The Test Prep Industry


I'd like to rant, if I could, about the test prep industry, specifically as it relates to the SAT and the ACT.

THEY LIE. They give their students "practice tests" that aren't real practice tests! They make up their own "SAT" or "ACT" and train their kids on that and it makes me so mad, because they have no idea how to model such a test! It's like training someone how to spike a volleyball and then telling them that they're going to do great on their basketball game on Saturday. LIES, I TELL YOU!!

And THEN, they tell you that all you need to do in order to get ready for the test is study. Study math. Study grammar. Study vocab. That is nonsense. These kids also need to learn how to wake up at 7:00 in the morning and sit down for a 4-hour test on a Saturday after they couldn't sleep at night because they were so nervous. They need to know what to expect when they get to the test center; they need to know exactly what the directions say so that they don't spend time reading them during the test; they need to be timed, and re-timed until they know what it feels like to spend too much time on a problem; they need to be taught some kind of organizational strategy so that when they do take the test, they're efficient test-takers.

There is a huge market for SAT and ACT prep. Many who know this are also willing to take advantage of scared and stressed families by withholding the truth, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If they're intentionally withholding the fact that The College Board's "The Official SAT Study Guide" is the only book from which you should take SAT practice tests, then that makes them liars, and nobody wants to hire a liar. If such a mistake is unintentional, then that means that they don't know which book is the best in the first place, which means they haven't researched the test, which means they are in no way qualified to offer a course on it.

I've seen too many students come to me complaining about their experiences with these companies. I myself have done work for such companies; I've been appalled at their lack of familiarity with a given test. If I could just hold one big "This Is How You Study For The Test" meeting for the entire population of college-bound high-schoolers and their families, I would. I wonder if there's a platform for that...


In my experience, test taking strategies, and what to expect on the day of the test, are discussed in most test prep books. Also, most SAT students I've encountered actually do need to study vocabulary. The most common trouble my students have with the SAT is that they have a limited vocabulary. Even the context clues aren't much help because they include words the student hasn't learned. My daughter's school has caught on to this and has started teaching them SAT words in 8th grade. Vocabulary is something that is best built up over years and is not easily learned in three months before a test.
While it is true that test prep books do provide techniques with which to prep for the test, it is also true that no book but The College Board's contains true SATs. And, because so much of test prep is becoming familiar with the patterns within the (real) test, it is imperative that students use this book.


Kathryn S.

Professional Statistics Tutor, Harvey Mudd Grad

2250+ hours
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