SAT/ACT Prep: Is it a Blessing or a Curse?

Struggling in a class? Bombed the SAT? Don’t worry! Miramonte students have the answer – take out your wallet and raise your scores!

This mindset has been around for years, and doesn’t seem to be residing. Instead of turning to a $20 textbook from the SAT test-makers, Orindans have chosen the wallet-emptying alternative: extra classes, college advisors, tutors, and essay prep courses.

When Googling “SAT Prep,” 841,000 results appear on the screen – each promising an increase in your score and value for your money. These programs can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Some of the free alternatives, such as College Board’s SAT Prep program, are entirely overlooked in place of courses that take up time, burn through your wallet, and may or may not hold true to the promises they make in advertisements of “a 200 point increase.”

At Miramonte, tutoring has become the go-to when students don’t have the willpower and/or time to study for themselves. In a financially able district like Acalanes Union, students and parents tend to ignore the options with no cost in lieu of expensive, yearlong programs that supposedly prepare students more thoroughly for the SAT.

This option may seem obvious; when resources are available, why shouldn’t we take advantage of them to get the best score possible? While this is true, the pressure we are putting on ourselves to get higher and higher SAT scores may not have the desired effect. The majority of students in the Lamorinda community are enrolled in the same programs and are supposedly receiving the same score improvements, thus further increasing the competition for college acceptance.

SAT tutors, college counselors and preparation classes are an important part of the lives of Orinda teens. We don’t expect fellow students to quit these courses because Orindans are giving themselves an unfair advantage over less fortunate communities. Tutoring and paid academic help have become an unstoppable force that is now unavoidable. Because so many students are enrolled in these courses, colleges may pass up an applicant who avoids them. A student taking one of these courses may still be passed up by a student who pays an extra thousand dollars for a more prestigious class.

Tutoring and the mindset of “necessary perfection” foster an obsession over obtaining the best results possible, acceptance to the most impressive colleges, and a relentless longing to pass up fellow classmates.

Our advice: Take the PSAT for the first time sophomore year with little to no preparation. Based upon those results, and information made available on CollegeBoard’s website, you can hone in on the sections that need improvement. If you are not happy with your results, SAT Practice Tests, as well as vocabulary enhancement books and math practice questions are available through the SAT test-maker. In the case that you are not able to correct your mistakes due to lack of comprehension, a tutor may be the necessary route, but this should be the last resort.