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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

SAT Strategies

Dec 30, 2018 12:00AM

By Greg Kaplan

To be a competitive college applicant, your child must be at the top of the applicant pool with respect to the entrance exam scores. If your child is not initially scoring in the top 25 percent of the applicant pool for the colleges she is interested in, you must implement a test prep program to improve her scores.

There are a variety of test prep programs that can help your child improve her entrance exam scores. Your child can use an independent study program, a group class, or a private tutor. Private tutors will be the most expensive. The more hands-on and individual attention your child receives, the more expensive the prep program will be.

You may ask, what is the right test prep program for my child? The answer is whatever program helps her score in the top 25 percent of the applicant pool for the college your child wants to attend. Only you and your child, together, can answer what prep program that is. The SAT and ACT can be mastered. Your student can learn techniques for specific types of questions that previously seemed impossible to answer. By the end of my SAT prep program, I knew the answer for some math questions without even needing to read them. I scored a perfect 800 on the SAT I Math component. Find a program within your budget that gives your child that outcome and make sure she sticks with it.

Both college and the college application process are shockingly expensive. Personally, I found it a bitter pill to swallow paying for a private SAT tutor, knowing that I would pay a fortune to attend college the following year. However, I knew that I did not have the SAT scores needed to get into college. SAT tutoring was one of the best investments my family made in me to this day. I went from a 660 on the SAT I math component to an 800 and raised my other SAT I component and SAT II scores as well. Private tutoring paid off immensely in the form of acceptances I probably would not have otherwise received. Prioritize SAT prep above anything else.

When evaluating tutors or other test prep programs, ask to discuss their track records. Ask about their prior students’ starting scores—especially in the range your child is starting at—and how they scored after the prep program. My SAT tutor gladly shared her outcomes, good and bad, and warned me that she would fire me as a client if I did not keep up with the assignments. I needed the discipline only a private tutor could provide.

Begin your search for an SAT prep program early. It may take longer than it should. It is sad, but from my own experience, do not expect friends to share with you their child’s coveted SAT tutor. After all, your child is competing with their child. Several of my classmates (including friends I grew up with and played on a traveling basketball team with) had used a particular SAT tutor. I heard secondhand how they had scored remarkably well on the SAT and asked them if they used an SAT tutor, but both they, and several other classmates who I had known for years, remained tightlipped. Eventually, a friend of mine who had aced the SAT, and felt more confident in her own admissions prospects, divulged the name of the tutor! 

Reprinted with permission from Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges (2016) by Greg Kaplan.

Greg Kaplan is a college application strategist and the founder of College Path, the first web app that provides affordable weekly college counseling. College Path is dedicated to helping students develop and market their passions to earn admissions to their dream colleges. For more information, visit or