TWO BOILING POINTS OF VIEW: Should students pay for SAT tutors?

June 10, 2014

Yes, invest in your future

By Liat Bainvoll, 12th Grade
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Skimming through countless Naviance charts of past university acceptances, waitlists and denials that show a student’s standing relative to that school’s average accepted GPA and SAT score can be both nauseating and thrilling for any high school student.  These charts open up a world of possibility and hope for some, but also dream-crushing for those who discover their top choices are reaches.
GPA and SAT are two major components of university admissions.  Most people seem to accept that students invest time, effort, and money, when necessary, to keep up their grades with hours spent on homework and money spent on tutors– why should the same not be true for the SATs?
There is no one right method to studying for the SATs.  Each and every student thinks differently, hence they need to study differently. Some may need to focus on the English sections and others on the math sections.  The SAT is an opportunity to reveal a student’s strengths; tutors help to combat a student’s weaknesses. Shouldn’t this be encouraged?
I can attest to the benefits of an SAT tutor from personal experience.  With just four months of weekly tutoring split with a friend, my SAT score jumped 300 points.  My tutor taught me methods and strategies for dealing with each section on the test. For vocabulary he suggested that I analyze the root of the word.  For reading comprehension he taught me to summarize everything I read before answering the questions.  When he saw me struggle with a section, he took the time to stop, recognize my problem and help me with it.  This kind of personalized help I would not have received studying any other way.
The SAT is supposed to assess one’s preparedness to enter college.  It would be a nice sentiment to say that people should go into the test “cold” to truly assess their place, but the reality of the situation is that students across the country will do anything to get into their dream school.  In order to maintain a competitive edge, Shalhevet students need to do all they can, which may include investing in an SAT tutor.  Doing what may be considered the “fair” thing will, ironically, put everyone else at an unfair advantage.  There is nothing wrong with Shalhevet students seeking help from tutors if that is the trend throughout the country.
A pertinent issue for some families is the financial burden of SAT tutors.  Tutors range from relatively inexpensive, like $50 an hour, to enough to feed a family for a week.  But the money going toward a tutor is an investment in the student’s future.  Getting a tutor will allow for a better SAT score and subsequently, acceptance to a better college.  As a result, a tutor will pay off in the long run.
For those who can’t afford a private tutor, classes are available at a lower cost, and this too should be encouraged. A last resort would be to self-study. But for families already investing so much in a college-prep high school education, an SAT score to match a strong GPA is necessary in order to validate the hard work a student’s been doing for the past few years with a prestigious college acceptance.
While it may seem like wealthier students are given an advantage in this regard–which is in some ways true–it’s not as though students from less affluent backgrounds aren’t given other kinds of special consideration for being “underprivileged.”  Being a first-generation college student or a person of color also sometimes gives students a leg up in college admission–why should we not take advantage of the privilege we’re presumed to have?
When it comes down to it, Shalhevet students have all kinds of privileges: the privilege of small classes, dedicated teachers, a rich Jewish component and arts and co-curriculars that stretch our minds and keep us excited about learning — not to mention parents who care.  We can’t hide that on our college applications and we wouldn’t want to.  All of it contributes to the position of the dots representing us on the Naviance graphs.
Students should not have to go into the SAT unprepared. Just as our teachers and rabbis try to prepare us for life, a tutor helps a student feel equipped for the SAT.  Just as we are taught how to face anti-Israel opinions on college campus, we should be ready for timed testing and the various kinds of questions we will face on the SAT.  With a tutor, students can learn to overcome challenges and get a score that will at least put them in the running for the long list of competitive colleges they’ll likely be applying to.


No, it creates an unfair playing field

By Henry Wineburgh, 10th grade


“Twenty-four hundred dollars for a 2400 score!” screams an SAT tutor advertisement at internet passers-by. The intensity of competition among prospective college students has heated up every year since the beginning of the internet age, and both students and their parents have become more ruthless at the cutthroat game of college admissions.
Perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of this surge of student competition are SAT tutors, who charge upwards of $100 per hour though students can easily prepare for the SATs on their own. Not only are SAT tutors overpriced and unnecessary, but they also corrupt the system of standardized tests, rendering the entire point of the SATs moot.
In short, Shalhevet students shouldn’t use SAT tutors and don’t need to.
Numbers vary, but students usually spend upwards of 15 hours with the tutor, and a parent can easily wind up dropping around $3000. Rather than spending this kind of money, students should pay attention in their math and English classes, take practice tests to familiarize themselves with the formatting and types of questions.
Supporters of SAT tutors argue that any amount of money is worth it for a higher score. But it is a myth that tutors are the only people who can convey manners in which to efficiently solve basic math and vocabulary questions. Any material that a tutor would teach could easily be learned in the first three years of high school and through self-preparation.
The math questions are all based off of simple algebra and geometry, and if one jots decent notes in those classes before junior year, he or she will own a perfect study guide.
Similarly, if one pays good enough attention in English class, he or she should have the basic skills required for the grammar and essay-writing portions of the SAT. And instead of mindlessly drilling vocabulary words with a tutor, people should study only prefixes, suffixes, and common root words in English to prepare for the vocabulary section.
Juniors who have not paid attention in classes in previous years may be justified in using a tutor as a last resort, but this situation is clearly not ideal. Not only does it waste enormous amounts of money, but also time, which could otherwise be spent learning what your junior year teachers are trying to teach you in their classes.
SAT tutoring is also immoral and defeats the entire purpose of the SAT in the first place. The SAT is meant to be an equalizing factor in college admissions, since differing high school curricula and grading policies make it difficult for college admissions boards to accurately compare students using grades. The grades of a student from Shalhevet, for example, are not comparable to those of a student from a public school taking only five or six different classes.
Thus the SAT is meant to level the playing field and provide a clear comparison by at least one measure. When one group of students – wealthier ones, in this case — uses SAT tutors to raise scores, the entire system becomes skewed. Instead of reflecting intelligence and commitment levels, the score measures dollars and cents.
This unfair advantage for upper-middle-class and wealthy students causes less privileged students to suffer doubly, lacking both tutors and equivalent education compared to what’s found in wealthy communities. According to recent data released by the College Board, the wealthier a student is, the higher his or her SAT score. Coincidence? No. The use of tutors causes poorer families to be disproportionately rejected from the universities they deserve.
Supporters might argue, “It isn’t immoral to buy a safer car, or go to a private school, because of financial privilege, so why is it immoral to hire a tutor and receive a higher SAT score?”
The answer is that buying a safer car doesn’t harm anyone who doesn’t have one. Since there are only limited numbers of places in top universities, students who can’t afford tutors are hurt by those who can.  Taking advantage of (perfectly justified) economic privilege, in this case, un-levels the playing field for all other less privileged students.
If the system of standardized tests is meant to be an equalizer among those who wish to gain entry into a good college, then they must truly be equal. People should stop burning through their hard earned money by employing SAT tutors, and allow themselves to gain entry to colleges through their own merit, rather than through their social and financial advantages. SAT tutors create an unfair and imbalanced system, and students should stop using them.

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