Do I NEED a Tutor? Test-Prep Edition

Deciding if you need a tutor can be a tricky thing. Will a tutor help me? Will a tutor make my life easier? Will I be wasting my money? Is there something *free* I could do instead? Will my child learn to self-advocate if they have a tutor?

Each family is trying to make a decision based on a unique set of priorities, so there is never a one-size-fits-all answer, but I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned over the past 15 years of tutoring.

Today’s focus: SAT/ACT Preparation:

There are two main cases here:

  1. The student knows most of the content and needs practice with the format.
    The student needs help with the content (and likely practice with the format as well).
  2. If the student knows most of the content, there is a lot that can be done to prepare without a tutor.

If your student knows most of the content…

  1. Get a test prep book, preferably published by the company that makes the test. The reason you want one from the College Board is that those books include actual tests that have been given in the past. (SAT book, ACT book)
  2. Regularly go through the practice tests. Perhaps one per weekend, or some schedule that spreads them out until the exam.
  3. Take the practice tests in testing conditions: keep close track of time, no phones/music/sibling interruptions, use an approved calculator and a #2 pencil.
  4. Check all answers and make sure that the provided solutions make sense. If not, check with a teacher at school.
  5. Take at least one of the practice tests all in one sitting.
  6. Once a student knows the content, the big thing that raises scores is familiarity with the test, which can be accomplished through regularly taking practice tests.

However, for a lot of families, convincing a teenager to sit and take practice tests is worse than pulling teeth. For those families, a tutor is the person the student is accountable to for this practice, which frees parents up from being “the bad guy”. With a tutor, the practice gets done and a person familiar with the content is available to review any problems that the student missed on a practice test.


If the content is a problem…

If the content on the test is a problem, hiring a tutor is often the easiest way to bump a score up. The tutor can provide content lessons as well as be the force encouraging the student to work through the practice tests (once the content is far enough along for practice tests to be useful).

If you don’t want to hire a tutor, a self-motivated student can get a lot done:

  1. Get a test prep book, preferably one not published by the company that makes the test (you’ll want to save those practice tests for when you’re more ready for practice). These books are usually divided into two main sections. The first section is content instruction, the second is practice tests. Look at the content section of a number of different books for your test – pick the book where the explanations are most clear to you.
  2. Slowly but surely, the student should work through the content parts of the book. When an idea is tricky, try to figure it out, and ask your teachers at school if they will answer a few questions.
  3. Once all of the content is as clear as you think you can get it, try a practice test.
  4. Carefully grade/check your practice test, making note of the topics that caused the most trouble.
  5. Go back to those parts in the content section, ask teachers more questions.
    Repeat!
  6. Once you feel well prepared in the content, follow the steps from the first section, “If your student knows most of the content”.

What techniques have you used to study for standardized tests? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Good luck on your tests!

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