As SAT-prep costs soar, a classroom-based solution

School house rocks: Moving prep programs for the SAT and other standardized tests into the classroom could have huge benefits, according to Harry Aurora.
By HARRY AURORA //

If this spring’s much-publicized college admissions scandal highlights anything, it’s that competition to get into the nation’s top schools is fierce, with the cost of admission seemingly as high as the price of matriculation.

Extreme examples aside, it’s no secret that college preparation favors the wealthy. Private instruction and tutors provide a competitive advantage to students and families who can afford them; some tutors’ rates start at $1,000 per hour, and personal SAT prep can cost as much as $10,000. Even basic test prep can be a significant financial investment for many families.

The benefits of SAT tutoring are clear: Students who enroll in SAT-prep courses can see their scores rise by 100 to 400 points.

Targeted instruction not only covers the material on an SAT test, but helps familiarize students with the format. It allows them to become comfortable with the different sections, so they can develop proper time-management skills for exam day.

Additionally, a tutor can identify potential problem areas and individualize test-preparation to match individual student needs.

Even as some colleges place less weight on the SAT, standardized tests remain a strong factor in the admissions process. Universities still need a uniform way to evaluate tens of thousands of students – Harvard receives 40,000 applications annually for 1,600 spots, for example – and high school GPAs are not comparable across districts.

Harry Aurora: Class act.

Some experts say the SAT accounts for as much as 80 percent of a student’s application weight. What’s more, many schools award scholarships based on SAT scores.

And while some schools have removed the SAT requirement from their admissions processes, the rise of test-optional schools doesn’t mean fewer students are taking the exam. Students still sit for the SAT, with the option of omitting their scores on some applications.

This could lead to a number of consequences. A student may be obliged to attend a test-optional school; in cases where SAT scores affect merit-based financial awards, students may be denied tuition assistance – which could continue to proliferate the gap between low-income students who can’t afford SAT prep and high-income students who can.

Despite the obvious benefits of tutoring and targeted SAT test prep, instruction is largely handled outside of the traditional classroom. Thus, in-school SAT prep has emerged as a way to level the playing field.

iTutor is in the process of rolling out a classroom-based program that would bring one-on-one online instruction to students, at no cost to families. With one-on-one online instruction, students will be able to prep for the SAT at their own pace, stopping to focus on any potential weaknesses. Instruction can be tailored to the needs and learning style of the student to ensure maximum mastery.

The rollout follows the introduction of The College Board’s own online test-prep program, which was launched in 2016. A 2017 study found that students who spent 20 to 22 hours using the program saw a 120-point increase over their PSAT scores.

There are added benefits to having dedicated classroom time for online tutoring. In-school instruction ensures that all students are aware of the program, and that they participate in a structured environment without after-school and weekend distractions.

And the one-on-one online model allows students to ask questions while they learn, free from the peer pressures of a group setting.

Admission to top-tier colleges is increasingly difficult, with schools like Yale University and the University of Southern California reporting record-low admissions rates after the college cheating scandal. Though SAT scores paint only part of a student’s picture, there’s no question that doing well on the exam can only help with college matriculation.

Making standardized test prep available to all – not just those who have the resources and time outside of school – will help level the playing field, ensuring that everyone has a chance to succeed in higher education.

Harry Aurora is the founder and CEO of Jericho-based digital-education innovator iTutor.