Local Test Prep & Tutoring Resources

teacher and student

As juniors (finally) receive their PSAT scores, floods of parents calls and emails begin to come my way asking for test prep and tutoring references. Students are anxious about their testing schedule and initial scores, while parents are hoping to find the best tutor for their child’s unique test prep needs.

Over the last year or so, I’ve met with a handful of tutors in the area to learn more about their strategy and niche. Below is an overview of some of my go-to tutoring companies, as well as basic information about the work they do with high school students, particularly juniors.

1) NorthStar Tutoring Services – NorthStar Tutoring has been operating in the Seattle area for a decade, and the owner Khanh Do is really passionate about his work with students on SAT and ACT prep. Most of the tutoring they do is in-home but they also offer Skype and Whiteboard tutoring as well. All tutoring is conducted one-to-one through a customized 32-37 hour course, usually taking place over a three month period. This is a fantastic option for students needing a comprehensive plan and for those seeking admission to colleges with an emphasis on stellar scores. They also do some work with younger students preparing for private school admission tests.

2) Northwest Educational Services – This small company is located in Queen Anne, very close to the Seattle Pacific University campus. Greg Smith is the owner who is extremely friendly, approachable and enthusiastic about helping students. He has a very strong academic background (Middlebury College), and an compelling personal story about struggling with dyslexia. His company serves a wide-range of students but seems to focus more on high school. Because of Greg’s personal background, they are a great resource for test prep and tutoring for students with learning differences. They do a lot of work with diagnostics, self-awareness, advocacy and coping mechanisms.

3) Applerouth Tutoring – Applerouth is a larger national test prep company with a strong presence here in Seattle. The founder is regularly at the forefront of discussions about new tests and strategies before they roll out, and they maintain a great and very helpful blog. Applerouth’s tutors do in-home and online tutoring and they offer a large number of free mock tests in the area throughout the year. They’ve also developed a great ACT prep book for their students.

4) University Tutoring – This local company is based in U Village, close to the University of Washington (not surprising given the name). The majority of the students they serve are in high school, and their team of tutors are mostly all University of Washington students, both undergraduate and graduate. They work with a lot of high school students on subject matter tutoring and subject test prep for APs, SAT IIs, etc. Many high school students prefer to work with younger or more laid back tutors, a strength of University Tutoring in my opinion. This company is also a good fit for families looking for more short-term help as they have many options for hourly tutoring instead of just full multi-month packages.

What are SAT II subject tests?

Next week, many juniors around the country will take SAT II Subject Tests, another standardized testing hurdle at the end of a very busy spring. Though not required by the vast majority of colleges out there, a select number (~50 competitive colleges) do require at least one subject test in addition to the standard SAT or ACT. These are short course-specific tests that in many ways align with the AP test for that subject. Unfortunately they generally don’t translate into college placement or advanced standing, but are simply another means of understanding your academic background and standardizing it across different high schools, education systems, countries, etc. More information on the types of tests offered and upcoming test dates can be found here on the SAT website.

If you are one of those students seeking admission to highly selective universities (Ivy league, top 50 liberal arts colleges, top Engineering programs), etc. you are the chosen ones who will likely need to take at least one subject test before applying. Please click here for an excellent resource on colleges that consider or require subject tests in the admissions process. Obviously the list may change between now and when you click submit, but a general rule of thumb is that smaller and/or more selective colleges will typically consider any additional test scores you submit with your application package. If you’ve already started creating your college list, be sure to double check requirements with each of your colleges over the summer.

The New and Improved (?) SAT

Over the past few weeks, I’ve participated in some webinars and training sessions regarding the changes on the horizon for the SAT. The College Board (which runs the SAT) has been losing ground to the ACT in recent years, so this is basically their attempt to improve their numbers and make more money from college-bound students. The SAT is moving away from being an “aptitude” test and will now try to reflect achievement and skills learned in the high school curriculum.

The new test includes several overarching structural changes. First, the test will no longer penalize students for guessing. In the past, students who were risk-takers benefited from this, while risk-averse students would lose out by leaving answers blank. Secondly, each question will have 4 multiple choice answers instead of 5. In direct competition with ACT, the SAT will now include science questions throughout both the reading and math sections and the results will include a science “sub-score”. The new SAT will be digital, so say goodbye to those ancient Scantron forms (though I understand you may be able to do a paper version in certain locations or school districts). And finally, the test time has increased, allowing students more time per question. However, initial tests have been much more difficult than previous years, so it’s unclear if the additional time really means anything for students who struggle with test anxiety or require additional time.

Here are some of the major changes broken out by section:

Reading Section: Throw away those SAT vocab flashcards – vocabulary will no longer be included on the SAT! Instead, the new version will include longer reading passages similar to AP English and ACT. Grammar will be in context and students will be expected to provide evidence-based support for their answers. They are even adding a reading section focused on political history / American history, which could pose problems for international students.

Math Section: The math section will focus on applied math, interpretation and relationships as opposed to simply solving a problem. There will be a new calculator-free part as well. For students in more advanced math courses, this new test may benefit them. The focus shifts away from Geometry concepts to Algebra II and even some Trigonometry, typically more advanced concepts in most math curriculum.

Essay Section: The SAT is actually doing away with the mandatory essay section. It will be offered as an optional addition, however, and it is still unclear if colleges will require this to complete the testing package. Additionally, 50 minutes will be allotted for the essay and it will focus on analyzing an argument as opposed to making your own. Seems like a good direction to me and good preparation for the critical thinking and analysis required in college-level courses.

The timeline for these changes has been modified several times over the past few months, but as of right now the first new test will be offered in March 2016. Rising seniors (c/o 2016) will be unaffected by these changes. Rising juniors (c/o 2017), however, will have a choice to make. I always recommend for students to take both the SAT and ACT and then to re-take their preferred test once if they are applying to more selective colleges. So, for rising juniors, my recommendation would be to take both the ACT and old SAT in the fall. The old SAT will be offered at least twice in the fall, with the final offering in January 2016.

As more information becomes available, I’ll continue blogging on this topic to help you make the best testing decisions. Thanks for reading, and thanks to Applerouth Tutoring for the great information on the new test structure.

– Heather Parry