The following feature article was written cooperatively by the following students:
Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and ACT Test preparation academies lure students and parents alike with their promise of boosting SAT and ACT scores. Attendance at such academies is high, and a majority of respondents in a survey conducted by J Student Reporters (JSR) said that boot camp programs are helpful. However, a significant portion of attendees have found themselves disgruntled at the imbalance between the amount of invested money and their actual improvement.
Parents Want to Pay for SAT Success
Many parents, like Imsil Jung, spend thousands of dollars sending their children to test preparation academies. Costs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the length of the camp and the hourly price rate.
“The extent to which I would be willing to pay for SAT lessons for my daughter was as if it was required to receive a perfect score to get into the college of my daughter’s choice,” said Jung in an interview with JSR.
Many academies also require long hours of students, often starting as early as 8 a.m. and mandating students to stay until 3 p.m. or later. However, the time and monetary sacrifice still does not guarantee a significant score increase.
“I guess [the bootcamp] did help a little, but it was definitely not worth all the time and money put into sending my child to the SAT academy,” stated Jung.
However, these academies do offer parents a way to show their commitment to their children. It may be that parents feel the necessity to sign their kids into these boot camps as a demonstration that they are contributing to their success.
Parents are frequently introduced to the academies through their friends or the flyers frequently distributed to marketplaces and other popular locations.
“I was introduced to SAT academies when my friends were talking about the SATs and how important they are for college. This obviously brought my attention, because I really wanted my daughter to get into one of the most elite colleges in America,” said Jung.
Students Have Varying Perspectives
For many students who require the extra motivational push to sit themselves down at desks and study for hours, these boot camps may prove to be efficient because they enforce discipline.
“Summer camps really forced me to do studying that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise on my own,” said SAT camp veteran Ted Kwon. “It does give you that extra pressure to try harder and study more.”
Others argue that extravagant payments to SAT academies may potentially be to no effect. The most valid factor of students’ score improvement does not relate to monetary or time sacrifice, they contend, but is dependent on the student’s motivation and mentality.
“You can look around a classroom of a prep academy,” said Eric Cho, a Beckman High School student. “Ninety percent of the students will just go through the basic prepared routine and ask no questions and just go home thinking they’re done with all the necessary studying. Ten percent will efficiently utilize the extra material and the knowledge of the teachers. These students will go home and do more extra review and in the end, these students are the ones who are satisfied with their boot camp experience.”
To better determine the overall satisfaction of students who have experienced such boot camps, JSR did an unscientific survey of 61 students, ranging from students who attend public high schools like top-ranking University High and Northwood High to those who go to private schools such as Oxford Academy and Crean Lutheran.
Students recorded their approximate score increase from 100 to 800 points for the SAT. Such a diverse range demonstrates that the same score improvement for every academy attendee is not guaranteed and differentiates for each student. Fifty-nine percent of the surveyed students thought the boot camp was worth it, while 41% of the students disagreed. The majority of the surveyees ranked the helpfulness of attending the boot camp as a 7 out of 10.
“I think SAT bootcamps are effective to a certain limit,” said Kevin Xie, a junior at Canyon High School. “I took the summer bootcamp course, and honestly, more than half of what they taught me was information I could have attained through self-studying.”
Amy Liu, another boot camp attendee, agreed. “Cost-wise,” she wrote, “[these academies] are too expensive. It looks like half of the money is used to make backpacks and flashcards for the students. I don’t think students would need these supplies if they were really dedicated to studying.”
Yet others told of their high score success stories and the help of these academies.
“Elite helped me attain the perfect score I desired,” said Northwood junior Michael Prattipratti, who started with a high score at the beginning of the camp. “I loved Elite because it forced me to be organized and I learned in a fun and friendly environment. The experience means a lot to me because of the score I was able to achieve.”
Teachers Encourage Students to Do What Is Right For Them
According to Cerritos Elite academy director Paul Kim, the average score improvement on the SAT is 350 during summer camps and 250 during winter camps.
“The efficiency of preparatory boot camps truly is up to the students,” said Kim. “Some students prefer to study at home and they find that environment suitable. Others need the quiet and distraction-less environment of an academy, which is what we provide.”
He agreed that such camps are not beneficial to every student and encouraged students to use the studying method which they find to be most helpful.
Northwood High English teacher Erik Emery believes that there is another way in which parents can help contribute to their children’s success that involves more personal effort and no potential financial loss.
“Actually sitting down with your child daily to go over the problems they missed and don’t understand is another great strategy of which many parents are unaware,” said Emery in an interview with JSR. “It can have the same potential beneficial effect of these academies costing thousands of dollars, for a grand total cost of zero!”
This way, parents can become more involved in their children’s studies and have a more complete understanding of their progress. It also eliminates the arguments, frustration, and confusion that can arise when students fail to improve their scores to their parents’ expectations.
Test Scores Aren’t Everything
In addition, Emery also contends that such emphasis on SAT and ACT scores may be superfluous.
“The average SAT score acceptance rate one year for Harvard was 2250,” he said, and “the average SAT score rejection rate that same year was also 2250.”
This shows that even the most prestigious colleges like Harvard do not place all of their emphasis on test scores.
“Colleges aren’t just looking for students with the strong SAT/ACT score. Colleges get many applicants who score high on these tests and also have good GPAs,” Emery added. “What they look for is what really sets these students apart individually.”
As these boot camps can collectively take away students’ whole summer, winter, and other break experiences, they may result in students being less involved in extracurricular activities that may be more valued by colleges than a high test score.
Allen Grove, who writes about applying to college for About.com, agrees.
“[Colleges] are looking for students who bring to campus more than good grades and test scores,” he advises on the site.
Whether or not students and parents decide to use SAT Boot Camps, their overall goal should be creating well-rounded applicants. Students should sign up for community projects and expand their individual talents. These aspects are more likely to capture colleges’ attention than a mere score.