The Burning House Dilemma

June 14, 2019

Imagine you’re in a burning house, what would be the few things you grab before you scram for the door?  You wouldn’t be able to bring the antique china set that has been passed down through generations and, honestly, you wouldn’t even have much time to decide at all. Due to the severity of the situation, you might only be able to grab random ornaments throughout the house, and not realize until after the house has completely burned down, that what you truly value has been lost in the fire. This might be an oft-performed exercise that self help workshops use to illuminate that clients are the ones in control of their own lives, but this last minute dash to grab meaningless knick-knacks while their house is burning down isn’t too far off from how families approach their child’s SAT or ACT prep in high school.

The standardized test timeline surprisingly starts when a student takes their first PSAT during their sophomore year of high school. At this point, parents don’t even realize the “fire” has started because the score isn’t taken into account for the national merit scholarship, and college counselors constantly emphasize that it’s just the “PPSAT” or the practice to the practice. Why would anyone put much stock into it?

Then the dreaded junior year comes around, and more than likely the student’s score has barely changed from last year. Indeed, test prep starts to feel like an added stressor among the pressures students face to get the best grades of their careers while cultivating their leadership responsibilities in a wide range of extracurricular activities. At this point, the house seems to feel like a full-on fire, and to parents, a test prep class seems like it could be an emergency escape. After all, a class doesn’t require a lot of time and it must have some value if it’s sponsored by your school!

The class does provide a few key baseline strategies, but parents should realize that that’s all their student is really gaining from a group-oriented test prep class. Prep classes are inherently limited to teach “quick fix tricks” that don’t provide much value to the student’s understanding of fundamental concepts. In other words, prep classes don’t change a student’s abilities; they just help students make better decisions about the content they know.  What’s more, there’s just not enough face-time with instructors to make significant progress. Any prep class where you’re paying a proctor to watch you take a test is a clear red flag that you’re not using your time effectively.

We aren’t here to say that these test prep classes offer no benefit, and they are definitely better than going into a test cold, but it’s important to not fall prey to magical thinking and recognize what you’re getting into before signing up. Here at Streamline, we offer a free 1-day crash course where we provide all of the strategies and insights that you pay for in a prep class setting all in one day. If your child’s test prep starts to feel like that roaring fire, make sure to provide them with the proper preparation, and you can trust that they’ll make the right decision as they race out of the house.

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