor is your guide, but ultimately you as the student are the hero of your own story. Your tutor won’t be with you on test day. For that reason, it’s important that you independently master the test-taking strategies and content you’ll see on the exam. Short of a practice test, homework simulates the quiet focus of your test-day experience.
That’s why your tutor will assign you homework between sessions. Your homework will reinforce the skills and hacks you reviewed with your tutor. Moreover, it will give you the chance to recognize and revise your errors, practice sound pacing and memorize some of those math formulas or grammar rules you’ve forgotten.
How much homework you receive will depend on you. An advantage of individualized tutoring is that your homework is tailored to your needs. Do you have the school play coming up and no time to study? Your tutor can pull back on your assignments. Are there three weeks left until the big test and you want to make a final push to master the SAT Language and Writing section? No problem. Your tutor can double down on passages for you to practice.
In sum, your motivation, timeline, bandwidth for assignments and the gap between where you are and where you want to be will all factor into your homework assignments.
Your tutor will also expect you to come prepared to each session with your homework complete. Furthermore, you’ll get more out of your sessions if you not only finish your work but arrive ready to ask questions about material you found challenging.
SAT or ACT Class: What to Expect
In contrast to individualized tutoring, an SAT or ACT class offers a less customized learning environment. That said, even with group classes, there is no one-size-fits-all. Classes vary widely in terms of size, the number of teachers, length and duration. For all those reasons, it’s important to consider your course choices carefully and weigh the factors that best suit your learning style and goals.
Unlike one-on-one test prep, which can begin when you’re ready, a class schedule is fixed long in advance. In general, most group classes lead up to a particular SAT or ACT test date. A boot camp-style class may only meet two or three times before your test date. On the other hand, a more comprehensive course may meet weekly for three to four months.
Sometimes one teacher teaches all sections of the class. Other times, students share two (or more) instructors. For example, one instructor may teach the Writing & Language and Reading portions of the SAT, while another instructor coaches students on the Math section.
Read on to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about SAT and ACT group classes.
How Big are SAT or ACT Classes?
Classes vary widely in size. Some small group classes consist of no more than 8 students. Commercial classes from larger test prep companies may run 20-30 students. Equally, some schools provide an SAT or ACT prep group free of charge to students. Those also range from 20-40 students. Finally, some online courses can run 50-200 students!
Check carefully before you sign up for a standardized test class. Some students prefer a smaller learning environment. A huge class overwhelms them. They shrink from asking questions in front of so many strangers. They find a large group noisy and distracting. Or, they may prefer the opportunity to get to know and learn from their peers.
Alternatively, others thrive in the anonymity of a large group or massive online class. Highly independent or motivated students may the structure of a class without the pressure of being called on by a teacher. That said, it’s easy to tune out when you know the teacher can’t won’t ask you a question or track attendance. So be sure you have the discipline to stay engaged if you opt for a very large class.
Test Prep Classes Last Two to Three Hours
Unlike individual tutoring sessions, which last 60 to 90 minutes, group classes can run two to three hours. In fact, some classes last as long as four hours!
Are you ready to stay alert and motivated for long stretches of time?
On the one hand, a long class can be very comprehensive. It gives instructors plenty of time to introduce strategies and review content. There is also time for students to practice in a test-like environment. The instructor may set aside part or even all of a class for a mock SAT or ACT exam.
On the other hand, it’s hard to sustain attention for hours at a time. After hours of sitting, your attention might flag and your mind wander. Granted, most instructors give students a short break halfway through a class. Nonetheless, you may want to ask yourself whether you’ll really extract much benefit from that second, third or fourth hour of class!
The good news is that more class time often means less homework. Instructors may allot in-class time for quiet study and independent work.
Private Tutoring vs Group Class: What’s the Best Choice for Your SAT or ACT Prep?
Now that you understand what individual tutoring and a group class entail, you can make a more informed choice for your personal test prep study plan.
Remember there is no right answer for everyone. Your personality, learning style, other commitments and budget will all factor into a decision.
For that reason, ask yourself the questions below when assessing what course of study will work best for your SAT or ACT goals.
What’s Your Learning Style?
Are you a social butterfly who thrives in a shared learning environment? Or a studious learner who prefers quiet reflection? Do you want the time and space to address very specific needs?
Group learning works well for the outspoken student who feels comfortable asking questions, and the student who is energized by learning from and teaching his or her peers. Meanwhile, reserved students, focused students and daydreamers alike may thrive in a one-on-one environment.
Do Your Extracurricular Commitments Leave You With Any Flexibility?
Between sports, activities, homework and friends, many students feel there’s not a moment of free time for test prep.
For students with a packed schedule, private tutoring could be the solution. The tutor comes to your home, and sessions can be scheduled around other activities. You also have flexibility to switch your time slot, usually with 24 hours’ notice. For example, you might typically meet Tuesdays, but this week you need to switch your tutoring session to Thursday.
On the other hand, a group class provides the fixed certainty of a weekly routine. It also minimizes the temptation to reschedule or cancel. If you do take a group class, be sure to ask about the company’s cancelation policy. Some test prep providers offer multiple classes per week. In that case, a student can simply join the very same class on another day. However, if the group class you choose meets only once per week, you could be out of luck. If you miss a session, you’ll loose hours of material and new strategies.
Your Goal Score: Mid-Range, High or Lower?
By definition, a group class teaches to the middle. The goal is to share a set of strategies that work for the widest range of students. The teacher also reviews math, reading, grammar or science material where students typically struggle.
Students shooting for an SAT score between 1100-1300 or an ACT score between 22-28 may find a group class meets many of their needs. Of course, even for mid-range scorers, some parts of the class will be more relevant than others. An SAT or ACT class won’t address specific strengths and weaknesses. For example, maybe you sail through math but your reading speed could use some serious fine-tuning.
It’s important to recognize that, whatever your score goal, a class cannot accommodate all of your specific needs. Chances are, you’ll need to do some additional review outside of class to master content or strategies that didn’t get enough class time for your taste.
In truth, for the very top scorers, a group class might actually work just fine. Typically, these students excel at learning how to learn. They adapt to a new learning environment or make the most of a less-than-ideal teacher or a noisy class. They also tend to be self-conscious about recognizing their weaknesses. They proactively ask questions and find the outside resources to meet their specific needs.
However, the same is not true for students who struggle with standardized tests. Perhaps you are starting with a practice test score well below your goal. Maybe you have a history of test-taking anxiety. Or maybe you have a large disparity between one section of the SAT or ACT and another. Finally, perhaps you receive special accommodations or extended time on tests. If any of this sounds like you, then a group class is almost certainly not the right choice.
What’s Your Bandwidth and Motivation for SAT or ACT Homework?
Students get the most out of their test prep when they supplement class time with independent work. At Tungsten Prep, that’s why we assign homework between tutoring sessions.
A highly motivated student or one who wants to cover a lot of ground may do 2-3 hours of homework per week. For other students, the additional demand of SAT or ACT homework may be unrealistic or overwhelming. Their schedules are busy, they don’t relish studying for another test, or they work best with a tutor cheering them on.
The benefit of individualized tutoring is that the homework is customized to you. The assignments will match your areas for improvement, and the duration of homework will correspond with your bandwidth.
While believe students will get the best results if they continue studying outside of the classroom, a group class may work best for students who want independent work built into their class time. For some students, it’s reassuring to know that their weekly time commitment for SAT or ACT prep is fixed and consistent.
Do You Enjoy a Wide Variety of Teaching Styles?
Does you get along well with a wide variety of teachers and enjoy diverse teaching styles? Or have you forged a special rapport with one or two special educators who bring out the best in you?
Some students thrive under the tutelage of a joke-cracking extrovert, while others prefer the steady hand of a soft-spoken and patient coach. Our team possesses varied personalities, teaching styles and approaches. We know that some students learn best in a one-on-one environment with that just-right tutor.
At the same time, some students prefer variety among their teachers. Or they are indifferent to teaching style. In a group class, you generally can’t choose your teacher(s). That may be fine for a flexible, easy going student. But for others, that interpersonal connection with a relatable tutor may be the difference between their top score and so-so results.
Let Us Help You Find the Best Choice for your SAT or ACT Prep
Private tutoring? Small group class? Large online course? Or even independent self-study. Ultimately, there’s no wrong answer and a variety of solutions can work for anyone student.
The important thing is for you to have the information you need to make the best choice for YOU.
Whatever your choice, you deserve to have a supportive coach in your corner. Someone who understands your learning style and goals. Someone who provides the structure, tools, and moral support needed to succeed! And if in doubt, get in touch and we’re happy to chat.
Tungsten Prep is dedicated to helping students and their families find joy in learning. Click here to schedule your consultation today and learn how we can improve your current learning experience.