The university application process is a daunting one. There are a lot of tasks that need to be completed before you can cross the finish line, but nothing seems to stress families out more than this one task: getting a solid score on the ATAR or STAT.
Truly. It’s terrifying, partly because there are so many options for testing and test preparation (so many companies, so many options).
Here are 3 steps to take as a university-bound family as you decide when and how you will tackle test prep.
Step 1: Commit…As A Family
For test prep to work, everyone must be on-board. Everyone.
Student must commit to giving up their time and focusing on improvement. Parents must commit financially and as an accountability partner as well. (Test prep is an excellent time to begin to nurture academically accountable adults before they head off to university, but our teens typically still need a little hand holding.)
As a test prep tutor with 7 years of experience, I can assure you that points are always left on the table when students are not fully committed to the test prep process. Don’t bother preparing if your student isn’t ready to focus on it. It will be a waste of time, energy, and money.
Step 2: Decide How You Will Prepare
Once the whole family is ready to embark on the test prep journey, it’s time to decide how to prepare. Before you dive into which company to use, determine which kind of test prep will work best for your student.
As I see it, there are 2 main choices to be made – online or in-person? test prep course or private tutoring?
This decision is entirely up to you as a family. Every student is different and therefore will have different needs. Every family is different and will be able to budget different amounts for test prep.
Keep in mind that the most expensive test prep isn’t always the best option for your student. Really busy students often appreciate the flexibility of online test prep courses. That being said, while online courses can be a great money saver, it is worth it to make the investment in the right kind test prep for your student.
Step 3: Find the Right Test Prep Provider
Once you’ve decided how your family will be preparing for the ATAR or STAT, plan to interview 3 or 4 potential companies. Do a specific Google search (i.e. in-home STAT tutoring or online personalized ATAR test prep course). Ask friends and family for referrals, keeping in mind that online prep courses and tutors are not location specific. You can ask friends far and wide!
Interviewing multiple companies is a really important, often overlooked step.
Test prep is an investment, not only of your money but also of your student’s precious time. Additionally, every test prep company has a different philosophy regarding the exams. Don’t risk confusing your student by thinking it’s easy to change test prep paths midway through a course. It’s not. In fact, it can cause test prep to drag on even longer than necessary, so you’ll want to spend your time and money on one preparation method whenever possible.
When you’re interviewing various test prep companies, here are 6 questions you should ask to make sure you’re separating the courses based on their actual merit – not just slick marketing departments. This will help your student get the most out of the experience and will save you time and money by only working with one company – the right one for you.
1. How much of the material that you use is published by the test maker?
Good test prep hinges on students feeling comfortable on test day. This means students should be working with real material whenever possible. Be wary of companies who publish their own material and don’t use any of the books put out by non-approved institutions.
The percentage of real material used should be high – above the 80% mark for the ATAR and above the 50% mark for the STAT. [Because there is less real STAT material available for purchase, the number will likely be lower.]
2. How long has the instructor been teaching?
Test prep does not require a teaching degree. In fact, students are often better off working with an instructor who has never been a teacher because we are a-OK with giving students the shortcuts and back solving options that most in-school teachers perceive as “cheats.” [My personal philosophy is that if a strategy is not actual cheating and students get higher scores from it, I’m teaching it to my students!]
Experience is a pretty rare thing in the test prep world since most people work in test prep part time during university on their way to a different career. If you’re working with an instructor who has taught test prep for more than 2 years, you’re working with someone who probably knows the exams really well.
This shouldn’t be the only factor you consider, but you should at least make sure you’re not in the newbie instructor’s class if you can avoid it.
3. How long is the course? How often is each meeting and how long does each meeting last?
Test prep only works if students and parents are equally committed. Determine if the time requirement is a good fit for your student’s schedule.
Half prepping is often worse than not prepping at all. If you are going to choose a course, make sure you’re ready to take on the time requirement.
4. How many hours of homework can we expect?
Just as with question 3, question 4 has less to do with the quality of the test prep and more to do with making sure it fits your family’s schedule.
5. How many full-length practice exams are included in your course?
I have a unique perspective on this point. I take a less-is-more approach. For instance, during our 8-week online test prep course, students take 2 full-length exams.
My reasoning is that I want my students to really be able to think about the test, review their result in detail, and learn from the experience. There is not enough time to do this if there are tests every week.
The most I would advise is a full-length test every other week.
I would caution you against any course that requires 1 test per week (or more). These boot camp style courses are popular, but I have worked with many students who have gotten so burned out during them that their scores actually dropped.
6. What is the instructor’s students’ average improvement on the ATAR or STAT?
It may surprise you that what you’re after here is not a specific number. It’s that the person on the other end of the phone line knows a number at all.
If you do a Google search for test prep, you’ll see that there are many, many test prep choices out there. What separates the men from the boys is care. If a company is checking back in to see how students are doing on the exams, it is an indication that the company cares about their clients and will do their very best to serve your needs if you become a client.
Now, the numbers do matter, so be sure to write them down when you get them and compare the results when you’re putting the companies you’ve interviewed head to head.
I wouldn’t let this be the deciding factor though. The most important element of test prep is chemistry. That’s why it is so important to conduct a few interviews of different companies because – no matter what questions you ask – you’ll get a sense of the company and how they’ll treat you and your student once you become their client.