Posts tagged with: tutoring

While it’d be nice if you could expect to go up exactly 2400-p points (where = your starting score), it’s a good idea to have more tempered expectations as you begin your SAT prep journey. What follow are some generalizations based on my experience. Your mileage may vary.

  • Improvement is relative. If a course or tutor claims an overall average improvement (“our students improve 200 points on average”), keep in mind that figure doesn’t take into account the starting scores of the students. It’s a lot easier to bring a 1500 to a 1700 than it is to bring a 1700 to a 1900. It’s even harder, of course, to bring a 2100 to a 2300. A 200 point improvement is a great goal if you’re starting around 1700. It might be less realistic (though not impossible) if you’re starting at 2000.
  • Improvement takes time. I like about 2 months of regular prep before the exam, but I’ve worked with lots of kids whose improvements have taken longer. If you start your prep 3 weeks before your test, you’ll probably be disappointed in your improvement.
  • Improvement depends a lot on what you already know. One of the best ways to improve your math score is to get into the habit of working with real numbers instead of variables whenever possible. This is the first thing most tutors and courses will teach you. If you’ve already been doing that on your own, then obviously you’ll see less benefit from that technique than someone who’d never thought to try it before. The same can be said of studying vocabulary. If your vocabulary is awful when you start, and then you learn a ton of words, you’ll probably see a nice reading improvement from that alone. If your vocabulary is already really good, then it’s still a good idea to learn as many new words as you can, but it’s going to help your score less.
  • It’s easier to improve in some sections than it is in others. The writing section (the multiple choice section of it, anyway) tests you on mostly straightforward rules, so once you nail them down, (especially if you didn’t know what to look for before) you should see a HUGE improvement there. Some of the hardest math questions are susceptible to a few simple techniques, but the SAT will also throw some really difficult questions at you that those techniques won’t help you with, so you might see a nice initial score jump followed by a plateau that’s hard to overcome. The reading comprehension section follows patterns too, but they’re much more difficult to learn, so large improvements there will require the most dogged persistence. Expect your reading score to improve slowly.
  • All that having been said, it doesn’t take a miracle to raise a score. A good rule of thumb is this: one fewer mistake per section should add about 100 points to your score.  See for yourself if you’ve got a scoring table handy from a test you recently took. Changing one answer from wrong to right in each multiple choice section will add 3.75 raw score points to your reading and math scores, and 2.5 raw score points to your writing score. For example, if you scored 650 in each subject on the first test in the Blue Book, adding those points would get you: 690 reading, 680 math, and 690 writing (assuming an essay score of 8). You went from 1950 to 2060. Not bad, eh?
So, how much should your score go up? Tough to say with much certainty, as you’ve hopefully gleaned from above. However, if you give yourself enough time, put in enough effort, and are willing to change your old habits, you should be able to make progress. Good luck!

If you’ve decided to go the private tutoring route, you need to do your due diligence in selecting a tutor that’s right for you, lest you waste precious blood and treasure on someone who’s the wrong fit, or someone who’s just a plain old charlatan. SAT tutoring is big business, and lots of people who aren’t exactly experts will be all too happy to take your money if you’ll give it to them.

I trust that you know to ask the basic questions: the ones about availability, cost, frequency and length of sessions, etc. Here are, in no particular order, six less obvious questions you should ask a potential tutor before you sign on the proverbial dotted line.

  1. How many other clients do you have? A student-tutor relationship is very personal when done right, and if you’re going to pay this fellow the exorbitant fees he’s commanding, you want to know he’s going to be available when you need him, and that you’ll have his full attention when you’re with him. If he’s got fifteen other clients, he might be willing to take another one on, but you might want to consider looking elsewhere.
  2. What is your approach? There are countless philosophies about and approaches to preparing for the SAT, and you want to make sure that a potential tutor is a good match for you in that respect. Some tutors, for example, believe that the best way to improve a math score is to practice algebra incessantly; they take a strict, math-only approach. Others (like me) believe that you already have a math teacher every day in school and that you should approach the SAT a little differently. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. Make sure you and your tutor see eye-to-eye on this.
  3. When is the last time you took the SAT, and how did you score? There’s no law against an adult signing up for and taking the SAT, and a good tutor should have done so at least once after high school. You’d be surprised how many people think their experience teaching other things qualifies them to teach the SAT. This test is a different animal, and if you’re going to pay someone a lot of money to tutor you one-on-one, you want to be sure that person knows how to tame it. You’re looking for 2400s here, if you’re going to pay top dollar.
  4. Do you have your own materials? Some tutors write their own materials, and some simply tell you to buy a book and go through it with you. I, personally, write my own materials (many of which you’ll find on these pages) and supplement them with practice tests from the Official SAT Study Guide. If your tutor is just going to go through a book with you without adding much of her own insight, she might not be worth the money you’re paying her.
  5. How will you personalize your program for me? Every student is different, and a good tutor will adjust his techniques to fit your strengths and weaknesses. This could mean bringing practice problems to your session that he’s specifically picked out because of your performance on the last test you took, for example.  If he’s going to give you the same cookie-cutter treatment he gives everyone else, you might want to look for someone who won’t.
  6. Can you supply me with references? Any tutor worth her fees will be able to back up her large price tag with a list of previous clients who were so happy with her that they’ve agreed to be contacted once in a while by a potential new client. Of course, this one is less important if you were referred to her directly by a friend, which might obviate the need for additional references.