The Dos and Don'ts of Tutoring with SAT Tests — Part Two — The Don'ts

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In the previous post, we began taking a look at the Dos and Don'ts of tutoring with Real SAT Tests.  Last week's post focused exclusively on the Dos. You could call those the "best practices." This week, we'll be taking a look at the Don'ts. And yes, you could call these the "worst practices" of tutoring with SAT Tests. Sadly, these practices are fairly common in the industry today. As you read this post, you may even find that you've made one or more of these mistakes.  

Don't use fake SAT tests.
Fake tests should be avoided for a variety of reasons.

Fake tests, like fake tattoos, inspire more suspicion than respect. Many tutors make claims like "My students improve their SAT scores by an average of 550 points from practice test #1 to practice test #2!" Amazing, right?

But what if you were to learn that this super-tutor wrote both diagnostic tests and chose the order in which they were administered? Red flags, right?

Besides the obvious conflict of interest resulting from writing your own diagnostic tests, there are other problems. When you hand out a fake practice test from Kaplan or Princeton Review, you're signaling that you're not an authority on test prep — your competition is. You're literally handing out fliers for your competitors. Bad move.

Even worse, fake tests undermine your credibility. As soon as you start handing out fake tests, you forfeit a major selling point for your test prep. You can no longer claim that your score improvement data is valid.  

Don't illegally acquire your SAT tests.
This one should also go without saying, but just for the record let's make it perfectly clear. And for maximum clarity, let's employ a mixed metaphor about mini-marshmallows. Confused? You should probably take a moment to read last week's post, here.

If you want to be an excellent camp counselor, then you should bring a bag of mini-marshmallows for the hot cocoa. Simple, right? Well pay attention because this next part is very important. 

You should NOT steal those mini-marshmallows from the College Board. If you're using photocopies of real SAT tests with students, then that's exactly what you're doing — but with SAT tests, not mini-marshmallows. Authentic SAT tests can easily — and legally — be acquired by purchasing the College Board's Official SAT Study Guide on Amazon or anywhere else that sells books. And while it's true that the College Board has made the four initial practice tests freely downloadable, the PDFs are clearly marked "Unauthorized copying or reuse of any part of this page is illegal."

Those 12 words make a big difference for two reasons. First, it's obviously not okay for tutors to download someone else's intellectual property, make hundreds of copies, and charge students to use those materials. That much is beyond dispute. Second, when you hand an illegally reproduced test to a student, you're communicating a lot about the integrity of your business. I won't belabor this point, but regardless of the optics, you should really consider whether you're comfortable ripping off someone else's intellectual property

On a personal note, I've actually been forced to confront a company I caught peddling SAT curriculum it had plaigiarized — literally word for word — from the Clear Choice SAT prep workbook. At first, I was genuinely shocked. Then, of course, I was angry. But mostly I was just bewildered as to why anyone would risk building his or her business around stolen property. Setting aside the ethics of the matter, it's still a bad business decision because it forces a tutoring company to operate in the shadows. I kept wondering what kind of a person would knowingly put themselves — and their livelihood — into such a vulnerable position? 

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the offending tutor was no more guilty than thousands of other tutors out there who build courses around unreleased SAT tests or illegally reproduced SAT tests. Naturally, I was still upset by the theft, but we were ultimately able to resolve the matter rather amicably. The tutor has even contacted me to request test prep materials within the last year.

If you're thinking that my personal example is totally different than photocopying College Board SAT tests, then I would encourage you to examine the issue a bit more critically. Sure, it may feel different pilfering resources from the College Board because it's a massive organization, not an individual. And it's non-profit, so how are you actually harming it? I mean, you're actually encouraging students to take the SAT test. Right? You're really doing them a favor when you think about it. Why would they come after you? 

I've heard every justification you can imagine, but I remain unconvinced. In the end it comes down to this: are you really willing to sacrifice the integrity of your business, jeopardize your brand, and undermine your credibility as a tutor in order to save a few bucks?            

Don't mistake SAT tests for effective test prep curriculum.
This one sounds controversial, but it's not. I'll explain.

Guru tutors often claim that a tutor should NEVER allow a student to use anything but actual SAT tests for test prep curriculum. In fairness, they're not entirely wrong. As we mentioned above, authentic SAT tests are the only way to gauge student score improvements and tutor effectiveness. So why do I say these guru tutors are only half right? Well, it turns out that authentic SAT tests are not well suited for use as test prep curriculum. The reasons are pretty obvious when you think about it.  

You would never advise a student to study trigonometry for 3 minutes, then French for 3 minutes, then AP world literature for 3 minutes. Of course not. It would make no sense to jump from subject to subject so rapidly. And yet, test prep gurus still claim that jumping from concept to concept with real SAT tests is the best way to structure your test prep curriculum. Of course reasonable people can disagree on matters of opinion, but I happen to think that this claim is nonsense.

The printed curriculum, cornerstone of any SAT prep system, should not jump from one concept to another after each completed SAT question. Repetition of concept is essential to fostering real learning.   

Don't waste time and money grading SAT tests.
Many years ago, teachers and tutors had to grade everything by hand. Thankfully, Dr. Francis Scantron changed all that in the early 1970s. So why are you still grading SAT tests with a pen? How much of your own time are you wasting to prepare for each upcoming session? How much of your students' time is spent grading homework during sessions? And what does this outdated approach tell students and parents about your tutoring methods?

Lucky for you, there is a better way to grade and analyze authentic SAT tests! 

Don't sell bogus ACT/SAT hybrid tests.
Obviously there is great demand for a tool that will help parents to choose between the ACT and SAT. Test prep is expensive and time consuming, so parents want a quick indicator of which test is better suited for their student. This presents an opportunity for test prep providers to attract customers with the promise of a hybrid test that delivers a predictive score. There are many reasons why an effective hybrid test is pure fiction, but that's a subject for another blog post. There are plenty of legitimate ways to attract test prep clients without contributing to the spread of misinformation about hybrid ACT/SAT diagnostic tests.    

As always, thanks for reading!

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