SAT Advice

In addition to essays we are often asked about SAT advice.  We are available for SAT tutoring online and in the New York City Area. This is what we tell students:

Over the course of high school, you will spend roughly 8,800 hours[1] on academics, a major product of which is your GPA. In terms of the quantitative components of your college application (your GPA and your SAT), your GPA carries roughly 60%-70% of the weight, and your SAT score is 30%-40%. Yet, you will probably spend fewer than 200 hours preparing for your SAT.

In other words, 1 hour of SAT prep is equal to roughly 20 hours of academic work in terms of college admission. If you care about maximizing your odds of getting into college, an extra hour of SAT prep is the best investment you could make.

But, what does it mean to put in a good hour of SAT prep? No smart phones. No tablets. No laptops. No TV.

A good hour of prep is done in realistic test conditions. That means you seated at a table with paper, pencil, and a calculator in silence without distraction. And, the more hours in a row you can work this way, the better off you are. Working two hours straight is twice as good as doing two prep sessions at different times of one hour each.

Why? Because the SAT is an endurance test. When you factor in delays before starting, time at the beginning to fill out forms, and breaks, the test will take roughly 6 hours to complete. If you have disciplined yourself to focus for long stretches of time, you will have a massive advantage over the other students. You train for a marathon with long runs, and not hundreds of sprints.

So, to repeat, SAT prep – GOOD SAT PREP – is doing as many questions as possible in as close to real test conditions as possible in long blocks of time.You are much better off sitting for two full practice tests a week (roughly 3.5 hours each to complete at home) than doing 1 hour of prep work every day – remember that.

If SAT prep is about endurance training through repetition, then what is the role of a coach? Why use a tutor? This is a question that, to some extent, you need to answer for yourself. Not everyone needs or benefits from an SAT tutor. Roger Federer, probably the greatest tennis player of all time, played through the peak years of his career without a coach, and it did not appear to hurt him with his opponents. So, maybe having an SAT coach is right for you and maybe it isn’t.

What does an SAT coach do?

First and foremost, an SAT coach provides accountability and motivation. Accountability because you have someone there each week who’s going to be call you out if you’re not pushing yourself on your prep. And, motivation because you’re going to have someone rooting for you as you push yourself through this process; you’re much less likely to skip going to the gym if you have a session with a personal trainer.

An SAT coach also helps focus your prep time by diagnosing your weaknesses. The core of any student’s SAT prep should be working through old exams, but a coach can help identify areas of weakness, whether that’s vocab in the Critical Reading or idioms in Writing or geometry in Math and give you additional, targeted assignments to work through your weaknesses, the same way a personal trainer might teach you a new exercise if one of your muscles is particularly weak.

Finally, an SAT coach can give you strategies for your approach to the test. Most SAT coaches focus their marketing on the strategies not because this is the most important part of prepping or because their strategies are that different from anyone else’s, but because branding their strategies is the easiest way to differentiate themselves from their competitors (this is the same reason why most companies put out their own test prep materials even though the College Board’s 10 Real SATs book is by far the best resource out there).

Learning strategies can be very helpful, but students should approach them skeptically because clinging to the strategies a coach offers can get in the way of developing the idiosyncratic approaches that work best for you. This is SAT coaching the old school way – no short cuts and no gimmicks. If you think it’s right for you, let us know and we’ll get to work.

[1] 55 hours per week (8 hours in school and 3 hours of homework) * 40 weeks per year * 4 years