Next SAT Test Date: Oct 10, 2009

SAT preparation can now be tackled through online SAT test prep courses. You’ll find SAT practice tests, downloadable study guides, and incredible convenience. But are you self-directed enough to make the most of an online SAT preparation course?

Here we review a few of your options for online test prep. There’s a quite a lot of variety in terms of both pricing and services provided. But the one thing all online courses have in common is that they require a certain amount of self-direction. Unlike a tutor, who shows up at your door (or wherever you meet), or a local class where your parents will make sure you show up on time, online test prep means that you need to keep track of your own schedule and progress.

And – do we really have to say this? – you need the discipline to close your IM windows, your Facebook page, your Twitter page, and avoid all other computer-related multi-tasking distractions if you hope to learn something and really get a stellar score – one good enough to get into an Ivy League school. If you were in a traditional classroom, you could never get away with chatting with your friend the whole time while the teacher is speaking. But with an online class, you can absolutely “get away with” chatting online with your friend throughout each course. And if you do that, you just chucked your money (or your parents’ money) down the tube, as well as your opportunity to better your SAT score. So don’t do it. Really. Don’t. And if you can’t control yourself, then trust us – online test prep is not for you…

Ok, here are a few of the most popular current options for SAT Online Test Prep:

Note: prices are current as of the time of writing; check with the programs below to confirm pricing.

Kaplan Test Prep

Kaplan actually offers four different online SAT Test Prep programs. Two of them are nearly identical (Online Classroom and Online Small Group) and are actually conducted like traditional classes. In other words, you will have a set schedule of classes, a teacher, and the only difference between this and a regular classroom is that you can wear your pajamas and eat Twizzlers the whole time you’re taking part in the class. Their third program, called simply Kaplan Online SAT Test Prep is a self-directed program that you go through at your own pace, whenever you want, 24/7 – no teacher, no schedule. And their fourth is similar to that one, except it focuses only on the Essay portion of the SAT.

We’ll state up front that compared to Boston Test Prep (below), Kaplan’s courses are much more expensive. That said, Kaplan has a lot going for them – incredible track record, countless years of success in improving SAT scores, and, most significantly, the single most comprehensive and airtight guarantee you’ll find anywhere in the world of SAT test prep. This applies to all of their online courses, as well as their classroom courses.

The Kaplan SAT Test Prep Guarantee: If you’re not ready to take the test, you can study with Kaplan again for free.
If you’re not satisfied with your score gain – no matter how many points you improve – you can study with them again for free. And, if you don’t score higher, you can study with them again for free or get your money back. That’s a win win win anyway you slice it. So, yes, Kaplan costs more, but you can go into it knowing with 100% certainty that you are absolutely going to get your money’s worth – or – you get all of your money back.

Ok, now let’s take a closer look at each of Kaplan’s four options:

1. Kaplan SAT Live Online – Classroom Course

Price: Normally $1,049. Right now, they’re offering a special discounted price of $849!

This is the same as their normal classroom course; the only difference is that you get to telecommute. You do the whole thing right from home – or wherever you’ve decided to park your laptop. The program includes eight class sessions, each one being two and a half hours long. You’ll take four full-length SAT practice tests – and they’re fully proctored – just like the real SAT – you can’t beat that for an accurate simulation!

You also get all the study materials you’ll ever need, a lesson book, flashcards, online workshops and quizzes that you can visit and take whenever you feel like it.

The class is conducted using an online whiteboard. Just like sitting in a classroom, as you’ll see your teacher writing and drawing problem-solving techniques and tips.

Are you shy? Too shy to raise you hand in a traditional classroom and ask for personalized help? Worried that everyone else will laugh at your question? Well there’s another great benefit of taking the class online. You can IM your teacher! Right in the middle of class! That’s right – you can shoot a quick chat message privately to your teacher, and he or she will answer your question without any of the other students knowing about it. For some students, this itself is worth the price of admission.

Besides the whiteboard, you’ll be watching live streaming video (and audio) to take part in the classes.

2. Kaplan SAT Live Online – Small Group Tutoring

Price: Normally $1,649. Right now they’re offering a special discounted price of $1,449!

This program is exactly the same as the Classroom Course above in every respect. So why does it cost more? Because this one is limited to only 3-5 students max. In fact, if you have a couple of friends who live on the other side of town (or the other side of the country – or the planet), you can make your own class – and choose who your classmates are! That’s a pretty great idea, if you’ve really been wanting to study with a couple of buddies.

So there’s no need to go into any more detail here – just read what we’ve written about the Classroom Course. The extra cost means smaller class size, which translates to much, much, much more personalized instruction. The end result is almost exactly like having a private tutor right in your own living room (or, again, wherever you’ve decided to set up your laptop and a good WiFi signal).

3. Kaplan Online SAT Test Prep

Price: $399

This program, which costs much less, is also completely different. You have access to fantastic, high-quality materials and tools, but you don’t have a teacher. No schedule, no set times to log on – just go at your own pace. (This program is the equivalent of the Boston Test Prep program you’ll read about below.) You can take part in this program for as long as you’d like.

You start off with a Diagnostic Exam, and once you know your weak areas, you have access to dozens of interactive lessons to improve your skills in those areas. You’ll also have a chance to take four full-length SAT practice tests.

Although you won’t have a live teacher leading the classes, you do get an extra perk that you won’t find with Boston Prep: you can send in questions and get personalized help via e-mail. If you make good use of this feature, it’s a nice bridge between this and the more expensive and more personalized Kaplan Test Prep programs.

4. Kaplan SAT Essay Online

Price: $149

Like the other SAT Online Prep class from Kaplan, this one, too, is done on your own time, whenever you like, wherever you like, at your own pace. The difference is simply that you will only be working on the essay portion of the SAT. (Which, hopefully, you already figured out since the course is called SAT Essay Online.)

You’ll learn special skills tailored not to essay-writing in general, but to the SAT essay – focusing on the time constraints. You can take part in animated lessons, and learn special strategies. Your essays will be graded on the spot, which is a huge plus. And you’ll get insider tips on how your essay gets graded, what the graders look for, etc.

If the essay portion of the SAT has been giving you night sweats, this online course is absolutely worth the relatively small price tag.

Boston Test Prep

Boston Test Prep is the only company, as far as we’re aware, that only offers an online course – they don’t even have a classroom or textbook version. So this has been their area of specialization from the inception. As an added plus, their pricing is significantly lower than Kaplan’s. On the downside, although they do offer a generous guarantee (see below), it’s not nearly as comprehensive and enticing as Kaplan Test Prep’s.

They offer only one SAT Online program, so you don’t have to weigh your options – as you don’t have any! Your only choice is how long you’ll continue with their program. Their pricing is done on a per month basis, as follows:

Boston Test Prep Online SAT Program – 1 month: $59
Boston Test Prep Online SAT Program – 3 months: $129

However, they’re now offering a special promotion at even lower prices. Use this link and you’ll get your first month free! And then pay only $39 per month!

Now that’s a pretty sweet deal. But at a price that low, compared to Kaplan, can the program really be any good? Let’s take a look at what you’ll get:

When you begin, you’ll first take a diagnostic test. A practice SAT test. This will instantly be scored and analyzed and used to customize the rest of your preparation. If you’re already scoring off the charts on the Math portion, why waste your time doing math drills? Doesn’t make any sense! So instead, you’ll be honing only the skills you actually need to work on. That’s a tremendous time-saver, and let’s face it, studying for the SAT is no fun. So efficiency is a very, very good thing.

Next comes what they call “Build Your Brain.” This is where you’ll practice the needed skills by jumping back and forth – at your own discretion – between online narrated lessons in the areas where you need help, and online practice quizzes to drill you on these topics.

Once you feel you’ve accomplished something and improved your skills, you basically go back to the beginning and repeat the process. In other words, you take another practice test to see how you’ve bettered yourself (and your score). And then, armed with this new information, you come up with a new plan, and laser in on the areas where you still need help.

Throughout this process, one thing we really like is that they have a very easy to use three-tab navigation screen: Critical Reading, Writing, and Math – the three sections of the SAT. So you can easily hop to the area where YOU feel like working. As you’re working, your results and data in each section will be saved and your records will be maintained for the duration of your program.

Lastly, Boston Prep has one other feature that we think is awesome. Having to take an entire SAT practice test – including the areas where you already know you can nail the test – is a major drag, and a total waste of hours of your time. Instead of taking an entire generic SAT test, you can custom build your own practice test: YOU get to choose the number of questions and the areas where you wish to practice. You can even build your own practice test solely out of all the question (or question types) you’ve missed in the past. This is probably the single most powerful and helpful feature of the program.

The Boston SAT Test Prep Guarantee: If your SAT score doesn’t increase by at least 200 points, they will refund your money. As we mentioned earlier, this is a great guarantee, but can’t even begin to hold a candle to Kaplan’s guarantee, which is the most comprehensive and airtight in the industry. You’ll never find a guarantee like the one Kaplan extends to you. But still, this is decent, if you care about such things.

All in all, Boston Test Prep is a pretty sweet deal. Just remember, you won’t be receiving that special attention from a dedicated (online) teacher, as you would with the Kaplan Live Online SAT test prep program. It’s 100% up to you to stick to the program and work your tail off. And again, that’s the same approach you’ll need to take if you opt for the Kaplan SAT Online program (as opposed to the Live Online program).