The Big, the Bad- The Monolithic Test Prep Class

IMG_1692The False Promises

Out of panic and pressure that their children will be “left behind” during the college admissions process, families often fall victim to the mega-test prep firm’s large class instructional package “deals.” Universities and private companies alike employ 100’s of instructors who guarantee “that students scoring in the 500’s will get in the 750 range,” according to Derek Briggs, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Education as quoted in the Wall Street Journal’s article, “Do SAT Prep Courses Help Test Takers?”

Simply put, there are no studies that support such promises, particularly in large class settings of novice test takers.

The Rough Reality

Rest assured, high performers excel in any environment. On the other hand, the vast majority of learners require skill-based teaching in addition to “one size fits all” test prep strategies. The College Success Network suggests that large class settings of over eight students do not yield the miraculous results universities and private test prep companies advertise:

With large group classes, students are exposed to test-taking tips and take multiple practice tests, but rarely have the opportunity for specific feedback or one-to-one coaching on areas of weakness.

Instructors not only lack the time to address individual needs in a large class, but they are also ill-equipped to provide fundamental grammar, reading comprehension, writing and math skills instruction that so many college hopefuls require.

The Colossal Cost

Unfortunately, the best prices these programs offer are large class strategy cram sessions that cost upwards of a $1,500 according to a New York Times 2014 study. In addition to the extravagant expense, students often leave more “deadlocked” than they were when they arrived; their confidence has been proverbially “shot” since their scores stagnate, and in some cases, drop because the courses fail to teach actual skills.

How would I know? Ironically, after all of the money they’ve spent, I host a gamut of one-on-one and small group test prep students who hire me after they’ve endured these torturous programs, having escaped with little else than a deflated sense of dignity.

Who These Companies Are

Generally, the owners establish successful businesses through expensive and enhanced marketing and highlight the success of their top test-takers.

Instructors are hired on the basis of their test score performance, not on their ability to deliver or explain difficult content to high school learners. Author Jared Wells explains in his LearnSpeed article, The Evolving Business of Tutoring and Test Preparation,” that test prep instructors are ultimately not prepared or skillful teachers.

By default, and without proper training and support, well intentioned instructors explain what the student fails to understand…The problem is that this model largely does not solve the underlying cause of why students struggle in the first place.

In a nutshell, large test prep companies that offer large class test prep demonstrate a good business model, rarely a quality education.

Think “Smaller”

At the major firm, expect one-on-one coaching to cost between $100 and $200 per hour! While the tutors are compensated very little, the bulk of the “tuition” pays the company’s overhead, executives and shareholders.

So how can families access qualified and affordable one-on-one and small class (ideally 3-5 students per group) teachers who happen to offer test prep services?

1.Research (google) Sole Proprietors and Small Businesses and their websites. Explore the following advertising forums:

2. Select credentialed and experienced teachers with references.

  • Check their references- How many points did their student’s score increase? What skills did their student acquire?
  • Did they actually learn the grammar rule or just another ineffective strategy?

3. Invest in one-on-one or small group lessons to ensure that all of your student’s needs are addressed on every section of the test, including the essay.

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