How to Target Your Local Test Prep Market

How to target the local test prep market

In our previous post...

I took issue with the whole idea that there is ONE singular test prep market. In this post, we'll explore some of the insights I've gathered over the past decade. Without further ado, let's get to know YOUR test prep market!  

As we established in last week's post, test prep companies and independent tutors need to realize that the test prep market is NOT monolithic in any way that matters. Instead, local tutors need to think in terms of appealing to specific segments of their own local test prep tutoring market.  

As a starting point, it can be helpful to establish who your direct competitors are. This exercise results in some pretty good news for boutique tutoring companies when they realize how many test prep providers are not actually direct competitors.

First, let's assume that you provide exclusively in-person test prep tutoring. Operating from that assumption, we can begin by establishing your radius. Think of this as the physical territory where your tutors are willing to provide tutoring.  Obviously, if you offer online test prep, then your radius is far larger than it would be for a company that offers exclusively in-person test prep. 

Generally speaking, test prep providers fall into just a few categories based on these attributes:

Tutoring Location: 

1.  Tutoring Facilities & Test Prep Centers

2.  In-Home Test Prep Providers

3.  Off-site Test Prep Providers (e.g., on campus, churches, youth centers, libraries)

B2B, B2C, or Non-profit

1.  Sells test prep courses to districts, schools, afterschool programs.

2.  Sells test prep directly to students.

3.  Provides courses that are paid for by booster clubs, youth organizations, or grants.

4.  Provides all or some of its test prep pro bono.

Test Prep Company Structure:

1.  Independent Tutor (Solo Operation)

2.  Small Firm (i.e., a Group of Independent Tutors)

3.  Tutoring Company with Independent Contractors

4.  Tutoring Company with Employees

5.  Tutor Broker (i.e., The Knowledge Roundtable, Wyzant,, Thumbtack, etc.)

Test Prep Tutoring Format:

1.  One-on-One test prep

2.  Small Group Test Prep Classes

3.  Large Group Test Prep Classes

4.  Online Tutoring (One-on-One)

5.  Asynchronous (Guided) Online Test Prep

6.  Online Tutoring (Stand Alone)

7.  Blended Learning (e.g., In-person sessions + online support resources)

Tutoring Specialties:  

1.  Subject specialist (e.g., Verbal, Math, ACT Science)

2.  ACT specialists

3.  SAT specialists

4.  SAT & ACT prep providers

5.  K-12 tutoring providers who casually promote test prep

6.  Tutors who perform test prep only upon request

7.  Tutors 


1.  Current or retired teacher (certified) 

2.  Elite Tutor (e.g., Top-tier tutor at an industry giant such as Kaplan or Princeton Review)

3.  Independent professional tutor (Often a former Top Tier tutor from an industry giant)

4.  Author of a published test prep book

5.  Author of a self-published test prep book

6.  Current/recent student (i.e. recently earned a good score on the SAT or ACT)

7.  Volunteer tutor

8.  Peer tutoring

Price Point:

1.  Budget-friendly - low price

2.  Competitive - mid-range

3.  Competitive - high-end

4.  Boutique - top of the market

5.  Guru - Preposterously high price

Course Structure:

1.  Hourly without a minimum commitment

2.  Hourly with a minimum commitment

3.  Hourly with volume discounts

4.  Standard package (e.g., 24-hours, always the same) 

5.  Three-ish course packages (e.g., 18-hours, 24-hours, 36-hours)

6.  100% customized courses

Alternative Models:

1. Monthly subscription fee

2.  Drop-in whenever for a flat daily rate 

3.  Homework cafe (i.e., multiple roaming tutors)

4.  Hybrid test prep course (i.e., full group course + a few one-on-one sessions)

5.  Pay per proctored practice test + detailed score report

Practice Tests:

1.  Released official practice tests (Official College Board Practice SAT Tests and/or Official ACT Practice Tests)

2.  Unreleased official practice tests (Official College Board Practice SAT Tests and/or Official ACT Practice Tests)

3.  Fake practice tests (anything that's not an authentic full-length test from the test makers)

Course Materials:

1.  Practice tests ONLY (no other workbooks, skill-builders, or curriculum of any kind).

2.  Real tests + over-the-counter test prep book (anything you could get on Amazon).

3.  Proprietary worksheets 

4.  Proprietary workbooks

5.  Pirated Materials (Unreleased SATs, Unreleased ACTs, unauthorized photocopies, etc.)


1.  A genuine score improvement guarantee (more info here: SAT Score Improvement Guarantees.)

2.  A misleading score improvement guarantee (far more common in this industry)

3.  Satisfaction guarantee (e.g., If you're not happy after the first session, we'll refund your money)

4.  Tutor match guarantee (i.e., If you don't like the tutor, we'll match you with someone else.)  

Actionable Advice

It's essential that you know which category you fall into for each of these attributes. Furthermore, you must take the time to consider where your competition falls on each of these categories. Only then can you develop a coherent branding strategy that highlights your the features and benefits of the test prep system you offer. 

If you don't put in the time to map out your niche in the local test prep market, then you cannot adequately understand how your product is differentiated from the competition. And until you do that, you cannot effectively differentiate your SAT or ACT tutoring in the eyes of your customers.

Get Started

Create a simple spreadsheet to compare and contrast your offering with those of your most direct competitors. This will allow you to determine where you fit into the market and whether you should adjust your test prep services and marketing language in order to stake out a different position in the market.  

Next Steps

If you've got questions, we'll be happy to hop on the phone to help you consider ways to improve your position in your market. We genuinely enjoy working with small business owners to help them improve score results, generate more referrals, and increase revenue. We've been doing it for more than a decade now, and we look forward to hearing from you!  You can get started by clicking the button below.

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If you're interested in further discussion of how tutors can target the test prep market, then we hope you'll join us for our the next session in our ongoing series of Ask Me Anything webinars.  

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Matt McCorkle