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Preparing to take the entrance exams for private schools can be a significant hurdle for many students. For most students, these challenging tests are their first experience with highly competitive standardized tests. Since test-taking is a skill that’s not always taught in school, most families have to find ways to prepare outside of school hours.
One popular option for test preparation is tutoring. Many families use private tutors or seek out tutoring centers to get a leg up in improving their child’s test scores. But tutoring can be hugely expensive — some families end up spending thousands of dollars just for one admissions season. That said, not all tutoring is outrageously expensive, and tutoring as a whole can be an effective way for students to increase their test scores drastically. In fact, many families claim that tutoring is a key part of their school acceptances. So how do you decide if it’s worth the time and money?
Before committing to any tutoring service, first assess how your child would perform on the test if they were to take it today. The easiest way to do this is to have them take a full-length diagnostic practice test. You can find highly accurate practice tests available at iseepracticetest.com and ssatpracticetest.com.
Many families say tutoring is a key part of their school acceptances
Once your child has their scores, you’ll next want to consider the admissions requirements at the schools you’re applying to. In the Seattle area, for instance, if you’re applying to schools like Lakeside or Overlake, you should aim for extremely competitive scores, while other schools may accept scores that aren’t as competitive.
If you find that you’ll need to improve your child's scores significantly before test day, we recommend that you target a few key areas.
Brenna O’Neill is the director of education at Test Innovators, where she leads the online test prep platform and online tutoring service for the ISEE and SSAT. She says there are three main aspects of test-taking that students must master in order to achieve success:
- Content mastery. Does your student understand the material that they will be tested on?
- Test-taking skills and strategies. Is your student an effective test-taker? Do they know how to manage their time on a timed test, and do they understand how to take a multiple-choice test strategically?
- Confidence, which can be achieved through success and continued improvement on the practice tests.
Students can learn some of these tools on their own, but sometimes they need additional guidance from a parent, teacher or tutor.
If you're a parent considering private tutoring versus prepping your child independently, ask yourself a few key questions:
- Do you confidently understand the content on the test, and could you help your child understand it?
- Do you have a working knowledge of test-taking strategies, and can you help your child perfect them?
- Even if you are confident in your own ability to “ace” a competitive standardized test, are you the best person to be teaching your child?
If you’ve answered yes to all the questions above, you may find significant success independently or by having your child use an online self-paced system. However, if you’re unsure of your expertise or believe in outsourcing to an expert, tutoring may be the right option for you.
A tutor examines how your child is performing currently and identifies exactly what skills they need to work on to improve their scores. Tutors can provide you with a preparation plan and also guide the actual preparation, helping students to build self-assurance and improve their scores.
Another benefit of working with a tutor is that you’ll have an expert to consult with on all aspects of the admission process, including personal essays and interview preparation. Many test-prep tutors are overall admissions experts as well, or specialize in educational consulting to help students get into their target schools.
If you decide to hire a tutor, first ensure that the tutor is an expert in the tests you’re preparing for. Many tutors only specialize in test preparation for college admissions tests, such as the SAT or ACT. Before you commit, find out how much experience the tutor has with the specific tests your child will be taking.