OPINION: Expensive standardized test prep measures financial abilities rather than academic skill


Staff Photo by Gabby Angelo and Eliana Rosen

Students are forced into a “pay-to-play” scheme in order to achieve a stand-out score.

Wide-eyed and speechless, my parents and I exchanged glances after being told a standard SAT prep course would cost upwards of $33,000. I knew recieving tutoring for this exam would be costly, but I never realized that success on these standardized tests would be measured by the amount of money I could afford to pay.

Long before COVID-19, test submissions were mostly mandatory, and now, while some colleges are test optional, the SAT and ACT still remain a prominent part of the application process. These scores are often used to differentiate between students and weed out those with poorer results. Understably so, any student who wants to be considered for top universities will do whatever it takes to strengthen their application and improve their scores. 

The current rigor of the SAT and ACT also requires extensive preparations and studying. It is rare to get a high score on your first try, so in efforts to improve, students’ ambition has spiraled into an unfair money-making scheme. 

According to Tutors.com, the average SAT and ACT tutor rate is $70 per hour, and for more rigorous prep classes, prices only go up. This might seem reasonable for some; however, this is only the tip of the iceberg of the inequalities involved in the standardized testing environment.

“Private tutors can still help students raise their scores by reviewing practice tests with them, demonstrating test-taking strategies and providing one-on-one attention to addressing students strengths and weaknesses,” English department supervisor Ms. Casais said.  “Many students cannot afford private tutors, and because of this, financially privileged students have an advantage.”

Because of this, it’s unfair to advertise these tests as ‘standardized’ and use them as a tool to measure a students abilities across the board, when in reality, they are measuring who has the financial means to do better. 

Needless to say, many families do not have the financial freedom to afford the expensive preparations, and even if they are financially stable, continuously paying hundreds of dollars each month for an ‘acceptable’ test score is extremely demanding. 

“My family spent around $20,000 on SAT prep courses at a test prep center,” junior Simoni Patel said. “I achieved a score that I am very proud of, which will also greatly help me in the college admissions process; however, I acknowledge that I have advantages that others do not in terms of my access to resources. This lack of access will hurt them in the admissions process, although it is something that they cannot control.”

Students obviously want to do well on the SAT and ACT, but now their success comes down to this unfair notion: the more you pay, the better you do.