I get asked this question all the time. When I’m on the phone with a parent and he or she can’t see me rolling my eyes, I just say, “It depends.”
Before I tell you what it depends on, permit me a not-so-brief rant.
The press is full of articles and blog posts lately decrying the new SAT and wondering if college entrance tests are necessary or fair. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m far from a fan of the new SAT. But that doesn’t mean that a national standardized assessment isn’t a valid way for colleges to get an idea of whether a student can handle college-level work. I encourage you to read this blog post that was in the New York Times recently about the new SAT, the old SAT, and whether either of them are worth anything. Does the author seem to make sense to you?
Well, it’s nonsense. I belong to several LinkedIn groups of SAT and ACT tutors who generously exchange information, insights, techniques, and news. One of the participants, Matt McCorkle, co-founder of Clear Choice Test Prep in California, gave me his permission to share his comments with you. Read his reaction to the New York Times article, and I think you’ll agree with him – and me. (Click here: Matt McCorkle)
Now, to answer the question, how much will my scores go up with tutoring?
1. How much your score will go up depends on where you’re starting. If you tell me that your writing score (the grammar part) is currently at a 420 out of a possible 800, I am confident that I can help you get your score up into the 500s or better. Can I expect a similar 100+ point improvement if you come to me with a score of 700? It’s not as likely that you’ll make as dramatic an increase. Will you go up? Probably. By the same amount as someone who starts lower? Probably not.
2. How much your score will go up depends on your native ability in that area. If you’re a good reader with a modest vocabulary, I can pretty much predict that your score will go up much more than that of a poor reader – or someone who just avoids reading. If you’re fairly good at math, we’ve got a better shot at increasing your score than if you’ve always hated math and really haven’t mastered fractions.
3. How much your score will go up depends on how much work you’re willing to put into it. Work doesn’t just mean time. When I have a student here in my home office, and as we’re grading a section that student is staring out the window, chances are his progress won’t be dramatic. If I have a student, on the other hand, who wants to know why each wrong answer is wrong and why my answer is right, that student is actually learning from the process of taking practice sections and I can bet that that kid will indeed make a nice improvement. If I ask you to do an essay at home, and you don’t, and I remind you the next week and you still don’t, it’s much less likely that your score will go up. Just showing up at tutoring sessions is good and it helps, but not as much as showing up willing and ready to learn and become invested in the process.
4. How much your score will go up depends on how nervous you get during standardized tests. Some kids just panic. It’s hard to score brilliantly when thoughts of “I’m no good at this. I’ve never been good at this” are running through your mind. One of the best benefits of tutoring is starting to build a sense that, although you won’t know precisely what’s on the test, you have a strategy for dealing with every type of question and that you’re as well-prepared as anyone in the room. Still, kids who have a history of doing well on standardized tests go into a new testing situation with confidence and seldom second guess themselves or change answers just because they don’t trust themselves to answer correctly the first time.
Can tutoring really help my score? Yes it can. But read this blog post to see how and why your score will improve and why it really can’t be measured accurately.
If tutoring can really improve a student’s SAT or ACT score, isn’t that sort of unfair? Yes, it is. But the SATs and ACTs never promised to be an intelligence test. It’s about being prepared for the test – both by virtue of having the academic skills necessary to perform well and having learned the techniques needed to gain the maximum score. With or without a tutor, with or without a prep course, you can read the instructions in the beginning of the prep books, take practice tests over and over, grade them, analyze your wrong answers to see where you went wrong, draw conclusions about the type of questions you’re missing and try to fill in those gaps. A good tutor can focus this process for you, but you can manage very nicely without any help at all if you’re self-motivated and are prepared to be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and are ready to work hard to improve.
Is it easier to improve with a tutor? Yes, it is. It’s easier for the same reason it’s easier to get stronger with a trainer at the gym than it is to workout alone at home. A tutor or coach can give you motivation, techniques, strategies, insights, and either a pep talk or stern lecture, depending on which you need. But you can do it alone if you really, really put yourself into it. And you can’t get more fair than that!