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Originally published April 11, 2011 at 7:21 AM | Page modified April 11, 2011 at 7:21 AM

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SAT prep resources

A record 1.495 million students in the nationwide high-school class of 2007 tackled the SAT — with another 1. 3 million completing its...

Special to The Seattle Times

A record 1.495 million students in the nationwide high-school class of 2007 tackled the SAT — with another 1.3 million completing its rival, ACT — and the number of test-takers this year are expected to be at least as high.

Few take these exams unprepared. The question is: How much time and money to spend — and what results can you expect?

Lots of test-prep resources are free. But growing numbers of students (or more likely, their parents) are shelling out for everything from interactive handheld "tutors" and iPod tutorials to high-end Ivy League tutors and boot-camp SAT prep courses.

Some test-prep companies claim dramatic increases. Ivy Bound Test Prep, for example, says 80 percent of their students make 100-point improvements. Brian O'Reilly, the College Board's executive director of SAT program relations, says classes and tutors create "modest, not what I could call substantial" increases in scores: on average, 10 to 15 points higher on critical reading, and 15 to 20 points on the math.

Some, he points out, will actually lose points. Repeat test-takers, meanwhile, average an increase of 40 points, he says. Familiarity often boosts a student's confidence, and first-test results point out which areas need more study.

"If you think your son or daughter won't prepare unless you sit them down in a classroom and pay someone who walks them through it," says O'Reilly, "then, yes: It's worth it."

Here's a list of local resources, with reviews of some by our student tester, high-school senior Kelsey Monson:

FREE:

ONLINE

"The Official SAT Question of the Day":

Sign up for a free account at www.collegeboard.org and receive an SAT practice question e-mailed daily to your inbox. Your answer is gauged and calculated into all responses, showing what percentage of participants got the correct response.

Student review: "It's a good reminder that you need to study a little bit each day — and it keeps you from procrastinating."

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Pros: "The optional hint feature prompts you to focus on clues, without giving away the answer. You can do one daily, or if you get busy you can save a few up and do several a few days later."

Cons: "One question each day doesn't really prepare you for a four-hour marathon of testing."

Number 2

www.number2.comRegister your online account, then go directly to word- and question-of-the-day features, or jump right into a series of questions, which adapt to a student's skill level as questions are answered. (One thing many kids like: No long, diagnostic pretest required, as with some other sites and software such as Kaplan's and Barron's.) This site gets about 40 million hits each month. But some ads and no clear directions for opting out of e-mail solicitations.

Student review: "Hard to slack with this one, because they e-mail you reminders if you don't visit enough."

Pros: "The adult-tracker system means parents aren't always bugging kids about whether they're checking the site."

Cons: "There are some ads for products, so be on the lookout for possible spam, too."

Kaplan Test Prep

www.kaptest.comSign up for an account and access the SAT QuizBank to customize your own quizzes with more than 1,700 practice questions, or take the free full-length SAT and ACT. Winner of the 2005 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Educational Publishers.

Student review: "This offers the bonus ACT test prep, so it's almost better than the College Board site."

Pros: "The QuizBank is a bonus. I like the way you can choose between "timed mode' with no help until you're done, and 'tutor mode' with help along the way. Details in the scoring report were helpful, too."

Cons: "I'm not sure there's a good way for any service to assess the written essay."

SAT Preparation Booklet 2007-2008

www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/prof/counselors/tests/sat/2007-08_sat_preparation_booklet.pdfLook for this 83-page sample test, free in most high-school counseling departments, or free online. Student review: "Don't even think about sitting down for the real thing until you've done this one. If you like the 'do-it-yourself' thing, this is the closest and easiest free prep to the real deal you're going to find."

Pros: "Real questions with real timelines and — when you use the booklet instead of the online version — a real paper format."

Cons: "If you're not honest with yourself, there's room to cheat. The answers are at the back, and you have to time yourself."

College PowerPrep SAT Tip of the Day

www.powerprep.com/tipofday.phpStudent review: "They explain the logic behind the way you tackle a question. It only takes about two minutes to read."

Pros: "They point out traps, especially in math, that can cause mistakes."

Cons: "You have to remember to get to this site daily if you want to know ALL the best tips, not just a few here and there."

Ivy Bound online tests

www.ivybound.net/freehelp.htmlFive">www.ivybound.net/freehelp.htmlFive vocabulary tests and eight sample math questions.

Student review: "A quick place to start."

Pros: "Who doesn't have a half-hour one time to give this a try?"

Cons: "It's like starving yourself on a diet when you should sampling from a buffet."

Princeton Review

www.princetonreview.comSign up for an account and access a practice exam. There's also access to a free vocabulary-enhancing "word du jour" in English, of course.

UNDER $25:

CALENDAR

"The Official SAT Question of the Day 2008 Calendar," by The College Board, $11.95.

This tearaway page-per-day calendar offers official 365 SAT practice questions in critical reading, writing and math.

Student review: "When it's on a calendar, you can't forget to look — as long as you don't hide it under your bed. Stick it on your bathroom counter while you brush your teeth."

Pros: "It's easy to tear off a page or five and do them on the bus or while you're eating breakfast. The hints at www.collegeboard.com tie in, so even if you're lost, there's a lifeline."

Cons: "One question a day? If only the real SAT was that simple."

iPOD TUTORIAL

Kaplan's SAT Prep for the iPod.

www.kaptest.com/sat (click "SAT Games")

Choose math, reading, writing or all three and download quizzes to your iPod; audio tutorials cover 500 practice questions for each title. The system grades your responses — and lets you listen to music while you prep. $4.99 per title or $14.97 for three-title bundle (price does not include iPod. Runs on fifth-generation Video iPods only.

Student review: "Pretty cool, but some people don't like to mix business with pleasure."

Pros: "No reason to spend money on reading if all you need is math help."

Cons: "It's like it's contaminating my favorite music with work."

BOOKS

"Up Your Score: The Underground Guide to the SAT: The Strategy Guide With Attitude by Six Kids Who Aced the SAT, 2007-08 edition," by Larry Berger, Michael Colton, Jean Huang, Swetha Kambhampati, Manek Mistry and Paul Rossi (Workman Publishing, $11.95).

Hip, smart and funny. The authors play mentor to test-takers with tips that others might overlook: how to best fill in circle answers, how to ignore some directions and shave six minutes off your time.

"How to Prepare for the SAT, 23rd edition," by Sharon Weiner Green and Ira K. Wolf (Barron's, $16.99). Beef up your brains and your biceps with this hefty 850-page guide with one diagnostic and six other full-length tests.

Books by Kaplan, Princeton Review and SparkNotes offer similar practice test guides, as well.

SOFTWARE/ONLINE

Barron's Test Prep: www.barronstestprep.com $18.95 for six-month online subscription. Start with the free demonstration test.

Kaplan SAT/ACT/PSAT Gold Edition 2007. $24.95. Study for all three college-entrance exams with 3,000 test questions and a helpful performance analysis. Start with a short diagnostic test to determine weak areas, then zone in on those areas for extra attention.

ABOUT $150

HANDHELD:

Franklin TSA-2400. Princeton Review Pocket Prep Interactive Handheld Tutor for the SAT and ACT. This hand-held, battery-operated device covers both tests, and features a dictionary, calculator and timer.

Student review: "At first it feels more like a game, but that wears off quickly when you have to use your own brain."

Pros: "Gamers will probably like this style of test prep. Plus, it's small and light enough to fit in a backpack."

Cons: "Most of this stuff can be found in cheaper, but a lot heavier, books."

CLASSES

Typically the most intensive — and most expensive — pretest boosters are SAT and ACT prep courses. Offered by local colleges, nonprofits and commercial companies, they typically feature menus with individual tutoring, group classes and practice-test choices. Most also feature home-study materials, including books, flashcards and software.

Before shelling out the money, ask about:

Class size: Smaller classes typically offer more personalized instruction but cost more;

Course length: Some offer intensive, all-weekend prep for students with busy schedules; others stretch out over as much as once weekly for 10 weeks.

Educator experience: Some courses are taught by junior teachers while others want more money for more experienced senior instructors.

Guarantees: Some services back up their service with assurances that if a student's scores don't go up between the first and subsequent tests, the service offers free tutoring or a free repeat of the course.

COMMUNITY:

South Seattle Community College, http://southseattle.edu/programs/satprep.htm, 206-768-6600.

Faculty teaches verbal and math SAT prep courses, with credit available for Running Start students. $150. Two four-hour Saturdays offered up to 25 students in November.

UW SAT Prep, http://depts.washington.edu/womenctr/classes/current/academic.html, 206-685-1090.

Three-hour classes for three-class session, typically once a quarter, at UW Women's Center. $150. Class times vary.

Education Access Network: Free or sliding-scale discounts available off $150 base fee, as needed; most classes at UW. Class times vary. www.EducationAccessNetwork.org, 206-527-8400

COMMERCIAL:

Kaplan: www.kaptest.com. 17-session weekday evening courses at Bellevue and Mercer Island high schools to prep for a PSAT/SAT combo. $999.

SAT Prep: www.satprep.org, 425-823-1370. Provides prep at 18 high schools in King and five in Snohomish, Skagit or Pierce counties; $272 covers six 2.75-hour classes with textbook, student workbook, plus practice and diagnostic five-hour complete scored SAT. Schedules vary. Discounts available for students with financial need. Available as PTSA and booster fundraiser.

Ivy Bound: www.ivybound.net, 860-224-2144. Team up groups of seven friendsfor at-home classes. Tutors bring a white board and easel, and typically teach on weekends. Private tutoring in focus areas also available ($4,350 for 20 private hours with veteran teacher; add $1,550 for writing prep; $1,350 for 35 hours for in-home class of 8-12 students with veteran teacher — add 10 hours and $300 for writing prep). Also available: live digital classes or tutoring.

PowerScore: www.powerscore.com/sat/locations/seattle.htm, 800-545-1750. Private sessions at about $100 hourly with discounts for multihour packages; telephone tutoring at $70 hour. Weekend courses available, including two six-hour sessions Nov. 17-18 near UW.

Princeton Review: www.princetonreview.com, 800-2-REVIEW (273-8439).

$1,500 for 30 hours of three-student group tutoring; $999 for a series of 12 three-hour larger group classes in Edmonds, Bothell, Seattle, Redmond, Bellevue and Issaquah.

Sandweiss Test Prep: www.sandweisstestprep.com, 206-417-5050.

$499 for three-hour class each Sunday, Nov. 11-mid December, at 2 p.m., with January review sessions and practice tests, for about 12 students. January and February courses also available. Reserve one of 20 spots for a free trial SAT, Nov. 10 and 17, near UW.

BrainChild Education Center: www.bceducationcenter.com, 425-453-9532.

About $900 for 16 four-hour sessions, October-January, with 6-10 students in Bellevue or Seattle's International District. Other option: weeklong summer camps starting at $200 weekly. Also see www.brainchild.org.

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