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Getting a private SAT prep tutor has become more and more common for high school students these days.
The test prep industry has sprung up around the exceptionally-selective college admissions process and the highly competitive SAT scores that students are submitting to elite colleges, Ivy Leagues, and top scholarships.
Small-group SAT prep classes are also a common option. In this article I will focus mainly on private one-on-one tutoring, but will also put forth a few thoughts about group classes as well as alternatives and supplements like my SAT Vocabulary video course.
There’s a lot to talk about, so bear with me as we examine the somewhat-complicated process of choosing the best one-on-one SAT prep tutor in your town or city.
Big-company SAT prep vs. independent local tutoring:
One of the first decisions you will need to make is if you would prefer to work with a large, well-known national SAT prep company, or if you’d prefer an independent local tutor.
I myself am a local tutor, so I’m biased in that direction. However, there are a few advantages to the bigger companies:
- Big companies generally offer proctored practice exams, which are difficult for an independent tutor to organize and host
- Big companies may have more options for refunds and customer complaints if the desired score improvements are not achieved
- Big companies may have more “in-house” or exclusive SAT prep textbooks, practice tests, and worksheets that smaller tutors can’t match
- Big companies can save you the time of finding and researching an independent SAT prep tutor on your own
However, I think the local tutoring option has a higher potential payoff. Here’s why:
- Big companies charge a premium since they have to cover business overhead expenses
- Local tutors often rely on word-of-mouth and need to continually do a great job with students in order to keep paying rent
- The individual SAT prep tutors at a big company can vary widely in their abilities as a tutor
- The independent tutor is more likely to be passionate about their work or full-time
- Big companies often hire inexperienced college graduates and then charge professional-level rates for tutoring
Basically, going with a big SAT prep company is going to mean less work for you, but also a higher cost, and you might be matched with an inexperienced or bad tutor.
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Finding a local tutor will take more time and effort but can save a great deal of money and provide a better, more passionate, more experienced level of instruction.
Online Tutoring for SAT / ACT Prep:
Online tutoring for SAT and ACT prep is increasingly popular.
Families can use online test prep tutoring to save time and travel distance. It’s also safe and proven to be effective – just as effective as in-person tutoring.
Online tutoring these days can be just as interactive and personal as in-person meetings – perhaps more so!
One company you can trust to offer online tutoring for SAT / ACT prep is Love the SAT, a test-prep company which I founded to offer online and local tutoring.
At Love the SAT we offer only the best private lessons with a select group of pro online tutors so check it out.
Group classes vs. private tutoring
Here’s another issue without a simple answer.
Group classes are less expensive than one-on-one private tutoring, but obviously less personal as well.
I think that if you’re an “A” student in high school, you’re going to do fine in a group SAT prep class. You’ve proven your ability to listen to and absorb lessons from a typical classroom learning environment.
However, if you’re a “B” or a “C” student, I think you’re going to be better off with private tutoring. Maybe there’s something about a group class that just doesn’t work as well for you as the personalized attention of a professional SAT tutor.
Any student can also benefit from supplemental video courses like my Conquer SAT Vocabulary course.
How much does private SAT prep tutoring cost?
A difficult question to answer. SAT prep tutoring tends to command a premium price beyond that of basic high school tutoring in algebra, geometry, reading, etc.
I’ve seen SAT prep tutoring rates range from $25 per hour to $250 per hour. No joke!
Personally, I’ve charged students from $30 an hour (when I was just starting on my own and only had a year of experience) to $80 an hour (after years of experience and great word-of-mouth).
Right now I feel like I’m delivering more than I charge for. In other words, I feel 100% comfortable promising new students that I’m a great value.
Past $125 per hour, I really start to question how honest and good the tutor is. I would not feel comfortable charging this much money for SAT prep tutoring no matter how good I am. It feels like a rip-off.
I know for a fact that I can offer excellent, expert SAT prep tutoring for less than $125 per hour.
The “sweet spot” in my experience lies between $40 to $100 per hour for an honest, experienced, talented and fun SAT prep tutor.
How many hours of private SAT prep tutoring will you need?
Obviously the answer to this question can vary a great deal.
I can give only a very rough guideline: you’re ready when you think you’re ready, when you feel you’re ready.
The minimum amount of time that I will work with a student is 6 hours. Less than 6 hours is not nearly enough time to cover even the most basic fundamentals of the Math, Reading, and Writing sections.
On the flip side, I don’t like to spend more than 30 hours working with the same student. Beyond 30 hours I think you are wasting time and energy, and need to find a source of self-motivation before continuing to invest in private tutoring.
A good middle ground that I like is to spend between 12 and 16 hours working with any one student. This allows us to cover a great deal of material without getting overwhelming or prohibitively expensive.
Don’t be surprised if they want you to purchase tutoring blocks in advance:
It’s a fairly common practice for SAT tutors to ask for payment, in advance, for larger blocks of tutoring.
For example, I require my students to purchase tutoring in 4-lesson blocks.
This encourages commitment, decreases no-shows, cuts back on paperwork and bookkeeping, reduces trips to the bank, and keeps parents and tutors from having to remember to write/ask for a check each week.
See if you can do a trial lesson before committing to more:
Despite the commonly-accepted practice of charging for tutoring in blocks, I still think that it’s completely fair for you to ask for a single trial lesson before committing to a longer lesson package.
Both independent tutors and large companies frequently have minimum numbers of lessons or tutoring hours. This simplifies their bookkeeping and advertising and also builds commitment from students.
In fact, this is a business practice that I use as well.
However, I’m always willing to do the first lesson separately and allow students and parents a “no-pressure” chance to decide if they want to continue.
I think this is a professional courtesy that builds trust, so if your prospective SAT tutor is not willing to offer a trial lesson, I’d consider it a bad sign.
You can even try asking for a discount at your first lesson, and promise to return for more lessons if you’re satisfied.
Pay for your no-shows and cancellations:
On a related, and personal, note: please be willing to pay for your last-second cancellations and no-shows.
It’s not easy being an independent local SAT tutor if students constantly and inconsiderately cancel at the last second without offering to pay.
SAT tutors need to buy food and pay their rent, so if you cancel on them, be proactive about offering to pay for the skipped lesson. It’s simple courtesy and can go a long way towards getting the best professional performance out of them.
I know I work extra-hard for families that willingly pay for their cancellations and no-shows! I appreciate that they show respect for me and for my time.
Where and how to find the best local SAT prep tutors:
You might need to get creative in your search, and you also might want to meet with a few different tutors before settling on one of them, but here are a few good places to start looking:
- Visit Love the SAT Test Prep
- Ask friends and family for recommendations
- Ask the school guidance counselor/guidance office for referrals
- Search the Craigslist “Services” section (this is where I got my start!)
- Google “Austin-area SAT prep tutors” (insert your own city or town)
- Use Yelp.com for reviews
- Look for postings around your school campus
Ask about the tutor’s particular strengths:
A good tutor should be proud to describe their unique areas of expertise.
Do their strengths match up with your weaknesses?
A few tutors might be experts at everything on the SAT, ever.
Most of us have stronger and weaker points.
This is also a good time to judge a tutor’s ability to be honest and self-aware.
Ask about the SAT prep books, worksheets, flash cards, and materials this tutor uses:
The proper SAT prep resources are the “tools of the trade” for a good SAT prep tutor.
Asking about the required materials can tell you a great deal about the tutor in question.
They should definitely have recommendations ready immediately for vocab word lists.
I also think that all local SAT prep tutors need to make use of the Official SAT Study Guide. I’m suspicious of any independent tutor that doesn’t make this book one of their primary resources.
Bonus points if this tutor has written their own worksheets or books – this is a great demonstration of seriousness, expertise, and passion.
Signs of a quality SAT prep tutor:
Of course, it’s ultimately up to your personal judgment to decide if you’ve found the right SAT prep tutor or not, but here are a few general guidelines that many of the best SAT tutors have in common.
- SAT prep is full-time or nearly full-time for them, not just something they do for a few hours each weak
- The tutor asks a bunch of questions about your previous experiences with the SAT and with SAT prep
- They ask even more questions – about your goals, intended majors, colleges, scholarships, personal activities
- They have significant teaching experience, even if it’s in different areas
- They immediately recommend that you start studying SAT vocab – good SAT tutors know how critical this is
- They seem understanding and compassionate, and never make you feel stupid
- The Official SAT Study Guide is one of their required materials – any tutor that does not use this is suspicious in my eyes!
- They can and do provide references (see below)
More about SAT prep tutoring references:
The best private SAT prep tutors should have a long list of satisfied previous students.
Although these tutors may be busy, they should never be too busy to put you in touch with their references or reviews, which you should then follow up on.
Ask references about any of your concerns, as well as these basic questions:
- How much did you improve your SAT score by after tutoring?
- Do you feel you got your money’s worth from this private tutor?
- Would you recommend them to friends and family?
- Was the tutor respectful, helpful, and honest?
Make sure you “click” with your personal SAT prep tutor:
Even assuming that your tutor is an expert, experienced, and charges fair rates, you need to make sure you get along with them as a person.
Even the best students and the finest tutors sometimes just don’t match up very well. It’s just a personality thing.
If for any reason you feel that your personalities are not compatible, there’s nothing wrong with looking for someone else.
Just be sure to notify them (don’t be the no-show punk that inconsiderately wastes their time!)
Stay realistic about SAT tutoring and your score improvements:
It’s extremely difficult to predict exactly how many points you will gain after working with a private SAT tutor.
The best SAT tutors can help you increase your score by 500 to 700 points or more if you stay absolutely focused and serious, and do everything they request of you.
However, if you’re not putting in the work, you will not get results.
In truth, you should be spending 2 to 3 hours of independent study time on your own during the week for every hour you spend in your private tutoring lessons.
If you’re not putting in that amount of time, you shouldn’t really expect to gain more than 100 to 200 points after 6 to 8 weeks of tutoring.
Furthermore, supporting skills like vocabulary and reading speed often get shoved aside because they take more time to prepare for – but slow and steady wins the race, and you can’t just ignore your weak spots in the verbal section.
You get out what you put in – it’s the simple truth. Don’t blame the tutor if you don’t improve, if all you’re going to do is show up once a week and not invest your own personal time into studying.
External motivation is one of the best reasons to hire a private SAT prep tutor:
Now, it might sound like I’m directly contradicting my previous point, but if you lack the personal “internal” motivation to study on your own, a professional tutor can be a great source of structure and motivation.
Once you’re accountable to someone, even if you’re not actually graded on a report card, you may find yourself more willing to take practice SAT exams, study vocabulary, and review your special right triangles, etc.
The advice and tips you get from a good SAT prep tutor can be invaluable, but so can the reminders to stay busy and keep working towards your score improvement goals.
It’s like having a personal trainer for your exercise – sometimes we just need another person to keep us on track with our difficult goals.
Ways to get the best results from SAT prep tutoring and save money:
SAT prep tutoring, in all honesty, will probably be expensive, time-consuming, and not the most fun ever. You absolutely must stay focused on getting the most value for your time and money.
Here are a few ideas about how to do just that:
- Find your weak spots on your own, before showing up for your first lesson. You could take practice tests, ask your Math and English teachers in high school, or study from textbooks before you meet your tutor. It saves time and money if you show up already knowing what you need help with.
- Stay focused at all times. It’s tempting to get off-topic or joke around. Demand the best performance from both yourself and your tutor at every lesson.
- Do all the assigned homework
- Take practice tests as often as possible and go over your results
- Study vocabulary independently (it is not an efficient use of money to work on vocabulary with most SAT prep tutors)
- See if you can work with a friend in the same lesson slot for a discounted group rate
What is the SAT Test For?
How to Get a Perfect Score on the SAT
Why You Must Study an SAT Vocab Word List
Differences Between the SAT and ACT Tests
How to Take an SAT Practice Test at Home and Score It
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