Test Prep Comparison Guide

Test Prep Comparison Guide

Test prep books, classes or tutors: Find out which test prep methods will work best for you.

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Students who learn best in a group and tend to do well in class-led study may get the most out of an in-person ACT or SAT test prep course.

While standardized tests aren’t quite as “standard” as they once were, The Washington Post reports that over 800 colleges don’t require SAT or ACT scores for admission, the majority of four-year higher education institutions still require at least one of these scores. Meanwhile, USA Today reports that several states now require students to take one of these standardized tests no matter where they apply.

If you’re one of the many high school students preparing for the SAT or ACT, it can be helpful to have a test preparation strategy. Some students have found that using a study guide, taking a class or getting a tutor have helped them to score higher on these important tests. Find out more about these test prep techniques to see which one best fits your needs, your budget and your schedule.

Study Guide Books

Do you prefer to study on your own? Are you a quick learner? Study guide books are one of the most popular test prep methods for students taking the ACT or SAT. They’re easily found online and at most bookstores. Plus, they’re incredibly affordable. Most books cost around $20 to $30 and contain a variety of helpful tips and tricks for taking the test.

Almost any student should consider getting a study guide book. Even the smartest teens can use these books to familiarize themselves with question structure, section timing and other important information about the test. Plus, many of these books contain practice tests and digital games that are invaluable for gauging a student’s test readiness level.

Look for high-quality books, particular official guides like The Official SAT Study Guide by The College Board. Leo Gardner, a parent of a student who used the guide, said: “’The Official SAT Study Guide" provides great testing material exactly like the real tests since the College Board produces the exams and this book.’”

Computer-Based Courses

If a book isn’t quite enough to make you feel prepared for the SAT or ACT, consider computer-based test prep courses. These classes are often self-paced and can be done at any time, making them a good option for students with busy schedules. A good online course will offer instruction on each section of the test along with at least one practice exam to help you measure your preparedness for test day.

The prices and results from online test prep courses may vary from one service to another. According to a Consumer Reports WebWatch review, computer-based courses that offer both instruction and practice tests often cost around $300-$400. The study also found that some services had more complete offerings (The Princeton Review online course offered the best essay-grading service compared to the other courses they tested, for example). Check out testimonials to decide whether you want to spend the money on a computer-based course. One user of the Kaplan SAT Online Course said that “The online course has nothing you can't learn from the Kaplan CD or Book.”

In-Person Courses

Students who learn best in a group and tend to do well in class-led study may get the most out of an in-person ACT or SAT test prep course. These classes are offered at a wide variety of locations throughout the country and often schedule their sessions to coincide with an upcoming test date. An advantage of working with an in-person course is that it will provide the most accurate practice test-taking situation – you’ll be in a classroom with other students, taking the test with pencil and paper while being timed.

According to TheCollegeHelper.com, test prep companies charge around $1,100 per in-person class. However, CBS News reports that some free or discounted in-person classes may be offered through a student’s school. Talk to your high school counselor to find out if these classes are available.

In general, in-person classes offered by The Princeton Review, Kaplan, Sylvan and Revolution Prep are ranked among the top test prep courses of their kind. However, keep in mind that scores may not increase dramatically – a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that students’ SAT scores usually increased by only about 30 points and ACT scores by less than one point after taking test prep classes.


Perhaps you’ve struggled in certain areas that will be covered on the test, like math or reading. Maybe you took a practice test and were disappointed with your score. Whatever the case, students who want more personalized attention to make sure they do well on their SAT or ACT may want to consider getting a private tutor. Through one-on-one sessions with a tutor, students get the advantage of having someone tailor their sessions to their specific needs and the areas where they need the most help.

Finding a tutor is usually fairly easy, but the prices can vary widely depending on what credentials you require. A high school senior or college student whose only credentials are good SAT or ACT scores is much more affordable than a certified teacher with years of experience preparing students for these tests. According to TheCollegeHelper.com, test prep companies charge around $100-$200 per hour for individual tutoring.

So should you fork over the cash for private tutoring, which is easily the most expensive test prep option available? Allison Kade, a former SAT tutor, told LearnVest.com that tutoring can be a smart choice for students who have trouble with the core concepts, are nervous test-takers or who don’t typically do well studying on their own could benefit from tutoring services.

Students can ask for recommendations from a high school counselor to find out about good tutoring programs. Austin T., a student who had a Huntington Learning Center tutor, said, “I went up 7 points! Huntington helped me a lot in understanding the test.” Mary P. had this to say about her experience with PowerScore Test Preparation’s private tutoring services: “I now feel confident and prepared to score much better than when I took it the first time. The strategy and tactics my tutor taught me made so much sense in understanding the SAT.”

Quick Tips

  • If you’re buying ACT or SAT study guide books, make sure you get the most recent edition. Some details about these tests, such as how they are scored and how long you have to complete them, have changed over the years so it’s important to have up-to-date information.
  • If you want to make sure you get your money’s worth, consider opting for a money-back guaranteed program. For example, The Princeton Review’s private tutoring services guarantee that the student will score higher after completing their sessions – if they don’t, their tuition is refunded.

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Avoid SAT and ACT Disasters: Make Your Test Prep Plan
Best Free SAT Test Prep: MOOCs and Free Online Test Prep
SAT Test Prep Courses: What Will They Do For Your Score?
Sample Test Questions: SAT, ACT and PSAT

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