Question #5: What Materials Will the Class Use?
Tutoring centers use a wide variety of different materials to prepare students for the SAT. Many use commercially available books like Barrons or McGraw Hills. Others create their own materials. Note that it is not just Princeton Review and Kaplan that create their own materials. I have seen small test prep companies do this as well. And still other tutoring centers use College Board materials.
There is No Substitute for Real College Board Practice Tests
After having taught the SAT for 7 years and buying just about every SAT prep book available, I have discovered that College Board practice tests are essential for an effective prep program. Many other practice tests come very close to replicating the SAT questions, but they are always just different enough that students end up learning the wrong strategies and achieving higher scores on the practice tests than on the real SAT. (Note that I have also found practice tests that give lower scores that are even more problematic.) It is essential that the class use College Board Practice tests as the foundation of its curriculum.
Supplemental Lessons are Also Important
However, answering authentic SAT questions is not enough to prepare for the SAT. In order to achieve significant score improvements, students need to learn and practice the specific math and writing concepts that are tested on the SAT. The College Board materials are not very effective for this part of the prep program. I have seen many independent books and test center-created materials that do a great job at building students’ skills. It should be a red flag if a class doesn’t have supplementary materials to sequentially teach students the basic concepts and only uses practice tests. Relying only on practice tests is a very ineffective way to prepare for the SAT.
The next posts in this series will focus on how practice tests are used, how much homework is given, and class size.