Pros: Very helpful techniques, personal attention, good printed material, convenient location and time, skilled and caring teachers
Cons: Can only teach material and techniques, cannot find fundamental test-taking errors that may greatly impede a student's progress, sometimes the pace is too slow
I turned to The Princeton Review at the beginning of eleventh grade after a rather disappointing performance on the PSAT in my sophomore year. I took their SAT/PSAT review, which included the basic SAT I math and verbal preparation as well as a PSAT writing weekend workshop. As a good student with high grades but low standardized test scores, I was attracted to The Princeton Review's promise of raising my score at least 100 points as well as to the praise I had heard of the techniques they taught. However, while The Princeton Review did help me boost my score to something that did not cause me to burst into tears, it did not improve my test-taking skills enough for me to take the SAT I and be satisfied with my score.
The course began at the end of August and finished the week before the October SATs. The first day consisted of a diagnostic mock-SAT that would assess our levels. The next day we were given our test results and placed into a regular or more advanced math and/or verbal reviews accordingly.
The test results that we received were extremely detailed and helpful. In addition to separate scores for math and verbal, we received our score on each section of the test which allowed us to see at what point in the exam we had had the most trouble. The score sheet listed each question and then indicated whether our response was correct, incorrect, or if we had left it blank. The math section was divided up by subject level, so that we could see in which areas we had the most trouble. Subjects included geometry, arithmetic and algebra. The verbal section was divided by question type: sentence completion, analogies, and critical reading. Bar graphs were provided to give us a visual picture of our performance. In addition, the diagnostic tests had a special feature that allowed us to track our success in guessing. To indicate a guess, one would darken the number of the question on the answer sheet. The score sheet listed all of our reported guesses and indicated which ones had been correct. After the first test, we took three other diagnostic tests throughout the course to track our progress. The testing process itself was really helpful, as it not only gave us practice taking tests but showed us the specific areas that we needed to work on.
The course itself, which began at 6 PM and ran until 9 PM, was divided into a math and a verbal review class with a fifteen minute break in between the two. The advanced verbal would meet while the regular math class was being held and vice versa. During the break the teachers brought in bagels, cream cheese, and juice, which we all greatly appreciated. We were given a math workbook and a verbal workbook as well as a vocabulary workbook and a copy of 10 Real SATs--a book of actual SATs published by ETS. I was placed in the more advanced math and verbal classes, but found myself among students who were far behind me in both subjects. One of the things that immediately struck me was the difference in my target score and the target scores of the rest of the class. While I hoped to score over 1500 and intended to apply early to an Ivy League school, my classmates were hoping to score over 1200 and, for the most part, just wanted to get into college, period. This proved disadvantageous at times, as I was more meticulous than my classmates and wanted to cover EVERYTHING so as to boost my score as much as possible.
The classes themselves were quite helpful. In math we were taught techniques like plugging in and backsolving (plugging in the answer choices), as well as various tricks to help us guess faster. We also did basic review of the material on the test using techniques that would help us get the right answer faster. We covered one unit per class and then were given a homework assignment from the workbook on that section. At the next class we would go over the homework and answer any questions before moving on to the next topic. In verbal class we were again taught techniques such as covering up the choices for sentence completion, filling the blank with our own word, and then finding a synonym (or in some cases the word itself) among the choices. We learned how to efficiently do analogies, and how to get through the critical reading without first reading the whole passage. We also completed the Princeton Review Hit Parade, a list of the vocabulary words most frequently used on the SAT. To generate the list, which was immensely helpful, The Princeton Review scans the SATs from recent years and finds the words that show up the most. We were encouraged to make flash cards for each word and review whenever possible. We also received homework assignments from either the workbook or from 10 Real SATs. My teachers were very nice and very helpful. They knew their subjects and offered free extra help to whoever needed it. Classes were run efficiently and effectively and at the end of the course my score had gone up 120 points. After the writing workshop and my PSAT diagnostic, I was confident that I would do well on the test.
My PSAT score was much better than it had been the year before, but while I was a National Merit Commended Student, I did not score quite high enough to be a Semifinalist, which was disappointing. When I took the SAT I in March of that year I was shocked to find that my scores were far below what I had hoped for. In a panic I asked my college counselor to refer me to a private tutor. My sessions with Lisa were extremely different from my classes at The Princeton Review. Instead of teaching me techniques, my tutor gave me test after test. I did two tests every week under test taking conditions. I would go over tests with her and take tests with her watching. After a few weeks, the problem had been discovered: I was rushing. It wasn't that I didn't know the material or the techniques, but rather that I was working too quickly and thus making careless mistakes. During the tests themselves I would finish before the time was up, confident that I had answered all questions correctly, and I would glance over my work. I was told to use all of the allotted time to carefully complete each section. When I took the SATs for a second time in June, my scores were exactly where I wanted them to be.
The Princeton Review can only be so helpful to students hoping for extremely high scores. While they will teach you invaluable techniques and build up your skills and vocabulary, they cannot catch basic test-taking errors such as rushing. Your teachers do not proctor your tests, nor do they watch while you complete timed sections. In addition, the diagnostic tests given by The Princeton Review are not actual SATs. While the questions are quite similar, the results they give you are not necessarily representative of how you would have done on an actual SAT. The Princeton Review gave me the tools I needed to score well, but they were not able to isolate and eliminate my problem. If you are seeking to improve your scores on the SAT, The Princeton Review may be extremely helpful. However, if you do not begin to see the results you want after the third diagnostic test, you may want to look elsewhere.