What You Get for Your Money
- An orientation session to get enrolled students logged into the system and to introduce them to the software, instructor, and teaching assistants
- 6 live, online 3-hour classroom sessions. These sessions include live streaming video of your instructor, an online whiteboard for problem solving, a chat area supported by the teaching assistants, and frequent student polling.
- 4 full-length, proctored SAT exams (the test time is in addition to the classroom sessions)
- Smart Track -- an adaptive online instruction program that lets you customize your study plan, watch instructive videos, and access over 1,000 practice questions. The software tracks your homework, progress and performance.
- Two books that are mailed to you: the 714-page SAT Course Book that approaches 18 test topics through the Kaplan Method and the 264-page Book of Practice SATs with four full-length practice tests. The student I observed also received SAT in a Box, a set of 600 flashcards (200 cards for each of the three exam sections); these cards are now provided in digital format that you can use on your smartphone or computer.
- Kaplan's Higher Score Guarantee. Kaplan's guarantee is two-fold. If your SAT scores do not go up, you can get your money back. If your scores don't go up as much as you had hoped, you can repeat the course for free.
To get a clear sense of the Classroom Anywhere software, watch a demo.
The Class Schedule
The student I observed took Complete SAT Prep over three weeks from February 14th to March 8th. The class met Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sundays from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (a bit longer for the proctored exams). That's a total of 11 class meetings -- the orientation session, the six three-hour classes, and the four proctored exams.
Kaplan has a lot of options that work with different student schedules. You can choose from classes that meet one, two, three or four times a week. Some options are during weekdays only while others are just on the weekends. Kaplan times the classes to end right before an SAT test date. Note that the class does have homework, so the more compressed class schedules can be very demanding on a student's time (before each classroom session, students must take quizzes on what they have learned and watch videos on what they will cover in the next class).
The class I observed looked like this:
- Session 1: Orientation. Meet your teacher, teaching assistants, and learn about the tools.
- Session 2: Proctored full-length SAT used to establish your strengths and weaknesses
- Session 3: Classroom session. Sample problems and an introduction to Kaplan strategies.
- Session 4: Classroom session. Critical Reading.
- Session 5: Proctored full-length SAT.
- Session 6: Classroom session. Math.
- Session 7: Classroom session. Writing.
- Session 8: Proctored full-length SAT.
- Session 9: Classroom session. Math.
- Session 10: Proctored full-length SAT
- Session 11: Classroom session. Vocabulary; Final test-taking tips.
After the course was over, the student I observed wrote up some feedback on his experience with SAT Complete Prep. Here are the highlights:
- "Great techniques"
- "Smart Track is a great place to check performance and do homework"
- "Teacher is very likable and you feel as though she really does care about how you do" (I'll second this -- Katie was an excellent and personable online instructor)
- "The classroom is well designed"
- "Practice tests are great and help to show you that these techniques are useful"
- "With the proctoring, you feel as though you are truly taking the SAT"
- "Course book is well thought out and good to look back on to review strategies"
- "Homework does take a minimum of 3 hours which can be a problem with other homework from school"
- "Smart Track is great but navigation takes a little getting used to"
- "Some classes you only get about 10 sample problems done within three hours"
The student noted that he would recommend the course to a friend.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
I was more impressed with this course than I thought I would be. As a professor who likes a physical classroom and interacting with my students face-to-face, I've always been resistant to online learning. Seeing the class in action, however, made me reconsider that position. Since the class had a teacher and two TAs, multiple students could be getting individualized help simultaneously -- something that can't happen very easily in a physical classroom. Also, Katie was an engaging and interactive instructor, and the video/chat/whiteboard classroom space was pleasingly effective.
I'm also someone who is skeptical about the need for spending hundreds of dollars on test prep, and I still believe it is not necessary. You can spend $20 on a book and teach yourself quite effectively, including Kaplan's test-taking strategies. That said, the $599 price tag is quite reasonable for the number of instructional hours and the level of personalized feedback you'll receive. So if the price doesn't create hardship for you, the course provides excellent instruction and feedback. Perhaps more important, it provides a concrete structure and study plan. Many students aren't disciplined enough to put in a sustained and focused effort when they go the self-taught route.
As with any class, there were moments that dragged as the instructor and TAs helped students who were struggling with a particular concept. The students who aren't struggling end up waiting around at these moments. Of course, the only way to avoid this issue is to get individual tutoring, and then you'll see the price tag go way up.
The student I observed saw his scores in the practice tests go up 230 points from the beginning of the course to the end. His confidence and test-taking skills certainly improved. When he retook the actual SAT at the end of the course, however, the improvement wasn't as remarkable: a 60 point gain (still much better than the 30 point gain that some studies show as the average for SAT test prep courses). He is planning to take the test once more, and I'll report back after those scores come in.
Overall, I feel Complete SAT Prep: Classroom Anywhere is an excellent product. I'm not thrilled that the college admissions process tends to place so much weight on a single exam that courses like this are necessary, but the reality is what it is, and this course can truly help students earn the scores that will help them get into a selective college.
Learn more about the course features and scheduling options on the Kaplan website: Complete SAT Prep: Classroom Anywhere