Don't have megabucks to spend on a personal tutor for the SAT? Not to worry. If you have access to a computer, you can take online test classes 24 hours a day.
The big test-preparation companies - Kaplan, Princeton Review, the College Board - are racing to put SAT programs onto the Internet for a mass audience.
This sort of thing seems like a boon for students like Max Sherry, a junior this fall at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, Pa. He'll take the PSAT this fall, he says, and the SAT next spring.
But first, Max plans to spend his hazy days this summer playing golf - and blocking out a few hours each day studying for his online SAT prep course from Kaplan. Cost: $300.
It's far from cheap. Still, Max figures it beats paying 10 to 30 times that amount for a tutor to come to his home and coach him on the vagaries of the SAT: what to study, how much time to spend on certain types of questions, which questions to skip.
Soon it may get even cheaper: Earlier this month, an upstart company, TestU, announced plans to launch a free SAT-preparation program.
"It's fitting in pretty nicely," Max says of his online class. He's finished two weeks of the five-week course. "I play a round of golf, come in and cool off and do the Kaplan thing for an hour, three or four times a week."
At Max's high school, getting ready for the SAT is a big topic of conversation.
"College is your next step in life, and the SAT is the first link in getting to college," he says. "I think this class is giving me a better chance to do well on the SAT. It's a pretty good deal."
There's not as much computer work involved in the online class as one might think. Max explains that most of the week, he's studying lessons in a 400-page textbook. Only about once a week does he go online to do exercises that test what he's been learning. He also learns by watching a video of a teacher, which enables him to rewind the explanations and view them again. And he can submit his questions by e-mail.
Overall, he says, he's warmed a lot to the class, though it was his parents' idea.
"I know a lot of my friends aren't even starting this [test preparation] until next year, he says. "I just like getting a good start and knowing what the strategies are a long time before they do."
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