One of the most important tests in a high school junior’s entire academic career is the exam they will take to get into college. Whether that exam is the SAT, the Gaokao, ACT, or the A-levels, 16-18 year olds worldwide stress about entrance exams that could help get them into the best universities money can buy. For some, the thought of getting help when studying for these exams is a shot to their sense of pride. For others, taking a course may not be an option because of the cost, even though the student knows they would greatly benefit from the forced review. Either way, I’d like to share with you my own experience so you can make a decision.
What is Kaplan Test Prep?
Kaplan Test Prep is the leading provider of such courses. I took the ACT because I’m from the Chicago suburbs and there isn’t as much of a bias against students who choose to take the ACT over the SAT in the Midwest. For me, taking four long sections devoted to one subject each was more fun than ten short sections that are very similar.
Kaplan offers ACT Prep Courses, which are classroom-based, and ACT Tutoring Courses, which are one-on-one based and often in your own home. Prep Courses start at $299 and can exceed $1,000. Tutoring Courses do not have set-in-stone prices because they are tailored to the student’s specific needs in terms of content and number of sessions.
My parents bought me a Tutoring Course because they wanted to make sure I was at my personal best come test day. I had two extremely nice graduate students as my tutors: one for Science and Math, one for Reading and English. I received a very large packet of materials including online access to their web-based modules, the course book, and Kaplan’s collections of problem-set books and practice tests.
I only met with each tutor 3 or 4 times for a total of 6-8 one-hour sessions. Between those sessions, I was supposed to complete online video modules according to my weaknesses as declared by my diagnostic test results. I was also supposed to complete practice tests and problem-sets in the Kaplan workbooks. In truth, I didn’t complete any of this work due to my regular slew of AP classes, extracurriculars, and general “standoffish-ness” to the whole tutoring situation.
Sure, I felt a little guilty for not committing 100% to a very expensive review course that my parents spent their hard-earned money on, but in the end, my score rose 5 points from the practice ACT that I took sophomore year, so my guilt is alleviated.
So the big question remains: If I did none of the assigned work for the Kaplan Course, how did my score increase by 5 points in one year?
Well, I think it was because for those 6-8 hours, I was forced to review for the test. I admit that outside of this timeframe, I never ever once picked up a Kaplan or Princeton Review book. I also think my knowledge base from sophomore to junior year naturally expanded to encompass some of the material on the test. Looking back, for me all I needed was a quick review of some of the more baseline concepts and nit-picky grammar points. Perhaps on that day sophomore year, I just didn’t give two hoots about the results of that practice ACT because it didn’t really count for anything.
In then end, I do not think my level of work justified the amount of money my parents spent on the course, but for those of you who a) want to put in the time or b) know you won’t put in the time unless you are forced to buy a prep course, it may be a good idea.