Summer is just around the corner, finally! But with all the free time you're going to have, surely you can squeeze in a few hours of SAT or ACT test prep here and there. Especially if you've signed up for the July ACT or August SAT, you may want to push your study sessions to the next level by attending a summertime test prep boot camp. Oh yes, this does exist.
Before you agree to intensive mental exertion during your summer vacation – and before your parents write that check – you should do some digging to find out how each particular test prep boot camp really works, what its success rate is and if it's the right fit for you.
Here we answer some of your most commonly-asked questions about these summertime test prep programs:
Q: How can I be sure that the program is legit?
To ensure that a summer test prep program actually exists before you hand them any money, do your research and ask a lot of questions.
How long has this camp been in business? Does it have an established history, a current and detailed website full of testimonials? To get real insight, you or your parents can try asking for the contact information of parents of previous students. Does it have a consistent social media presence? Is the camp situated on a school or other official campus? Have you gotten detailed information and photos about your accommodations? If it's a residential program, does the registration process ask you about your allergies, diet restrictions, etc? If the registration seems too basic, this might be a warning sign.
If the camp is relatively new, you'll have to work a little harder to find the success rate of this program. Call or email the program with specific questions – if you get zero response, an automated response or a response with bad grammar or strange phrasing, that's a warning sign. Look for the program's name in the Better Business Bureau database. Google the name of the program together with the word “scam” and see if anything comes up. Ask your classmates, friends and teachers if they've heard of the program or know someone who has attended it.
If everything seems fine so far, and you are ready to make the payment online, make sure that the payment page is secured by looking for “https” in front of the website's URL. This means your connection is secure, and it's okay to enter your financial details – as long as you are entirely sure that the website belongs to an authentic test prep program. If you see only “http,” the website does not have a secure (“s”) connection and you should not be sending over any of your personal details.
Q: How long should the program last?
Both daytime programs and residential programs may last anywhere from five days to four full weeks. There are even some intensive weekend programs. Programs vary widely in intensity and length, so in the end, it's up to you and your parents to choose what best suits your schedule and budget. Will you go on a family vacation or have a summer job that limits your free time? How much are you willing to spend on test prep? A residential boot camp, where you actually spend all day and night on campus, will of course cost you more than a daytime-only program.
Q: Will my scores actually go up? How much?
Some test prep boot camps will guarantee, or almost guarantee, that your scores will go up by a certain number of points. Others play it safe and will simply state that their past students have seen their SAT scores go up anywhere from 50 to 250 points and seen their ACT score increase anywhere from three to seven points. You may come across some programs that even offer a money-back guarantee – but be sure to read the fine print if you come across such an offer.
How much your score goes up will also depend on you – are you ready to really focus and do the work? Or will your mind be wandering and thinking about the pool parties you're missing?
If you think you won't be able to concentrate for very long, a one-week intensive daytime program might be the best solution for your test prep needs. For a higher chance that your scores will actually increase during a test prep program, check to see if the program includes:
-- Small classroom size, between 10 and 15. Anything larger and you will get less individual attention.
-- Several hours of individual tutoring per week. This should be offered as a regular part of the program or at least for an additional fee. If the camp doesn't offer this, then look for a different program or hire a private test prep tutor. You will pay a lot less for a private tutor and get personalized attention.
-- A diagnostic test in the beginning of the program. The program must offer an assessment test before the work begins in order to help the teachers identify which areas you need to focus on throughout the duration of the camp.
-- Lots of mock tests – with feedback. The more practice you get with realistic questions in a realistic setting, the more prepared you will be when the official test date arrives. Any program that does not offer several mock exams isn't really worth the money.
-- The program takes place one to three weeks before the official test date. This way the material and test-taking strategies stay fresh in your mind.
Q: What can I expect during a typical session at a summer test prep camp?
Whether you go back home at the end of the day or spend the night in the dorms of a college campus, the daily sessions at a test prep boot camp are often structured similarly. The number of hours you spend in the classroom each day will vary, however. A daytime program may last between four and seven hours. A residential program will usually last all day, around seven hours.
A typical session will include lessons and exercises on specific subject areas and skills. The teacher may divide the students into small groups, based on similar areas of weakness, according to the assessment test given in the beginning of the program. You may receive one-on-one tutoring every day or a couple times a week. Expect several mock tests throughout the duration of the program.
There will be a break for lunch after a few hours, and then possibly a break for snacks later in the afternoon. Some daytime program costs include lunch and snacks, while others do not. Residential program fees may include all meals and snacks, but check the program website to make sure which meals are included and which ones aren't. If you enroll in a residential program, there will also be planned activities and outings in the evenings and on weekends so you can have a well-deserved break and bond with your peers.
Read carefully through the program's website or brochure for details about your daily schedule and accommodation situation. Whatever questions come up as you're reading, write them down. Call the program's contact person and ask all your questions until you are satisfied and feel comfortable that this is the best choice for you.