Over the course of the more than 10 years that I have been tutoring students for the SAT and ACT, I have generally had excellent results. Some students improve by 350 points on the SAT whereas others improve by close to 600 points. Every situation is different and the final outcome and extent of the improvement is determined by a whole host of factors, including the actual starting point, the particular weaknesses of the student, how much time and effort he or she puts in, and even the number of times that the student takes the SAT or ACT. As the below examples illustrate, the recipe for each student is different. In some cases the issue was mostly time management, so that is where we focused. In others, the student had good innate reasoning ability but either didn’t realize that was what the SAT or ACT called for or just didn’t know how to apply those skills on the test. The interesting and enjoyable part of what I do is figuring out what the specific obstacles are for each particular student and then implementing a tailored game plan that will help the student overcome those weaknesses and reach his or her greatest potential.
Starting SAT Score: 650M 670CR 630W
Final SAT Score: 800M, 760CR, 760W
In Jon’s case we started in August before his Junior year. Based on his practice test scores we decided that he had a shot at a National Merit Scholarship, so we did some prep specifically for the PSAT (I only do this with students who are within reach of a National Merit Scholarship). In the end it paid off because Jon scored high enough to become a National Merit Finalist and receive a scholarship.
Since Jon was starting at a pretty high level already, it quickly became apparent that he didn’t really have many content weaknesses – it was mostly about the way that he was approaching the questions. So we spent most of our time working on strategy and logical reasoning. The biggest obstacle was that Jon was a little arrogant and tended to think that his answers were right even when they were objectively wrong, so it took a while to get him to understand that there really was only one right answer on every question and that it was not open to interpretation. Once he understood this critical point, the remaining thing was to work on careless errors because Jon tended to work extremely fast, especially on the Math section, and would often make careless mistakes.
Jon’s path to such exceptional scores was not easy, however, in part because he didn’t hit those marks on his first try. In fact, even on his second try, although he scored extremely well by any objective measure, his scores were still below the kinds of scores he was getting on practice tests. So it was a very difficult decision for Jon as to whether he should settle for scores that, while excellent, were still below his potential or whether he should give it one more try. He actually sat out the next SAT but decided to give it one more go on the following one and achieved the remarkable scores that he ultimately ended up with, including the perfect score on Math.
Starting ACT Score: 24E, 26M, 25R, 24S (25 Cum)
Final ACT Score: 34E, 33M, 29R, 30S (32 Cum)
Prior to working with me, Aleeza had taken the SAT and ACT and had not done as well as she would have liked. She felt more comfortable with the ACT and because she also had to take SAT II Subject Tests on the SAT dates coming up, the ACT was the natural choice. I was initially amazed that, despite her low English score on her first ACT, she actually had a great sense for English grammar – this boded very well for her potential on the English section. The problem was that she wasn’t approaching the questions in the right way. Once we fixed that her English score jumped up radically.
The other major issue that she had was with time management. On the Math section that was caused largely by the slightly less than effective ways in which she often approached questions, so once we dealt with that she was able to finish on time without a problem. But like many other students, she had more serious time issues on the Reading and Science sections. We discussed strategies for dealing with the extreme time pressure of those sections, which helped a lot but ultimately she was always pressed for time on those sections.
Partly as a result of this, her first ACT did not go quite as well as it could have. She ran out of time on both Reading and Science and scored considerably lower than she had been scoring on practice tests. But on her very next ACT she was able to manage her time better and achieved a 32 Cumulative. That score was actually still about a point or two below where she had been scoring on practice tests leading into the ACT, but it surpassed her goals and in the end was a fantastic score that she was very happy with.
Starting SAT Score: 540M 530CR 490W
Final SAT Score: 700M, 690CR, 730W
College: University of Pennsylvania
David started at a pretty low level and ultimately achieved a near 600 point increase! When I first met with David it was clear that he was ultimately likely to do far better than he had on his first diagnostic since he appeared to be very intelligent and yet was doing a lot of things wrong on the test. On the Math section he was approaching the questions in a textbook manner as though they were testing his Math knowledge, the way the tests that he had taken in High School tended to do. But once I demonstrated for him that SAT questions were more aimed at testing his creative problem solving ability, and once he learned some of the techniques that he could apply, he quickly jumped way up on the scoring scale.
Similarly, on the Reading section he was doing a lot wrong. He was underlining almost everything in the passage and was reading for details not for purpose and function. Again he quickly improved on Reading Comprehension. On the Writing section his issues were more content related, so we spent a lot of time going through the grammar issues that he tended to struggle with on the test. David was also a pretty hard working student, so I was able to have him do homework assignments that really reinforced the content that he was lacking both on the Writing section and the Math section.
After David achieved the stellar scores that he got on the SAT, he decided to try his hand at the ACT. The transition was fairly easy for him because he didn’t really have time management issues and was naturally good at Science. The biggest transition was learning the additional content that is tested on the Math and English sections of the ACT, but between covering that in our sessions and doing some additional work outside of our meetings, he managed to pick it up pretty quickly. His practice test scores indicated that he was likely to do as well or better on the ACT as he had on the SAT, but unfortunately the scores he got on the actual ACT were a bit below the already fantastic scores that he had achieved on the SAT so in the end he decided to just stick with his stellar SAT scores and not pursue the ACT further.
Starting SAT Score: 490M, 540CR, 500W
Final SAT Score: 700M, 690CR, 730W
When I first met Brian both he and his father were convinced that the ACT was the right test for him, but after talking to Brian and watching him do some SAT and ACT questions I felt very confident that he would do much better on the SAT. He was a little weak on content and had serious time issues, both things that would have hurt him on the ACT. But he was also very clever and had great creative problem solving ability and I knew that with the right guidance he would do extremely well on the SAT since those are the exact qualities that the SAT tends to reward.
His first diagnostic was very low, but he pretty quickly learned how to be more strategic on questions and we slowly but surely worked on the content weaknesses that he had. Unfortunately Brian was not the hardest worker and it was very difficult to get him to do the kind of work outside of our sessions that would have allowed him to achieve a greater level of content mastery. Luckily we had enough meetings together that we were largely able to cover that together and in the end he achieved a phenomenal score increase.
That said, Brian was probably capable of scoring even higher – his biggest issues were the content weaknesses that he was never really willing to address on his own and that ultimately prevented him from going any higher. He never really studied vocabulary in earnest and even after many months of work together there were Math issues that he never completely mastered, so his Reading and Math scores essentially hit a ceiling. But Brian scored well above what he was expecting to score so in the end he was extremely satisfied with how he had done and indeed he had an amazing score that he could be very proud of.
Starting SAT Score: 530M 580CR 610W
Final SAT Score: 650M, 710CR, 750W
Alex ranks as one of my best and most enthusiastic students of all time. The success of online SAT tutoring depends in large part on the level of motivation and focus of the student, and because Alex was so committed and so motivated, the online interaction that we had worked as brilliantly as it possibly could. Living in London, he knew very little about the SAT when we started the process, but he came to enjoy the test and studying for it, something that can certainly not be said for most students. Because he is extremely intelligent, his initial diagnostic was quite good, especially given that he really had no idea what he was throwing himself into. So that left slightly less room for improvement, but his enthusiasm and hard work paid off and he ultimately achieved a great score.
Alex is naturally more verbally inclined, so we spent a lot of time on Math. Like most students, he tended to think of the questions as Math questions not thinking or reasoning questions. This misjudgment was probably exacerbated by the British schools system in which he was educated, so we spent a lot of time getting him to approach the questions differently. He also had some content weaknesses, so that is something that we dealt with both inside and outside of the sessions.
On Alex’s first attempt at the SAT, he unfortunately fell far short of what he was capable of and of what he had scored on most practice tests. Sadly this extremely common, which is why so many students take the SAT and ACT multiple times. Even on his second try Alex did much better but still not quite as well as he could have so he ended up taking it three times and, again like many test takers, third time was a charm. In the end I expected that his Reading score would be higher because he really excelled at reading comprehension and had a very mature intellect, but in the end he was thrilled with the fantastic scores that he achieved and never thought that he would have the kind of increase that he ultimately had.