Investing in tutoring and exam preparatory classes has become an on-going debate in parenting circles. While some are spending money on tutoring and after school programs, a large chunk of parents believe that over-scheduling children, especially right before a big exam, is to be avoided. With the added pressure to do well in the SATs and other standardized tests, there seems to be a new found urgency on parents to help their children prep in advance. But is investing more money and more of your child’s time and focus on extra classes the way to do it?
When to opt for extra classes
Various studies suggest that exam prep courses and exam coaching (for major tests, such as the SAT’s) can increase averages and yield excellent results. For example, a College Board study showed that proper SAT coaching could result in an average verbal increase of 8 points and an average math increase of 18 points. Another study done in 2009 by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), suggested that SAT prep raised critical reading scores by 10 points, with a math score increase of about 20 points. Although this seems to be a small margin, when compared to the cost of SAT prep courses, the NACAC study showed that even a small increase in standardized test scores made a huge difference in college admission decisions.
Opting for additional exam prep classes is probably a good idea should your child bring up an area of concern. By staying in constant communication with child and teacher, parents are able to pick up if their child needs extra help with specific school subjects. Exam prep courses provide excellent strategies for test-taking and you will receive optimal results if your child is not one who is disciplined enough to study for hours by themselves. In fact, most students prefer studying in a group, or with another person.
Paying for exam prep is a practical way in which parents can assist children who are struggling to meet the grade. For those who can’t afford the sometimes high cost of after school tutoring, there are low cost (or no cost) resources available at some community centres who offer a tutoring program. An interesting article on The Wall Street Journal shared that students from wealthier families outscored those from low income homes, by just shy of 400 points. This seems to be the case due to wealthier families being able to afford personal SAT tutors, SAT prep courses and assistance with college applications.
Forbes explains that many wealthy families consider their children’s college education as early as kindergarten. Those with a specific university in sight are opting for private educational institutions, better known as “prep schools”. These are known for their high-caliber facilities and extensive curriculum, providing students with the promise of “one foot in the door” at the very best universities. In an article, Girls’ Schools Association head, Vivienne Durham, shares that your decision to pay the exorbitant tuition at one of these private prep schools should largely be based on the personalities of your children and the financial ability of your family.
Other options available
All students feel the pressure of the bigger exams – such as the AP and IB exams- which affects their college credit. In an article, school counsellor at Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy in Erie, Erica King, explains that instead of buckling under pressure, students should rather try to learn a large portion of material way ahead of these exams. Parents are able to assist with making sure their children prepare for the major examinations early – which would help to cut back on paying for that tutor or special class. According to King, helping with the basics – such as a quiet place to study, necessary and supplementary text books and study aids, and access to a library – will go a long way. Studying sample test questions is also a good way to brush up on that exam prep, without having to fork out a dime. Ben Bernstein, psychologist and author of Test Success! How to Be Calm, Confident and Focused on Any Test, suggests that familiarising them with the type of questions and lay out of the exam paper is a clever way to prepare your child for any major exam. “Familiarity with the test is important because it’s like knowing the game, or knowing the ball field,” he shared in an article. When prepping for the SAT’s, it is particularly important to learn how to read exam questions thoroughly and then, through the process of elimination, to decide on the correct answer.
Keeping a calm disposition and a positive home environment also aids towards helping your child ready themselves for a key assessment. The added pressure of knowing that their parents are stressed can create unnecessary anxiety. Bernstein shares that when children are jittery at home, they are likely to act the same way at school, and possibly in the examination room. He recommends that students write the word “breathe” on their test booklets, as a reminder to keep calm and breathe steadily while going through their exam papers.
While some children are faced with two to three hours of exam prep, after a long day at school, Bernstein offers that parents allow their children to study for short intervals of time. He suggests that students’ attention spans are shorter today, than it was in previous generations, because they have become accustomed to instant gratification. Keeping study periods short – with a quick break in between – will yield better results. With that said, extra exam prep classes might probably not sit well with some students.
Whether you choose to enrol your child in an exam or tutoring course or not, always keep your options open and be willing to readjust your game plan based on his or her needs. And no matter your decision on the topic, always encourage your child to get ready for that major test or exam by paying attention in classes, studying as early as possible and by breaking down the material into bite sized chunks of information. The best preparation is proper planning, hard work and dedication.