Finding the Balance

 This two-part article explores two sides of the same issue: 1) Why test prep requires a serious commitment, and 2) Why it’s important to minimize the time and energy that goes into test prep.

Why test prep requires a serious time commitment

Between classes and homework, a typical high school student will put over 7,000 hours into her courses. If she plays sports or has other major extracurricular commitments, she might put several thousand hours into those. She’ll put hundreds of hours into building relationships with the teachers who will write her recommendation letters. Grades, extracurriculars, and teacher recommendations all go into the college application. And so do test scores.

On this scale, the number of hours that typical students put into test prep seems miniscule: Six hours taking a couple practice tests. Ten hours on Khan Academy. Fifteen hours at a summer bootcamp. Regardless of how students choose to prep, the time commitment pales in comparison to everything else that goes into their college applications. By this logic, we might assume that test scores are only a minor element of the college application. Of course, that’s not the case. At most colleges, test scores are the second most important component of the college application, after course rigor and grades.

At Premier Edge Prep, we take the test prep process very seriously. Our students don’t come in just for a tutoring session or two. Between conversing with parents, scheduling and proctoring diagnostic tests, creating score reports, analyzing score reports, working with families to formulate a prep plan, preparing materials, assigning a tutor, and scheduling sessions, we might put in over ten hours of work before we ever meet with a student.

We require our students to take the process seriously too. Without a strong commitment to test prep, students are unlikely to maximize their potential. For students, that means tutoring sessions at least once weekly, completing all assignments, and regularly attending our free proctored practice tests.

Some people are under the impression that a student who performs will in school will automatically match that performance on the SAT or ACT. Not necessarily. The SAT and ACT are unique tests. They contain content students have learned in school, but they present that content in unfamiliar and challenging ways. Students expecting to rely purely on their own wits are often disappointed. Students who spend the time to study the structure of the test, learn and tinker with the optimal strategies that work best for them, fill the gaps in their content knowledge, and practice practice practice, are the students who perform their best on the SAT and ACT.

 

Why we keep our test prep requirements as short as possible

Students these days are overworked, overcommitted, and overstressed. AP classes, sports, jobs, activities, driving lessons, tutors, test prep, college visits…it can become overwhelming. Stress levels usually peak junior year, when students are taking the most rigorous courses, getting into the heart of the college selection process, and taking on leadership roles in their extracurriculars. We know this and we take it into account with everything we do.

We don’t have a set program, or even set packages, because we want to help students do their best as quickly as possible. Every student gets a unique recommendation tailored to his or her needs. Customizing our tutoring allows us to eliminate busywork. We only give students content practice in areas in which they need it. No student will ever come to us with a 1350 and be forced to sit through basic algebra content. 

We keep our tutoring recommendations to the absolute minimum we think it will take for students to maximize their potential. Our most common recommendations are 10-12 ninety-minute sessions (15-18 total tutoring hours). For some students, our recommendations are as short as 4 hours of tutoring. For others, we recommend upwards of 25. It varies because every student has a unique set of needs and circumstances.

Another way we keep our process efficient is by asking most students who tutor with us to start with a full-length diagnostic SAT and a full-length diagnostic ACT. It’s a 6-7 hour commitment. How is that a timesaver? When a student scores significantly better on one diagnostic test than the other, we know which test he should focus on. He never needs to even consider the other. No jumping back and forth between tests, no prepping for both, no uncertainty of leaving points on the table.

In recent years, we’ve seen more students break down from the pressure and stress. College admissions have become more competitive, students are encouraged to take more rigorous courseloads, more homework is assigned, and students are overscheduled. When test prep services encourage parents to purchase packages of 40 or 50 hours of tutoring, they’re adding to the problem. When test prep services encourage parents to start tutoring at start of 11th grade when a student won’t be ready to take it until the spring, they’re adding to the problem. Don’t get me started on services that recommend nearly 200 hours of prep (yes, they exist) or start test prep in 8th or 9th grade.

At Premier Edge Prep, our goal will always be to help students maximize their potential. And we’ll always recommend the most efficient path to achieving that goal.