Are test prep classes as good as private lessons?

Posted by Neal Schwartz on April 25, 2019


This question comes up every year, along with the dandelions and daffodils.

The end of every school year tends to bring a barrage of academic review and prep classes held at local organizations such as religious institutions and colleges.  There is often a buzz about whether the class will close out, since everyone your child knows seems to already be registered.   So, it begs the question:  Is a Regents/Finals class the best thing? 

On the surface, the cost per hour seems to be a no-brainer. But there is a bigger picture to view.  In fact, some teachers will hold review classes after school, which may be even more cost effective. But let’s look at the pros and cons of the class approach.  You can extrapolate this approach to SAT and ACT test prep as well:

Pros for test prep classes

  • Lots of hours; so, price per hour seems attractive
  • Lots of content
  • Unmotivated students will go on their own if other classmates are going

Cons for test prep classes

  1. Not geared for your son or daughter’s specific questions or needs
  2. Class schedule may not fit their schedule
  3. If classes are missed there are typically no make-up opportunities, and some content will be lost
  4. Depending on what content your child needs to master, the time allocated for certain subjects could be either excessive or inadequate
  5. Some children may not feel comfortable asking questions in a classroom setting
  6. Most students are not able to focus on one subject for hours at a time, especially for all day cram sessions
  7. Due to the volume of students, practice tests and oversight for individual students are limited
  8. Students, historically, don’t feel compelled to do their “homework” in a class held outside their school
  9. Wide range in success rates


When students have multiple exams to focus on, the class approach may not be the best thing for them.  Certainly, for the student who is already starting with a 95 average, a class may work to maintain or improve their score. The top students are the ones who may drive the class conversations. But for the struggling or mid-range student, they are not likely to get the specific attention needed to improve their score.

How can I be so bold with my statements?   When I first started with my test prep business 15 years ago, I set up classes for test prep.  I quickly found that I wasn’t doing the best thing for our students from a results perspective, since each student had a different set of topics they needed to master.  But more significant was the scheduling, which was so difficult to manage when students missed a class.  Once I moved from classes to individual/private sessions, student scores improved substantially.  Additionally, we have helped countless students AFTER they got lost with the larger classes that they had taken elsewhere.

Class Premise:

100% of the content is covered:  Since you don’t really know what each student knows and doesn’t, a classroom teacher’s approach has to be to teach everything quickly and make a value judgment about what “most” students need to know. 

Private Session Premise:

Cover just what that student needs to know. Have the student take a baseline test to get a specific idea of what they know and don’t know.  Let’s assume that they know 80% of the material.  Now you can focus only on the 20% they don’t know. 

The private approach is much more efficient.  At the end of the school year, and particularly during  junior year of high school, time is precious.  Getting students the review that fits their abilities and desires, while at the same time giving them more time to do other things, can be a life-saver.

The test prep scenarios that I describe above become that much more significant for SAT/ACT prep.  Whereas, a couple of points may not matter for one subject area in school, the impact of an SAT or ACT score can be a huge difference on the range of colleges to which they can apply.   


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Topics: college prep, SAT/ACT, NY State Regents, SAT prep, ACT prep, High School Finals, test prep classes, one-on-one tutoring, private tutoring

The College Prep Bucket List

Posted by Neal Schwartz on December 11, 2018

What has changed about competitive college admissions over the last decade?


With college acceptance rates at an all-time low, qualified students need to find a way to show why they are unique and deserving of admission. 
What I have noticed is that parents often separate college prep into two separate buckets:

Add this to your college prep bucket list

Once it’s time to write the application essays it’s too late to start thinking about extracurriculars and out-of-school experiences. Students should start early in high school devising a college activities plan, incorporating things about which they are genuinely passionate. This will make the writing of the main and supplemental essays natural, logical and real. Students will be rewarded for taking action beyond just the usual community service.  The key is to try things that not everyone else is doing.

What does a College Activities plan look like?

It could be something like:
⦁ Talk to Uncle John about his profession and shadow him
⦁ Explore leadership roles in clubs where you are merely a member
⦁ Take a summer course in an area consistent with interests or long-range goals. NYC offers an abundance of such classes
⦁ Get involved in a political campaign
⦁ Come up with a product idea and pitch it
⦁ Get paid for coaching sports to local kids 
⦁ Work in a local retail store
⦁ Work at a sports arena


Students are already expected to do volunteer work, and many colleges have made volunteerism part of their supplemental essays.  Merely being a volunteer because you have to doesn't make it special. If you do volunteer, take it to the next level: help raise awareness; contribute a new, workable idea; create a new revenue stream.

The challenge happens when you, as a parent, suggest one of these ideas. Students often resist, claiming you don’t know what you’re talking about.  They sense you are just lecturing them, and you feel you aren't being listened to. First, help them to understand why the activities bucket is important, and then, together, discuss their interests, and brainstorm various ways to meet their goals.

What should students do now to best position them for college acceptance?
The answer to this question depends on many individual factors:
⦁ Student objectives;
⦁ Do they want a top school or something less competitive?
⦁ Burden of extra-curricular activities
⦁ Are they “overloaded” or “underloaded”?
⦁ Maturity about their future
⦁ Are they really passionate about the activity or doing it because you want them to?

The key is to come up with a college activity plan that fits the student. The high school and college years are about learning and trying new things. It is not uncommon for the best and brightest students to be resistant to something new and different, even if it was something that they chose. It’s natural to feel uncomfortable when trying something new. Taking the road less traveled is great from an experiential perspective but can also be marked by missteps and lessons learned. As a parent, continue to prod your adventurous student forward, but at the same time be sensitive to their hesitation. If their likes and desires are met at the same time as they are aiming for their goal, they are more likely to stick it out and succeed.

To Do: Suggestions for the Winter:

HS Juniors –
SAT-ACT Prep, Actual SAT-ACT Testing and College Activities Plan

HS Sophs –
College Activities Plan, schedule SAT-ACT Prep for the summer



Whether it is your first time or the 3rd time through the college process, avoiding some key mistakes can help increase the chances that you stay sane and that your son/daughter get their best college fit. 

If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: College Applications, High school Activities, Community Service, college admissions, admission advice, college prep, college advice, college process, college activities plan, SAT/ACT