Standardized Test Prep: When to Start and Whom to Hire? | Thinking About College | John Raftrey And Lori McCormick | Mountain View Online |

Local Blogs

Thinking About College

By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

E-mail John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

View all posts from John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

Standardized Test Prep: When to Start and Whom to Hire?

Uploaded: Oct 30, 2014
(written by Lori McCormick)

As an independent college admissions advisor, I am often asked when is the right time to prepare for standardized testing. My area of expertise lies in the logistics behind the college application: planning a successful and enriching four-year high school career, generating a realistic list of colleges, personal statement/essay development, guiding the student through the intricacies of the application, and all that ensues. When it comes to test prep, I offer the following suggestions.

I will start with the most affordable options. Most high schools will offer test preparation courses on campus. Check with your school to see if such a course is offered. Or, you can self-study online or purchase SAT or ACT Official Study Guides found at most bookstores. The College Board even has an app available on the iPhone and Android that sends students a daily Official SAT Question of the Day.

Otherwise, there are private tutors who work with students in small group settings. And, several to choose from. For this article, I spoke with two reputable test prep companies and found out their thoughts on when students should begin preparing for their standardized tests.
Here is what they had to say:

AJ Tutoring, who has multiple locations throughout the Bay Area, primarily offers one-on-one academic and test prep tutoring. They also offer small group SAT classes.
At AJ Tutoring, we believe that there is no one right testing schedule. There are some schedules that make sense and some that don't.

As a general rule, students should take the PSAT in October of the junior year and complete a full round of testing by the end of their junior year. A full round of testing would include: the SAT, two to three SAT subject tests (if necessary for the schools to which the student is applying), and possibly the ACT exam. Students can retake any test in October, November, or December of the senior year.

We encourage most of our students to take the SAT and ACT, both of which are accepted at all colleges and universities throughout the country. Though similar in many respects, there are key differences between the tests that enable some students to perform better on one or the other. For an AJ student taking the March SAT, the April ACT would be an excellent choice, as there is a five week gap between the tests during which a student can master the differences between the tests without losing any of the information that both tests have in common.

Our customized one on one tutoring allows students to prepare for these tests effectively and efficiently, affording them enough time to focus on academic success and enjoy other aspects of their lives. For more information, please contact us at (650) 331-3251, or visit us at

MR Test Prep , run by Michael Romano uses his "Real Time, Real Test" method to successfully prepare students for their SAT and ACT exams.

As Michael says,
Testing schedules should be tailored to the student. The more precocious the student, the sooner he or she should begin sitting for the test. However, this is not a one size fits all scenario. It is possible to take the SAT too soon, and a disappointing score can be emotionally devastating, leaving the student further from achieving the desired results.

In the NFL, not all first year quarterbacks are ready to succeed. Often coaches keep their young stars out of the action because failure on the biggest of stages can seriously undermine confidence, and confidence is key. Hall of Fame Quarterback and Bay Area legend Joe Montana was initially kept out of the lineup for just this reason, and things worked out great. On the other hand, Michelle We, a young golfer who tried playing on the men's tour at age 15, has not fared well and many experts believe that the damage to her confidence may be irreversible.

Some kids can hit it out of the park right away. Some can fail and it's no big deal. Others fail and it can wreak havoc. When to take the test is a very important decision, and it needs to be treated as such.

Michael offers students an initial complimentary two-hour trial session ? part diagnostic, part one-on-one tutoring to determine the student's test preparation needs. He can be reached at .

Regardless of which type of test prep option you pursue, do your research and interview tutors to find the best fit for your personality and learning style. And, remember that test scores is only one part of the college application equation. Continue to maintain your academics and gain learning and leadership skills in your extracurricular activities.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by PA mom, a resident of Addison School,
on Oct 31, 2014 at 7:56 am

I was skeptical about one on one tutoring but it was perfect for my daughter whose verbal SAT was low relative to math. It was clear that the tutor taught her test-taking skills in general as her math score also improved dramatically with the tutoring. It was money and time well spent. She had taken a group class for PSAT prep and did not find it particularly helpful.

Posted by Ginny NcShane, Ed.D., a resident of another community,
on Oct 31, 2014 at 7:05 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by KD, a resident of Waverly Park,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm

MVHS and LAHS schools should offer SAT / ACT prep as an elective. Many schools on the east coast (where most of the population resides) already do.

Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 4:20 pm

David Cohen is a registered user.

I don't like the underlying assumption in this post, which is that of course students will need to take these tests, and of course they should seek extra instruction. If that's what you're into, fine, I'm not trying to stop anybody. But for those who don't want to be part of the competition or the inequities that it reinforces, there are options. First of all, students can take the tests without taking classes in how to take the tests. Motivated students can find free resources online, cheap used books, or library books to familiarize themselves with the tests and practice independently. And there are hundreds of fine colleges that are test optional, or do not accept test scores.
Web Link

Posted by GinnyMcShane, a resident of another community,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 10:06 am

Studies have shown there is little correlation between SAT/ACT test results and college success. In fact, many colleges and universities are moving away from this outdated testing practice. The important thing here is to remember the mental health of teenagers and not pile more pressure on them. I agree with the comments above that public and private schools can do their own test preparation classes offered as an elective. This will save parents hundreds of dollars. And, there are so many free avenues to test preparation offered by the internet, book stores and library books. The ETS, founders of the college testing requirements and perpetrators of continuing test requirements, are making millions on this soon to be outdated testing requirement.

Posted by Simon Firth, a resident of College Terrace,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 12:57 pm

I'm with David Cohen in being disappointed in this article, especially given that its author makes money by advising local parents and their children about applying for college. The first question a family should be encouraged to ask about standardized testing is not when to prepare for it, but whether to support the testing-industrial complex at all. Some of the most thoughtful educators and institutions in the US are moving in exactly that direction [see, for example: Web Link In a community that cares about innovation and education, we can surely do better than uncritically buying into a system that is both deeply flawed and isn't even required by some of the most outstanding institutions in the country.

Posted by WP, a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Our oldest daughter is a senior at M-A and she used AJ tutoring to help her study for the SAT, ACT, SAT subject tests and AP Tests. M-A does offer a test prep course but the hours didn't work for our daughter's sports practice schedules. We thought the AJ tutors were helpful and if you have the means, would recommend AJ's without reservation.

I suppose it could be nice to live in a socialist utopia where private tutors weren't needed and it wasn't insanely competitive to get into top schools like Stanford and Cal, but let's be real. Other kids are absolutely going to get tutors. The students at private schools like Menlo, Sacred Heart, Harker, Crystal Springs, etc. are all getting tutors and admissions consultants that will buff their applications to a high gloss. Unilateral disarmament is a lovely concept, but not when your child's academic future hangs in the balance.

We are big fans of public schools in general and M-A in particular, and with the money we saved by not sending our kids to private school, we thought it was prudent to spend a little on private tutors. Our daughter was accepted early to her first choice Ivy League school, and AJ played a small but meaningful role in helping her raise her scores on important tests.

Posted by Ginny McShane, a resident of another community,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 1:38 pm

What exactly does an ivy league school do for a student? My daughter turned down admissions to Smith and Brown, passed her CPA test after a state school education and was a first picked college graduate to work as a CPA, at a big four accountancy firm. She was always smart and wanted to have a well rounded school experience with sports and social clubs, without too much pressure.

Many in my family went to Cal, USC, and Stanford after going to SI, and Sacred Heart prep and they lead ordinary lives similar to their peer group who went to community colleges and then four year state schools.

Posted by Ginny McShane, a resident of another community,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 2:17 pm

BTW, the roughly $250,000. saved on my daughter's college education bought a Coastside home now worth a million dollars.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Please everyone, talk to your teens. Don't pressure them. Don't make it feel that college is the only way.

We have had another teen suicide on the tracks today. We want our teens to feel valued. We want our teens to have fun. We want our teens to feel that life has plenty to offer. We want them to feel valued for who they are. All of us have had disappointments in life. All of us have felt depressed at times. All of us have had arguments with family or friends. Most of us have been able to get through it. Some don't.

Reach out to any teen you know. Maybe it will make a difference that you will never be aware of. But do it anyway.

I was a suicidal teen once. My saving grace was a youth club with some great leaders and the parents of my best friend. I would never have done anything formal to get help, but feeling loved and valued made the difference.

Posted by Brian, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 8:29 pm

I'm sure the posted comments deriding the author, tutors and test prep are well intentioned, but as practical advice I would ignore them unless you are applying to the community college system, which only require a GED or a high school diploma. What these comments ignore is the simple fact that even schools that don't use standardize test scores still require transcripts, essays and other qualifiers. And we're back to the competitive nature of admissions. Getting into your dream school requires help from your peers, teachers, parents and yes, sometimes people with more expertise than you, free or otherwise.

Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 6:03 pm

We are offering test prep to our daughter, all of us knowing that it's a big expense and sacrifice. However, we all also know that the main purpose is to reduce stress for her. Knowing her, she will stress anyway and by being as prepared as she can be, it's actually helpful for reasons other than increasing her score. It will ease her mind.

Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 6:10 pm

By the way, I really do believe it depends on the kid in many ways. For some kids, going the JC route is more stressful because then they have to prepare and apply again, when it's time to transfer. And transferring isn't always smooth. Required classes vary by the 4 year and some JC's may not offer all of them, requiring the kid to attend multiple JC's. If you go in with with a clear plan and study hard and aren't stressed by ambiguity it is a great option. But it isn't for everyone.

Also, it just isn't as easy as it used to be to get into UC or the Cal State system, so if money is an issue and that's what a kid is targeting, being prepared is good. And some kids really benefit from structure and deadlines that a tutoring program (or class) can offer.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 6:40 pm

I don't want to stop anyone from helping their kids.

I just ask all parents to watch this video first. Web Link

Posted by Ginny McShane, Ed.D., a resident of another community,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Thank you, the video was great!

San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties have excellent community colleges. It's interesting to me that all of the posts on "pushing" and preparing kids for colleges are coming from adults and not high school students. Parents do need to "chill out" regarding pushing and stressing out their children. In addition to suicide, there are also major drug problems and cheating among high school students experiencing stress. Kids know that you parents are doing what you think is right; but, listen to your children.

My Mother taught at UCB and didn't pressure us. On my own, I received some grants. I eventually completed my doctorate. There was no pressure on me to do so.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Mountain View Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Boichik Bagels is opening its newest – and largest – location in Santa Clara this week
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,554 views

I Do I Don't: How to build a better marriage Page 15
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,084 views

By Laura Stec | 11 comments | 1,003 views


Support local families in need

Your contribution to the Holiday Fund will go directly to nonprofits supporting local families and children in need. Last year, Voice readers and foundations contributed a total of $84,000.