How doth the little crocodile Improve his shining tail, And pour the waters of the Nile On every golden scale! How cheerfully he seems to grin, How neatly spreads his claws, And welcomes little fishes in With gently smiling jaws! – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

There are tips for selecting an individual tutor here. However, so many people still had questions about selecting a large company, that it seems to merit its own entry.


Places that do not use real SAT tests to measure your child’s initial scores and improvement. Anyone who doesn’t take a baseline isn’t really willing to measure your child’s improvement. Anyone who uses their own tests to measure improvement can easily mislead you. Think about it – I could write a subtly harder test for your kid’s first one, and then write an easier one to ‘measure their progress’ – wow, they went up! 🙄 Also, make sure your kid times themself on each section – shortchanging a kid on time (or giving them extra for a progress test) is another sleazy way to inflate improvements.

Places that make jaw-dropping claims like ‘We can get any kid to a 2400’ or ‘Our average student score is 2300’ or ‘Our average score gain is over 300 points!’. Noone is THAT good with every single student and even if they were, not every student can get that much out of tutoring. I could easily claim to have an average of 300 points gained. I could LIE. Or I could choose not to include students who didn’t ‘complete their program’ and then just not do the last session with any kid I don’t think will make 300 (that way I don’t have to include them in the average). I could walk them through the exact test I plan to use to ‘measure their progress’, getting them a 300 point gain based on the fact that we JUST went over that whole test together. I could also just turn down any kid I don’t think can get a 300 point gain (and thereby turn down a ton of kids who really need help).

Places that are not willing to refund any of your remaining money if you bought a package and then decide to discontinue tutoring. Again, noone is right for every student. Honest people and companies know that, and will refund some of your money if you decide to opt out. Please note, this is not about getting a refund on tutoring you received; it is about getting ‘unused’ money back on a package deal you chose not to complete. Likewise, rule out any place with a ridiculously long advance notice clause for calling out (over 48 hours).

Places that put a heavy emphasis on ‘tips and tricks’, especially those claiming that every student should always answer every question, that there are predictably easier and harder test dates, or that all colleges superscore . There certainly are tips and tricks to test prep, but a place that is pushing that element is essentially saying to you “I can’t help your kid learn much about how to actually do the problems, but I can say some cool-sounding things that will falsely inflate their confidence!”. And all of the specific ones listed are untrue – any company that is serious about test prep knows that and will not mislead yoru child just to create a false feeling of knowing some inside secret.

I RECOMMEND (meaning there may well be exceptions to some of these):

One on one tutoring over any group or class situation. That said, if you are going for a class, save yourself a ton of money and check out classes at your local library or community colleges. They are almost as good as “big name” classes at a fraction of the cost. If you read that and think ‘it’s worth much more money to me to get even a slightly better result’ then just get the 1 on 1 tutoring, which offers the best possible results. Big name + group setting = not worth it.

Asking for specific details on how the program might be fine-tuned to make it especially useful for your child as an individual.

Consistency in tutors – you want your child to be dealing consistently with a few people, not meeting someone new every session.


Your child is increasingly uninterested in going. I don’t care how much they hate the added burden of test prep, you should be seeing some signs that they are getting used to it and getting something out of it.

Your child has taken a few progress tests and the scores aren’t going up.

Your child says ‘I don’t understand (or can’t do it) the way my teacher explained it and they told me there is no other way.’ There is NOTHING on those tests that can’t be handled in different ways and a quality tutor will be able to deliver.

Your child has a tutor they don’t get along with, and you are being told there is noone else for them to be placed with. A large company should have a decent staff size and be able to provide you with other options. My one caveat to this is ACT Science – this is an area almost all test prep companies are chronically short-staffed on and there may really be only one qualified instructor per location.

You are being told that your child’s lack of progress is because they aren’t doing their homework. Sure, doing the HW will get an even greater improvement BUT the bulk of your kid’s improvement should be coming from their direct instruction. Places that are promoting themselves offering classes to ‘debug’ your kid’s self-completed work are usually very over-priced for what you are getting from them and often quite ready to blame your kid if there isn’t a lot of progress.


Don’t expect anyone to make an outright guarantee. We know you want one. But there are a lot of variables that go into the final results and we aren’t psychic. As for places that do offer guarantees, that almost always boils down to one of three things – your provider will offer more free classes if the goal isn’t met (more of whatever failed probably won’t have much value to you and your kid is probably running out of time), your provider has clauses that will put the blame on the student to avoid making good on the guarantee (don’t put your kid through this) or your online provider is taking advantage of the fact that you will not be able to track them down or force any sort of accountability. A solid smile and a hearty promise may feel better than an explanation about being realistic but believe me, you want the company whose director is willing to be honest and risk losing your business rather than lying to get you in the door.

Don’t immediately panic if an *early* progress test doesn’t show much change. Many kids focus so hard on trying to get one area or strategy right that they slip a little elsewhere. Once those kids get the hang on doing the right things more naturally and combining it with the skills they already have, they often really explode into a great score gain.

Don’t reject information about how your child is not performing the needed work during the session, or is not applying what they’ve learned to their progress tests.

Don’t balk at a reasonable advance notice clause for calling out (48 hours or less). That person or company already lost the ability to put another student in that time slot, and in situations with little or no notice, the tutor may well have made a long commute, only to find out they’ve come in for nothing. It is absolutely reasonable to be charged a call-out fee.

Don’t insist your child only ever have one tutor. Most places have different teachers who excel in different areas, so that rotation may mean they want your kid with the best possible reading tutor, math tutor and writing tutor on different days. Tutors who truly excel at all areas of both tests are few and far between 😎