Selecting a test prep company can be a difficult decision to make. Test prep programs will cost you in terms of both time and money, so you want to make sure that your investment will pay off. In our experience, choosing a test prep company is less about whether the methods work and more about whether the methods work for you.
Also, legitimacy is a big concern for many people. While there are a few fly-by-night companies out there, this isn't usually the case. Most companies are established organizations that have an equally established curriculum to help you prepare. Therefore, follow these steps to find the perfect test prep company for you.
1. Know where you stand.
This means taking a full, timed practice test. The entire process of taking and grading the test will probably consume an entire day. Although this can seem like a frustrating step, it's essential. You're going shopping, so you need to know what you need to buy. By having an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses in the test, you'll approach the process as an informed consumer. Moreover, you'll be better prepared to tell companies what you need so that they can best help you in the least amount of time for the lowest cost.
2. Know your learning style.
Different people learn best in different ways. Are you more of a visual learner? More interactive? Do you prefer a group environment? Or do you want one-on-one tutoring? Be honest with yourself about the kind of environment you need to get the most from your test prep course.
3. Understand all of the costs.
For better or for worse, test prep companies tend to have packages with numerous add-ons and inclusions. This can make it extremely difficult to make comparisons as no two companies offer exactly the same thing. It's also another reason why it's important to take a practice test in advance of your search. A particular company's inclusions may not be much of a benefit, while another company's add-on might be exactly what you need.
4. Explore both online and local options.
Although online programs might seem like the obvious choice, don't overlook local options. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Online courses tend to be more flexible regarding scheduling, so this might be your best option if you only have time to study during odd hours. However, you might want to choose a local test prep program if you learn better with in-person interaction and will work harder knowing that you need to physically show up for your test prep course.
5. Be a savvy review reviewer.
Instead of only looking at the best and the worst, start in the middle and then work your way up and down. For negative reviews, was the program simply not what the person was expecting? For positive reviews, are the reviews too similar, too lacking in detail, or too enthusiastic? Look past the rating and take the time to understand the person's reason for the review before allowing the rating to influence your decision.
About the Author
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL; editing essays and personal statements; and consulting directly with applicants.