Is Test Prep a Good Fit for Your High Schooler? 5 Ways to Know

You want your child to get a competitive score on their SAT or ACT, but is test prep the right path? Two educators offer five questions to guide your decision.

Could your child walk into an SAT or ACT test facility, take the standardized test and achieve a fantastic score without any advance preparation?

Sure, it could happen. But is it likely?

Because your child’s SAT or ACT score plays such an important role in college admission decisions, it makes sense to invest time and effort in getting to know these tests. Fortunately, high school students have lots of options for test preparation, and they vary in both time and cost.

Informal study groups, afterschool classes and self-guided online prep are some of the lower-investment options. A more customized option is working one-on-one with an experienced test prep tutor, which can require more time and money.

But is it the right choice for your student?

“Like anything else, individualized test prep is an investment and you need to know if it’s right for your child,” says Andrew Ferguson, Director of Business Development at Academic Approach in Chicago.

We share five questions to ask yourself when you’re trying to decide if individualized test prep with a tutor is right for your child and your family.

1. What does it cost?

Expect the costs of one-on-one tutoring to match the level of professional support your child receives from an organization that specializes in test prep.

“Some companies sell their services in packages, which means you are paying upfront for more hours than you may use,” explains Carla Pedersen, Regional Director with Academic Approach. “We have a wide range of hourly pricing, which makes the tutoring experience customizable and ensures families don’t pay for hours they don’t need.”

The cost for individual test prep at Academic Approach varies depending on a student’s goals and the level of growth desired, but for 20 hours of targeted, personalized instruction, the total will be about $3,500. This cost is spread out over several months, Ferguson says.

“Some students are high performing and won’t need 20 hours to reach their goal,” he adds.

2. What can you gain?

If that cost seems high, consider what doors a higher SAT or ACT score can open for your child. “Your student’s score can make them more competitive and their potential for qualifying for merit or need-based aid may be higher than it was before,” says Pedersen.

Some students want to achieve admission at a highly selective university, or they know they need a certain score to qualify for athletic scholarships. “Many schools use standardized testing to guide their merit-based scholarship decisions. Many students come to us needing to raise their scores one or two points to reach that threshold, and their families look at test prep as an investment,” says Ferguson.

3. Can your child commit to getting started?

Knowing exactly what your child needs to reach their goal makes the process clearer. Gathering this data is a commitment of time and effort, even before any test prep takes place.

At Academic Approach, the process starts with a diagnostic test, which is followed by an evaluation of the diagnostic test and consultation with a director, the student, and parents. “This is time spent upfront so we can be more efficient later. Although it is a time commitment, it’s important to make sure a student is going down the right path,” says Pedersen.

If your child has a busy sports or extracurricular schedule, it may be tough to find several hours on a weekend to do this work, but the time invested is worth it because it provides valuable data about the amount of work your child needs to do to meet their goals.

Best of all, at Academic Approach, this initial diagnostic test, evaluation and consultation is free of charge.

4. Is there room in your child’s schedule?

Many high school students have packed schedules and fitting in one more thing to do is nearly impossible. Act early. Find out how much work your child will need and then schedule test prep over a span of months to avoid cramming at the last minute.

“Sometimes families get started late and learn that more growth is needed than they expected, but it’s the fall of senior year and their child is overcommitted already,” Ferguson says. “The goals should be achievable for the student, so we always recommend starting early. Take our diagnostic test and find out where your child is at. It’s valuable information and will help you build a plan.”

At Academic Approach, individualized test prep is delivered in an effective online format, which removes the barrier of traveling back and forth, making test prep time-efficient.

5. Is your child motivated?

“The way for test prep to be as successful as possible is when the student can find purpose in it,” explains Pedersen. “Students who know they are taking the test in order to achieve a bigger goal are more invested in doing what it takes to achieve their desired outcome.”

Talk with your child to assess their commitment level. Your meeting with an Academic Approach Director will also shine a light on how your student feels about the work test prep requires.

“We always want students to attend that initial meeting with their parents so we know they are invested from step one,” says Ferguson. “How do they respond when they hear the director say they’ll need to meet with a tutor for 90 minutes a week, with 90 minutes of homework? I always look at the student’s expression. Test prep is most successful if the student is the motor behind it.”

Expertise brought to you by Academic Approach. Learn more at

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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