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SAT Prep Courses: Are They Really Worth It?

Updated: Jun 14, 2019

By Ishani Chettri (‘20)

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year for anxious juniors to take the dreaded nationwide standardized test: the SAT. Hundreds of thousands of students across the country, specifically juniors and seniors, will register to take the SAT on one of its scheduled dates. However, the main issue that arises is the concern of getting the best possible score by trying to improve in a matter of months.

But, there is a solution: SAT prep courses or the inexpensive route of self-studying. While one offers teachers, similar scoring, and a classroom environment, the other can provide a work-efficient environment without the expensive costs and demands of a person’s personal schedule.

SAT prep courses are increasingly becoming popular as an option to help study for the SAT. They are advertised through various medias such as radio stations, suggested posts on social media, or by family or friends.

These courses claim to ensure both students and their parents that the student will be able to do their absolute best during the actual SAT by providing the necessary materials to do so at a certain cost.

However, a commonality between many SAT prep courses is that they happen to be expensive and time-consuming, especially during the school year where students are constantly bombarded with homework, extracurriculars, and barely squeezing in sleep.

While SAT courses do have their benefits and guarantees, they also have disadvantages that may frustrate students and possibly demotivate them in the process of preparation.

The three most popular SAT prep courses that have been circulating among most juniors since the summer of 2017 are Y2 Academy at Princeton, The Princeton Review, and Kaplan. All of the aforementioned programs offer SAT prep courses during the summer or over the course of the school year and are available in the South Brunswick area.

For starters, Y2 Academy is held in three different locations - Princeton, Edison, and West Windsor; which all have prep courses that are aimed specifically for the SAT. They offer a guarantee of a 320 point increase from one’s diagnostic test they take at the center or a minimum score of 1520. And if students fail to meet the guarantee, they are able to take free classes until they retake the SAT. The average price for a session is $4,800 but can vary depending on the type and duration of the program. Early bird and second child/ sibling discounts are offered but are only available from time to time. Statistically, the company says that 85% of their students who take the SAT the first time improve their score as guaranteed.

Senior Ishan Mehta, who took the program in the summer of 2017 and the SAT in October of 2017, said, “I was able to use some of the techniques I learned at Y2 on the real SAT like reading the first line of a paragraph or eliminating absurd answers right away. The program wasn’t bad in terms of relearning and clearing up any questions I had on some areas.”

The summer programs are divided into two sessions and normally, begin in end of June/July for the October test. But if the average student spends over 200 hours in one of these sessions during his/her summer, will it really make a difference?

Mehta said, “My score did improve but not as fast as I wanted it to and in my opinion, the program itself was overpriced since I learned way more after taking the free classes and studying on my own.”

Meanwhile, The Princeton Review is more of a company as they rent out rooms in the Marriott hotel or high school classrooms. Their class hours are significantly lower than Y2’s as well as their frequency of classes per week in the various summer sessions they offer.

Additionally, one of their guarantees is a score up to 1400 from a starting baseline of 1160 on a past practice test from the year prior to one’s session. In order to fulfill the guarantee, students must do various tasks such as attending every session and taking certain tests.

The regular 25 hours of instructional prep costs around $999, but various discounts and promo codes can get the price down as low as $699. Materials such as prep books are provided along with practice tests that are administered throughout the course. Overall, The Princeton Review has numerous options of prep such as private one-on-one tutoring or in-class instructional prep which are also available online for lower, discounted prices.

However, junior Vedha Subramanian said, “The course helped me in familiarizing myself with the format of the test and learning some tips and tricks about the sections. But it was still too expensive and time-consuming in my case.”

Kaplan is yet another program that hosts its courses in various locations and not in designated centers. Similar to The Princeton Review’s schedule, Kaplan administers various types of prep such as in-class, private tutoring, and live online sessions. The prices can range from $899 to $2599 depending on the type of course, but Kaplan alsos provides discount codes for lower prices.

One program they offer is an ‘unlimited’ prep course which entails classes and sessions up to December of one’s senior year in high school for the price of $1399. Within each program, textbooks, practice tests, and quizzes are included as well.

While Kaplan may prove beneficial to some, junior Aisha Alkilani said, “I didn’t like the overall course because it didn’t help improve my test scores at all and just confused me more with the tips and tricks that were taught.”

Unlike Y2, both Kaplan and The Princeton Review have fewer hours but teach the same type of information and provide materials and prep textbooks at a fraction of the cost. Yet, Y2 is still regarded as one of the best prep courses to go to due to its reputation of boosting students’ scores with its rigorous study schedule. It’s the debate between inexpensive versus expensive, but also the quality of how much a student can improve despite the price of a program.

SAT prep courses can prove to be beneficial, but the reality is that not every student can afford them as these aforementioned programs aren’t considered cheap. The students who aren’t given the opportunity to go to professional prep courses are put at a disadvantage.

Students would have to utilize materials from the library or buying their own textbooks to study from as well as using online resources like Khan Academy.

Khan Academy is a free online resource that is utilized for SAT, ACT, and many more other types of prep. A student can make an account and start prep whenever they want as well as take diagnostic quizzes to determine where their progress is at the moment.

But the race is even harder for those who aren’t able to have internet access 24/7, let alone online resources.

In the long run, the SATs are a standardized test that students don’t necessarily have to take as there are other formats of tests that students can submit to some colleges as well.

The overrated standardized test are meant to be taken seriously, yet over the years it have evolved into more of a business with programs such as SAT prep courses. The Princeton Review, Y2, and Kaplan aren’t cheap and require both time and effort from the students. But overall, it seems as if each program is teaching the same tricks and techniques just in different styles at certain price points.

Taking an SAT prep course or any type of prep course depends on the student’s goals and intentions as in the end, they will be the ones taking the test. But if the opportunities aren’t available in the first place for some students, should the SATs still be used in terms of analyzing students’ academic intelligence?

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