You’ve probably seen the thick textbooks lying around at school, in lockers, on desks, sometimes used as a pillow for a well deserved nap. On the spine of the book, you might see The Princeton Review or The Official SAT Study Guide, all promising extreme increases in your SAT score— all you need to do is purchase the book for $21.41 to be granted the privilege of feasting your eyes upon the secrets that lie between the pages.
But if you’re as much of a broke teenager as many of us are, you might want to make sure that you’re spending your money for a great product that will actually make good on its promises. If so, you’ve come to the right place 😉
While SAT prep books are a much more traditional option, there are also plenty of programs offered online, both paid and unpaid.
You have to ask yourself- if I do all of my SAT prep on my computer, will I get distracted? If you have even the slightest hint of doubt that you’ll be able to stay focused with cute cat videos just a click away, then I would recommend that you try sticking to good ol’ textbooks. You want to maximize the amount of focused study time you are able to put in, and only you can decide whether working on your computer will be a detriment or not.
Online resources vary greatly in quality and price. Personally, I only used two different programs- Khanacademy, a free online resource, and Prepscholar, a more costly and comprehensive program.
Collegeboard’s partnership with Khanacademy spawned an online program (that I’m sure that you’ve heard of with the countless promotional emails being shoved down the throat of your inbox). One cool thing about this is that you can import your past SAT scores into Khanacademy so that the system will know what kinds of questions you need to practice and which skills you have already mastered. Of course, if you have never taken an officially scored test before beginning practice, you will be given the option to take a full length diagnostic test instead.
All of the questions used on Khanacademy are official SAT questions, and as such pretty accurately reflect the type of questions you will see on the actual exam. I personally did not spend much time on Khanacademy during my SAT prep period, instead mostly using it as reference material when trying to learn about new theorems or formulas.
Despite this, I still see Khanacademy as a valuable resource for students who don’t want to spend their hard earned cash on SAT prep and have the self discipline to sit through hours of practice questions. However, one major issue with the way that Khanacademy SAT prep is structured is that its relationship with collegeboard means that the program will never teach you test taking strategies.
Collegeboard has maintained that the SAT isn’t a test that you can “prepare” for, meaning that all you need is the knowledge of algebra and english analysis that you learn in high school to be able to tackle the questions on the test. For this reason, you will not be able to learn strategies such as skimming reading passages, using the process of elimination to solve difficult problems or other methods of getting to the correct answer without knowing exactly the theorems or analytical techniques to get you there. If you’re considering using Khanacademy as your primary prep program, I would recommend doing some online research on what SAT strategies work for others so that you might be able to employ them yourself.
The other online program that I spent over 120 hours studying on is prepscholar, which was definitely on the costly side, costing $400 for one year of access to the online program. Overall, it was a very intensive experience through which I learned a lot about the different skills tested on the SAT, but was also extremely frustrating due to the lack of support from actual tutors. It splits evidence based reading, writing, and math into multiple different sub-skills for you to master by scoring 90% or higher on the quizzes at the end of each lesson— but if you happen to fail, you will just have to go through the exact same process of reading the same article then taking the quiz with slightly different questions, praying that somehow you will be able to pass this time around.
The prepscholar program costs $400 for a year of access and while that is a lot of money, the cost isn’t much compared to those of in-person SAT prep classes or hiring a tutor. The prepscholar program is almost like a virtual tutor in how it requires you to set a schedule for yourself every week to follow, and then requires you to “reflect on whether you met last week’s schedule” before you’re let back into the program. However, it doesn’t seem to matter at all what you put into this field— no one reads it other than yourself (but your planned study schedule is also sent to your parents if they’re linked in the account).
At the end of each week, you (and your parent(s)) will be sent an email detailing your progress, including the number of skills that you ‘leveled up’ in and the number of hours you spent on the program. It was nice to be able to track the progress that I made (but I do think that the “personal note” section that’s included shouldn’t be called as such— I’m pretty sure that it’s just programmed to change the message depending on the number of hours you put in).
This program structures almost everything on your behalf, so it’s great for students who don’t have much free time to put into planning out their own schedule. Prepscholar breaks the Math, Writing, and Reading sections down into a number of skills that you have to master. Each week, you will be assigned with 7 skills to work on, including a lesson in the form of an article, and a quiz with anywhere from 5 to 20 questions. The quizzes are timed, aimed to help you learn to solve questions more quickly to save you time on the SAT.
You’re given 1.5 minutes for each math and writing question, a time crunch which sometimes had me sweating bullets and unable to solve the question before time was up. Most math quizzes are composed of 20 questions, and you have to get 18/20 questions correct to level up.
If you end up getting 17 questions correct on the quiz, you’ll have to do the entire lesson and quiz all over again, which can be extremely frustrating– particularly if you get the first two questions wrong and realize that the next 30 minutes you’ll be spending on the quiz will be worth nothing to your progress in the program. All you can is try not to cry and study hard so that you’ll be able to ace the quiz the next time it turns up on your dashboard.
If you keep failing to level up on a certain skill, such as the “Big Picture” reading lesson, then the program will mark the skill as “paused”, which means that you won’t be given an opportunity to work on that skill for the time being and should focus on another skill instead. “Paused” is equivalent to Prepscholar speak for you’ve proven that you just can’t figure out how to solve for the equation of a parabola… hopefully you’ll be able to magically figure it out in a couple of weeks. And then the program pretends to act surprised when you’re given the exact same lesson in a week’s time and fail to pass the quiz (again). At this point, it’s best to turn to Khanacademy or a trusty web browser to help you figure out what a whisker graph really is (it doesn’t involve cats, sorry 🙁 ).
The three levels in Prepscholar are core, advanced, and mastery— upon reaching mastery, you don’t ever have to practice the skill again, and the system assumes that you’ll be able to get most, if not all, of the questions of that type correct in the future. The problem with this is that you might slowly forget the skill that you achieved mastery in all those months ago, which is why I recommend writing lesson notes down in a SAT notebook to track your progress. The program tries to combat this skill loss by encouraging you to take SAT Practice Tests every once in a while to check that you’re still able to solve these types of problems, but just like on Khanacademy, the practice tests on Prepscholar are identical to those available on the official SAT website (for free!). What these sites both do for you is give you your score seconds after finishing your test, and also manage your time for each section, including breaks.
One great thing about prepscholar is the essay review service, in which you can write SAT essays from the prompts provided in the 8 available official SAT practice tests and get them graded by one of the staff members. The feedback is usually emailed to you in a few weeks, and gives you a score as well as pointers as to how you can improve for test day.
Khanacademy’s prep program has this service as well, though your essay score is generated in a matter of seconds which I presume to be based off of an algorithm that searches for keywords and phrases. Prepscholar’s essay review is much more helpful for improvement as you are given specific areas in which you can improve your writing.
(As of 2021, the essay section has been removed from the SAT, so you won’t have to worry about this part anymore! Good riddance :’) )
Despite this, for the most part, Prepscholar does not provide much support to students and you are mostly left to your own devices. With the number of lessons and quizzes available, there is hours of content on Prepscholar— I personally spent over 120 hours on the program to reach mastery in all of the lessons available. The resources are all laid out for you, and while it’s up to you to physically click into the site every day and work through the practices, Prepscholar will never fail to send you weekly emails reminding you of their disappointment if you don’t study for a week.
One other point to consider is that your $400 fee is good for one year of practice, which means that you’ll be locked out of your account after a year from payment unless you choose to register for another year. I signed up for an account a year before my SAT, and found that it was more than sufficient to complete the program in its entirety.
If you’re still unsure whether Prepscholar is a program that will work for you, then sign up for a 5 day free trial and judge its effectiveness for yourself. (Just remember to cancel the trial in time if it doesn’t end up working out.)
- Encourages you to study through email reminders
- Official SAT questions due to partnership with collegeboard
- No test taking strategies
- Essays graded by algorithm
- Lots of content
- Encourages you to study
- Structure for you to follow with weekly lessons to complete
- Essays graded by employees and able to receive feedback
- Pricey— $400
- Can be difficult to level-up and progress in the course
- Hard to follow if you do not have prior understanding of math concepts tested
Whichever program you choose, it’s worth the time to try both of these out with a free trial to judge whether they work for you— and remember that what is useful to others might not be the best choice for you and your study habits. Happy studying and feel free to leave a comment down below!
Until next time!