SAT tutoring affects students’ scores

Shiriel King Abramson

The springtime SATs and ACTs are quickly approaching, and while test-taking strategies come naturally to some, others enlist the help of a tutor to practice test methods in the hopes of achieving an improved score.

In a recent Bark survey, 14.4 percent of the student body reported receiving some form of tutoring to prepare for the SAT or ACT. The junior class reported the highest percentage of students tutored, at 26 percent.

Junior Charlotte Smith is one of the 26 percent receiving SAT tutoring. After taking the PSAT multiple times, she hopes that her score improved on the March SAT.

Smith said that she is tutored at her house twice a week by tutors from Compass Education Group. She studies math and English each one day a week with separate tutors.

“They don’t really teach you as much information, they teach you how to take the test. They teach you strategies, like which one to skip, how confident you should be if you want to guess,” Smith said. “There are certain math strategies…you mostly know everything, they just teach you how [the test] is.”

Smith said that it was her mother’s idea for her to begin tutoring.

But a high SAT score does not come free, and can be quite expensive.

According to a recent Bark survey, 37.5 percent of students who receive tutoring in any subject–SAT or academic–pay between $51 and $100 an hour. The next largest chunk of students, 16 percent, pay between $101 and $150 an hour, followed by 12.5 percent of the tutored population who pay over $150. Only 10.7 percent of tutored students pay under $50 per hour, and approximately 23 percent of students didn’t know how much they pay.

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Smith is among the tutored students paying triple digits, shelling out $175 per 90-minute lesson, for a total of $350 a week in tutoring expenses.

“I know that it’s expensive…I think it’s worth it. I’ve taken practice tests, my scores have improved, and I’m learning,” Smith said.

Senior Luke Pfeiffer also tutored for the SAT his junior year after getting a disappointing PSAT score his sophomore year.

He said that while he was happy with his math scores, he didn’t get the English score that he’d hoped for so his parents suggested he start private tutoring.

Pfeiffer said that he tutored with a family friend before switching to Compass Education Group, where, like Smith, he studied math and English each one day a week and with separate tutors who came to his house.

He said that during his lessons, he and his tutor practiced strategies to cut off time and improve his test-taking efficiency.

Pfeiffer practiced each of the components of the English section on the SAT by working his way through a book called The Official SAT Study Guide.

“For the grammar portion, I’d have to read, answer questions, then flip the page and then read, answer questions, [and so on],” Pfeiffer said. “The repetition really helped.”

In addition to grammar, Pfeiffer said that he worked on reading comprehension, drilled vocab with vocab cards, and refined his SAT essay writing skills.

And although Pfeiffer did, in fact, improve his SAT score by 240 points, he said that he did not enjoy the tutoring process.

“I didn’t look forward to [the Compass tutors] coming over,” Pfeiffer said. “It was like work, and I had to really focus plus I had homework and then soccer practice on top of that.”

Pfeiffer said that when he tutored with his family friend, he memorized 30 words per week on his own time. When he switched to Compass, his homework consisted of doing about an hour worth of problems from his study book for both math and English, totaling about two hours of tutoring homework per week.

Despite working with the same tutoring company as Smith, senior Luke Pfeiffer paid his Compass tutors significantly less than she did, at $50 an hour.

Nevertheless, Pfeiffer said that he felt pressure to focus hard and make the most of his lessons.

“[Tutoring] is different than just coming to school — I’m paying to learn a specific amount and that amount will be measured in how well I do on the SAT,” Pfeiffer said. “If I go up 10 points on the SAT and I paid a [certain] amount of money, it wouldn’t be as worth it if I went up 200 to 300 points.”

Pfeiffer paid his first tutor, a family friend, $80 an hour.

Capitalizing on the high demand for test-prep tutoring, both Adam Piacente from Marin SAT Prep, and Sylvia Verange of Tutoring for Success have opened tutoring companies to teach strategies for tackling the SAT and ACT.

Piacente started his company in 2006 and has since hired four other associate tutors.

One major contributor to students’ ability to prepare for the SAT and ACT, Piacente believes, is that the College Board now releases old tests.

He said that in the ‘90s, they didn’t release many tests so students didn’t know what was tested–students had to actually take the test in order to get a sense of the content.

Verange said that she has been tutoring for 30 years and also works with associates. She said that she believes the recent rise in tutoring is a result of an increasingly competitive college admission environment.

Verange said that because there are increasingly more students applying to college, but few new colleges are created, it is harder to be accepted because there is a greater number of students applying for the same number of spots.

Piacente of Marin SAT Prep said that he charges $150 an hour for students to come to him, $20 more than his associates, who go to their students’ houses.

Verange of Tutoring for Success would not disclose her rates because she said her rates vary by the family.

“It really depends…[it’s] hard to say until I know what their needs are. I find it more effective to have a conversation with the families,” Verange said.

In the end, Smith and Pfeiffer did not regret working with a tutor despite the time commitment and high cost.

“It was definitely worth it – not for overall knowledge, but just for the SAT score,” Pfeiffer said.