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What Type of Budget Should You Set on Your Test Prep?

Consider several important options when planning out your test prep budget. https://insights.collegeconfidential.com/test-prep-budget
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Replies to: What Type of Budget Should You Set on Your Test Prep?

  • RichInPittRichInPitt 1956 replies32 threads Senior Member
    Maybe $250-300 if you count the cost of a couple of test dates. Another $100 for each subject test.

    Official study guide, a prep book or two, Khan, official practice tests.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 80236 replies720 threads Senior Member
    Students who are already strong enough on the tests for their target colleges or scholarships may not need any more prep at all.

    Those who are aiming for colleges or scholarships where higher test scores would help and are self motivated may be able to prep themselves at low or no cost.

    But those aiming for colleges or scholarships where higher test scores would help but are not so self motivated may need more expensive tutoring or whatever services. Some may question whether a less self motivated student should aim that high, but sometimes the parents need the student to do so for affordability, and some parents with money will use it in this way (and others) to give their kids every possible advantage in the college admission competition.
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  • Groundwork2022Groundwork2022 2830 replies65 threads Senior Member
    I expect our DD will take a class. She is a stong and self-motivated student, but has a tendency to fill every spare minute of her time. A class adds structure, maintains the priority of the task at hand, keeps disturbances down and focus up, helps with time management, and gives her a firm reason to say "no, sorry, I can't" when asked to help out with this or that.

    I agree that less motivated kids might need a class, but the super-busy motivated ones are sure to find it useful too. Our high school offers some prep classes for $60 a session, so the $800-$1999 Princeton Reviews are thankfully not the only option.
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  • OneMoreToGo2021OneMoreToGo2021 73 replies0 threads Junior Member
    We probably spent $100-150 total on various test prep books for SAT and two subject tests. I think the most expensive were the Meltzer books for reading and grammar.
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  • NJWrestlingmomNJWrestlingmom 1471 replies2 threads Senior Member
    Lol - most people in D’s class are in upwards of $5k. My brother has spent over $10k at this point!!!! We are nowhere near that, but probably around $800 after a few tutoring lessons to help up the math score.
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  • SarripSarrip 481 replies23 threads Member
    For DD20 we just went on Groupons and found one of those coupons that give you a 4 hour assessment and 2- 2 hour tutoring sessions for $99. Of course the goal is to get you to purchase one of their packages for several thousand dollars but she got a lot out of the sessions and was even given DVD's and resources. She utilized the resources and skills received during these sessions.
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  • MWolfMWolf 2087 replies14 threads Senior Member
    The free options have all the material that is needed. Tutors are needed for kids who will not be able to block out the time for it and/or have difficulty focusing on the material during the time allotted for prep.

    The best prep is still taking the test in real conditions. Some kids can do that on their own, and others do need somebody to make sure that the conditions match those at a SAT/ACT test.

    Another thing to consider, which is often ignored, is that kids often are missing material. Until a student has covered pre-calc and had at least two high-level English classes, they may simply lack the knowledge needed to score very highly on an SAT. The SATs are not "ability tests", they are test of mastery of language and math. No matter how well a kid learns how to do on standardized tests, they still need to know the material on which they are being tested.

    That should also be a consideration when choosing a tutor/prep classes. A tutor who claims that their students increased their SAT scores from Sophomore to Junior years by "an average of 60 points" is taking the credit for the material that the student learned in class. The same can be said for claiming the credit for their students having an average of 50 points higher scores on the SATs than on their PSAT/NMSTQ.

    Another thing to consider is that "an average increase of 50 points" says little, since an increase from 1050 to 1100 is not the same as from 1400 to 1450, and the difficulty in raising an SAT from 1400 to 1450 is much higher than from 1050 to 1100. Since there are difference in how difficult SAT tests were, an increase of 50 may also indicate differences between the tests. Finally, a 50 point difference may be the result of a good night's sleep.

    The best candidates for tutoring are kids who have mastery of the material, but not of test taking. SATs especially require mastery of the material but also mastery of taking SAT tests. Kids whose mastery of the material exceeds their mastery of test-taking, and have difficulty acquiring that mastery on their own, will benefit from a tutor.
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  • OneMoreToGo2021OneMoreToGo2021 73 replies0 threads Junior Member
    edited February 15
    The SATs are not "ability tests", they are test of mastery of language and math. No matter how well a kid learns how to do on standardized tests, they still need to know the material on which they are being tested.
    While this is plausibly correct, it is misleading. Ability is what determines how quickly one can "master" material and under what conditions. There are a few 12 year olds who score 750+ on SAT EBRW, and many more who score that highly on SAT math. Anyone who believes these kids are being "prepped" into these scores is fooling himself.

    As the importance of ability is so obvious at the "edge" results (12 year olds with 1500+ scores), why would we think ability plays no role in the more typical score ranges?

    The reality is some (relatively few) kids in high school can prep for 10 hours and never score below 1550, while others could prep for 1,000 hours and never break 1200 (also, relatively few I would guess if they actually put in 1,000 hours). I am inclined to believe that a student's highest potential score is largely a function of ability, while the actual score received is more a function of factors like the willingness to work hard, which itself may also be somewhat innate.

    I guess the takeaway for this thread is that parents should not expect miracles from test prep, and should not unduly stress out kids to "hit" a certain number. Most academic studies have shown very limited value for test prep - on the order of 20-30 points total on average for SAT - although admittedly most of these studies are getting pretty old by now.
    edited February 15
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  • MWolfMWolf 2087 replies14 threads Senior Member
    Any test of mastery can be used to infer ability by comparing the relative mastery of the material by the person who is being tested with the mastery that would be expected, based on their age, the amount of time they prepared for the test, the amount of time that they were allotted to finish the test, etc.

    However, that does not make a test of mastery into a test of innate ability. If you do not know how old the person being tested is, how much they prepared, and how long they had to finish the test, you cannot know anything except that they were able to answer these questions correctly, and therefore have mastered this material.

    The only thing that you know about the abilities of the person taking the test is that they have been able to master the material, or at least been able to master the ability to provide the correct responses to these particular type of questions on the material.

    We do not know whether they have not mastered the material because they have never learned it, because they process too slowly to be able to respond correctly in the time allotted, because they lack the processing ability to ever master the material, or even because they are early stage ESL learners.

    That means that the tests, on their own, tell us nothing about the innate abilities of the test taker.
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  • roethlisburgerroethlisburger 2994 replies161 threads Senior Member

    Another thing to consider is that "an average increase of 50 points" says little, since an increase from 1050 to 1100 is not the same as from 1400 to 1450, and the difficulty in raising an SAT from 1400 to 1450 is much higher than from 1050 to 1100.

    I somewhat disagree with this. The SAT tests are by design on a normal distribution. Getting an average ability kid to score at the +1 standard deviation level is as impressive as raising a +1 standard deviation kid to +2 standard deviations.
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  • RoseBud44RoseBud44 15 replies2 threads Junior Member
    I spent about 15 on used prep books. I feel like d20 could have gotten a 1600 but after taking the test once, she did not want to take it again. With just khan, books and about 4 hours total of review she got close to 1500. She was just overwhelmed and exhausted by the process and got the attitude that if a college didn't want her "as is" then it wasn't the right place for her.
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  • MWolfMWolf 2087 replies14 threads Senior Member

    Another thing to consider is that "an average increase of 50 points" says little, since an increase from 1050 to 1100 is not the same as from 1400 to 1450, and the difficulty in raising an SAT from 1400 to 1450 is much higher than from 1050 to 1100.

    I somewhat disagree with this. The SAT tests are by design on a normal distribution. Getting an average ability kid to score at the +1 standard deviation level is as impressive as raising a +1 standard deviation kid to +2 standard deviations.

    But the questions are not all of the same difficulty, so usually for every additional question one answers, they have to work harder. So the difficulty of the least difficult question remaining tends to increase, the fewer questions one has left to answer.

    Of course, this assumes that a person answers the questions in the reverse order of their difficulty, rather than get stuck on the first real difficult question they encounter (since the questions are not in any particular order on the test).

    Another point is that, as one gets gets closer to the end of the right tail, there is an increased likelihood that the limiting factor is the time that it takes the person to solve the most difficult questions, while closer to the middle, the issue is mastery of the material. It is easier to gain mastery over new material than it is to speed up ones mental processes.
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  • SarripSarrip 481 replies23 threads Member
    @RoseBud44 - I agree so much with your D. I read these CC boards and threads and often wonder if anyone goes through this process just being themselves and staying true to themselves. It's down right scary to me at times that the creation of the 'Stepford Student" who has the perfect Stats, EC's, GPA, Essays etc is becoming the goal for many. The problem with this is no matter how hard they try and accomplish, many are still "rejected" and it breaks my heart to see how disappointed they are when everything that they have accomplished was not enough.
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  • roethlisburgerroethlisburger 2994 replies161 threads Senior Member
    edited February 15
    MWolf wrote:
    It is easier to gain mastery over new material than it is to speed up ones mental processes.

    Most test prep, at least on math, isn’t designed to teach mastery over new material. If a kid hasn’t been exposed to trigonometry in school, it’s nearly impossible to cram a year long trig course into most test prep classes. Test prep, to the extent it’s useful, mostly teaches how to solve problems you can already do faster.

    edited February 15
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  • RoseBud44RoseBud44 15 replies2 threads Junior Member
    @Sarrip As a parent, getting calls from the high school about test prep opportunities, hearing about her fiends who spent their summer doing test prep programs, those who hired people to help them through the college applications, it was really difficult for me to not make her go to a program and let her do it all on her own. I found this whole process very stressful. I am thinking though she was right in the end, it was just 3 years of worry.
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  • OneMoreToGo2021OneMoreToGo2021 73 replies0 threads Junior Member
    edited February 16
    Our 2021 goes to a very high SES private high school. We have seen it all with test prep - summer programs, before and after school classes, private tutors, obsessed parents, etc.

    In the end, so far the kids are scoring exactly as my own kid would have predicted back in early freshman year. The high ability kids were instantly identifiable, as were the lower ones. Their scores two years later reflect that. I honestly don't think test prep has moved the needle very far, at least as far as the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT/ACT results so far. It is a fairly small school, my own kid helps many others with informal tutoring in math and grammar (writing), and we are connected with many parents, so I feel my opinion is fairly well informed.
    edited February 16
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  • NJWrestlingmomNJWrestlingmom 1471 replies2 threads Senior Member
    Agree with @roethlisburger on the math. This is what D21 is working on with a tutor for the March test. Her comment after 2 sessions was, “It’s really not doing math. It’s just learning to take the test”. She did do some Khan before her first SAT, but working one on one with the tutor seems to be much for effective for her and how to approach the test. Guess we’ll know soon!
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  • austinmshauriaustinmshauri 9369 replies352 threads Senior Member
    Test prep budget? I didn't know there was such a thing. I wonder how many families can afford something like that. It surprises me that middle- and upper middle income families on CC still complain about the few considerations given to low income families (holistic admissions, need based aid, etc.) when such simple but important advantages are built into their everyday budgets.

    I have seen test prep books in the public library. Ours had one set that was several years out-of-date. Even if they were up-to-date I don't know how much help they'd be to students whose parents don't have the academic background, time, or energy to help. Work, family responsibilities, and/or health issues can be a lot to overcome on a limited budget.
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  • socaldad2002socaldad2002 1793 replies33 threads Senior Member
    In my opinion, if the goal is to get into a top college and/or “chase merit” it would be wise to have a good budget for test prep. One on one tutoring can help some testers, my D20 was one of them. She went from a no-prep ACT 27 practice test to a 34 working with a tutor over 9 months. She took it 3x and got better each time (31, 32, & 34). The tutor absolutely taught her “strategies” to perform better and was a source of encouragement throughout the process.

    Pretty much all of her HS peers who are going to their first choice college used test prep tutors. IMO, some things are worth the money....
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  • roethlisburgerroethlisburger 2994 replies161 threads Senior Member
    edited February 16
    She went from a no-prep ACT 27 practice test to a 34 working with a tutor over 9 months

    To measure the benefits of expensive test prep, you would need a control group of students that self-studied for the ACT the same amount of hours over 9 months. How much did 9 months of private tutoring cost?
    edited February 16
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