SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

How To Save Money on SAT/ACT Tutoring

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | May 12, 2015 4:00:00 PM



body_moneysavings.jpgAs you may have seen in some of my other articles on tutoring, if there's one thing you need to know about tutoring, it's this: tutoring is expensive, particularly high quality tutoring. In fact, I've even written an entire article devoted to the topic of how much you should pay for SAT/ACT tutoring.

So how can you save money on SAT/ACT tutoring? Let me give you a few tips, tailored around the case studies of 3 hypothetical students.

feature image credit: Money – Savings by 401(K) 2012, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original.


Case 1: Anthony - Comprehensive Tutoring

Anthony and his parents have decided he needs a tutor to help him with his ACT test prep and bring his composite score up. He took a timed practice test and scored 23 on Reading, 30 on English, 30 on Math, and 20 on Science, giving him a composite score of 26. His scores seem all over the place, and he isn’t exactly sure where to start with his studying.

Anthony's family can’t afford a lot of tutoring. Originally, they thought they could save money by hiring a cheap tutor – maybe some high school student who aced the ACT and is charging $30/hour. After all, a $30/hr tutor could make Anthony's budget stretch to many more hours of tutoring than a more expensive tutor, and more hours are always better, right?

Probably not. Getting a low quality tutor, even if she's only charging $30/hr, is a waste of time and money for many students. Why?

A high school student who's only charging you $30/hr may be able to help with explaining the answers to practice tests, but it is unlikely that she will have the skills and experience necessary to help with comprehensive test prep. For someone like Anthony, who doesn't know what he needs to study, or how he should plan his studying, or where his weaknesses lie, someone who just helps with practice test answers would not be helpful.


Cost-Saving Recommendation for Comprehensive Tutoring:

Instead, we'd recommend Anthony hire a higher quality tutor, but for fewer hours.

How come? Higher quality tutors are able to help you set the stage for your studying outside of tutoring sessions. This means that you are able to stretch what you can get - if you end up spending 9 hours using what the tutor taught you in one $60/hour test prep session, you're effectively paying $6/hour for tutoring. Not too shabby!

Anthony goes with a $60/hr tutor for two sessions over the course of 4 weeks, and learns how to better plan his studying and what he needs to focus on. His tutor finds that Anthony is overwhelmed by the large amount of information presented in the Reading and Science questions, and so focuses Anthony's study around becoming more comfortable with the Reading and Science sections and drilling these questions. Anthony creates a study plan with his tutor for 6 hours of study a week, scheduling in practice tests and time to review his mistakes.

Even after Anthony's 2 sessions with the tutor are over, he's able to use the study schedule his tutor devised to guide his test prep, right up until testing day. When he takes the ACT for real, he gets a 32 on Reading, 31 on English, 30 on Math, and 30 on Science – huge leaps in achievement for a minor investment in tutoring time.


Case 2: Carmela - Partial Tutoring

Carmela took the SAT in December and got a 740 on CR, 640 on Writing, and 660 on Math. She’s applying to college as a humanities major, so she really needs to get her score up on the Writing section.

What are Carmela's issues with SAT Writing? Well, she keeps messing up the hardest writing questions, and she doesn't really know how to improve her SAT essay. After all, she's good at writing essays in school - shouldn't that just carry over? Why should she bother studying something she's good at in school? Carmela doesn't know how to plan her essay prep and in any case is unmotivated to do so.


Cost-Saving Recommendation for Partial Tutoring:

How does Carmela overcome these obstacles? She gets tutoring only for the hardest problems and for high-level study planning and motivation. Carmela hires a tutor for $50/hr for 4 sessions over 8 weeks. The tutor figures out that Carmela is getting the hardest Writing questions wrong when the answer choices are technically correct but worded in a way they would never appear in real life. She also discovers that Carmela is using mostly abstract reasoning in her practice essays, rather than concrete examples.

Carmela's tutor sets out a study schedule for Carmela: half an hour of practice on the hardest writing questions every other day. On the off days, the tutor tells Carmela to start coming up with some historical, literary, or pop culture events that she can mine for examples on the SAT essay, like World War II or The Hunger Games; if she knows a few historical events or pieces of literature really well, she will be able to take examples from them for nearly any SAT essay topic.

In addition to giving Carmela specific tutoring tips, the tutor helps Carmela figure out that her target Writing score is a 720, and so she needs to improve by 80 points. With concrete information on how much she needs to improve and how to do so, Carmela is motivated to study for the SAT outside of tutoring as well as during tutoring sessions.

After 2 months of tutoring, Carmela takes the SAT again and gets 730 on CR, 730 on Writing, and 690 on Math – a much better score report for a prospective humanities student.

Another alternative: If Carmela had only had issues with hardest Writing problems, she could have tried tutoring combined with another test prep strategy, like tutoring and a self-guided online prep program, or tutoring and focused self-study. In this particular case, since Carmela was struggling with motivation to improve her essay as well as with the hardest Writing problems, it made more sense for her to get tutoring that would help her with both.


Case 3: Marie - A Limited Budget for Tutoring

Marie took the SAT in October of her junior year and got a 660 on CR, 600 on Writing, and 570 on Math. After focused math self-studying, she retook the SAT in March and got a 640 on CR, 620 on Writing, and 740 on Math, which brings her composite superscore up from 1830 to 2020.

Marie has a very limited budget ($120), but really wants to solidify her chances of getting into Smith College. The middle 50% of first years who enter Smith have composite SAT scores ranging from 1870-2190, so to increase her chances of getting in, Marie really needs to get her total SAT score to at or above 2190...which is a 170 point increase.

How does Marie decide if she should get tutoring? Marie considers her overall budget and her current test prep progress. Can she achieve her results within her current system, or does she need a tutor?


Cost-Saving Recommendation for Limited Tutoring Budget:

Marie concludes that because she was able to improve her Math score with self-study, she can probably apply the same methods to studying for the Critical Reading and Writing sections. What were these methods? She took timed practice tests, marking every question she wasn't sure about, and thoroughly reviewed the questions she got wrong and the questions she guessed on but got right.

During her prep for the SAT Math section, Marie discovered that she had a tendency to rush through reading the question because she was so nervous that she would run out of time, which led to her often answering the wrong question. She spent hours drilling herself on actual SAT Math questions in her weakest areas, elementary algebra and plane geometry, slowly but surely increasing the speed at which she could answer the questions, which in turn helped her slow down when reading the questions.

Marie decides that since Smith superscores the SAT (combines the highest scores for each section across all testing dates), and she clearly has an effective test-prep method, she will take the SAT 2 more times (a cost of $105), once after having focused on Writing and once after having focused on Critical Reading. She does and scores 750 on Writing and 790 on Critical Reading, bringing her overall score up to 2280 - well above the composite she needs to get into Smith.


So how does this apply to you? Let’s take a look at the tips I mention above, distilled down into a series of hypotheticals.


How Can I Save Money on SAT/ACT Tutoring?

Do you want the best test prep, bar none? Then get high quality, expensive tutoring.

Want good prep but have a limited budget, like Anthony? Spend your money on a higher quality tutor for a shorter amount of time.

Only need focused prep, like Carmela? Get a high quality tutor who can focus on that section so you don't buy hours for the other sections.

Have a strict budget that limits tutoring? Then use another prep program, and add tutoring sparingly for high level stuff.

Is your current method effective? Keep careful watch on how you do on practice and actual tests, note where you need to improve (by section and within a section), and then take more official tests. If your score plateaus, you should consider other options. If you hit your target scores, like Marie did, then you're all set!

Use these tips to help you save on tutoring when studying for the SAT/ACT.

 body_dollars.jpgDollars by 401(K) 2012, used under CC BY-SA 2.0.


What’s Next

The best way to save money on tutoring is to make sure you’re getting the best tutor for you. How do you do this? Read more about it here.

What should you be looking for in a tutor, anyway? Check out my article on what makes an effective tutor.

Want to find out more about PrepScholar Tutoring Program? PrepScholar co-founder Fred Zhang has the article for you.


Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Free eBook: 5 Tips to 4+ Points on the ACT


Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

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