Be cautious about the integrity of score increase claims and guarantees made by the major test prep corporations. A 2009 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that while many test-prep providers advertise average score increases of 100 points or more on the SAT, average gains were closer to 30 points.1 Recently, the Princeton Review stopped claiming an average gain of 255 points for students who took its SAT Ultimate Classroom course after the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau, which examines accuracy in advertising, discovered that the the data was based on two different tests – a diagnostic test issued by the company and the students’ self-reported SAT scores.2 In fact, there is scant reliable data in the test prep industry, in part because there’s no official government agency supervision.

And please be wary of the “guarantees” they offer. Kaplan, Princeton Review, Boston Test Prep and PrepMe all guarantee a refund if students don’t increase their scores. But the fine print reveals it may not be so simple. “If you don’t get the score gain they just let you take the coaching again, and there’s a lot of red tape involved,” says Derek Briggs, a professor at University of Colorado in Boulder and the author of the NACAC report on exam preparation programs. For instance, Princeton Review’s 150 Point Money Back Guarantee for the SAT Ultimate Classroom Course says students must retake a course and then retake the official SAT. If their score still doesn’t improve, they may be eligible for a full cash refund. But that guarantee offer only applies to students who score between 801 and 2100 on their preliminary practice test (out of 2400). The company’s other guarantees allow students to retake a course if they aren’t satisfied but charge a $200 administrative fee.3 Such claims also express an insecurity of quality – good programs should let their work speak for itself and rely primarily on word of mouth, as Elite Ivy Tutors does. We don’t make empty promises, but we do promise energetic, experienced tutors who will maximize your score gains.

Finally, many online test prep tools offer a fantastic alternative for motivated students. The interactive software is often more affordable than tutoring, and can enhance the learning experience through games and targeted studying. But students should be careful. Consumer Reports found errors on practice tests for 6 out of 10 online test-prep services, including grammatical problems, questions without answers and missing sections of text.4

Brian Geiger is the CEO of Elite Ivy Tutors, which offers in-home and online lessons around the world. He can be contacted at Brian@EliteIvyTutors.com.


  1. “10 Things Test-Prep Services Won’t Tell You” – http://www.smartmoney.com/borrow/student-loans/10-things-testprep-services-wont-tell-you-1301943701454/
  2. http://www.smartmoney.com/borrow/student-loans/10-things-testprep-services-wont-tell-you-1301943701454/
  3. “10 Things Test-Prep Services Won’t Tell You” – http://www.smartmoney.com/borrow/student-loans/10-things-testprep-services-wont-tell-you-1301943701454/
  4. http://www.smartmoney.com/borrow/student-loans/10-things-testprep-services-wont-tell-you-1301943701454/

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