Private Tutoring


Kendall Allen, Sports Editor

For many years, the College Board (the company that oversees the SAT, AP tests, and SAT Subject Tests) and the ACT have claimed that private tutoring would not help to advance a student’s score on their respective standardized tests. While they are now starting to endorse tutoring programs affiliated with their own companies, as long as these tests have been around, there have been private tutors hired to help kids “beat” them. I took a deeper dive into the world of SAT and ACT tutors used by the current junior class, wondering who used them, why, and if there is truly any benefit.

In a survey sent out to the class of 2021, 50 students answered, and among this group, 54% said they did not use tutors while the other 46% replied that they did. This number of kids using private tutors is gigantic when compared with the national average; however, our school’s performance on these college entrance exams is also drastically different from the national average. The JBS Class of 2019’s average composite ACT score was a 33, and they averaged scores of 750 in the SAT Math section as well as 730 in the SAT E-B Reading and Writing portion. To provide perspective, the national average ACT was a 20.7, with average scores of 528 on the SAT Math and 531 on Reading and Writing (as reported by the respective companies).

Additionally, for more than a decade, JBS has had the highest number of National Merit Semifinalists (as determined by the PSAT/NMSQT) in the state, with 24 students in the Class of 2019.

Due to the fact that almost half of the junior class used private tutors in their preparation for these coveted exams, the likely possibility of a correlation between expensive tutoring and these high scores deserves to be considered.

In my own time being tutored by Kleitz Education Group, I have learned the following information: Private tutors use personalized study plans to target student’s testing weaknesses, often basing them around a baseline score provided by their client. The belief that these tutors re-teach students material already learned in school is a common misconception. Rather, they focus on teaching their pupils how to take that specific test: don’t read the entire passage, instead read the questions first and pinpoint the answers in the text.  Other examples include exposing a student who is unfamiliar with Trigonometry to the ever-famous acronym SOHCAHTOA, or sharing the basics of a Unit Circle without regards to the full explanation but rather to enable the student to answer those questions. It is the small tips and tricks like this one that accumulate and begin to improve scores, and consistent practice also works to squeeze out any mistakes or easily solvable problems. With guarantees of better scores, tutors must have extensive knowledge of the test, which helps to increase both the student’s confidence and comfort when approaching the exam, and according to testimonials on their websites they do.

Darr Tutoring, a leading service in St. Louis, sports dozens of success stories, and has numerous testimonials displayed proudly on their website. One student reported, “before I worked with Darr Tutoring, I was beginning to doubt if I could even go to college. After tutoring with Darr Tutoring for a few months, my ACT score jumped 9 points! There is no way I could have done that on my own!” Reviews such as this only add to the “magic touch” these companies appear to have, and work to draw in hundreds of clients a year.

The mere opportunity that Burroughs students have for hiring tutors gives lots of kids here a leg up from the start.  While our community comes from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, many families have the financial means to afford such assistance, and because of the competitive nature of the colleges that JBS students attend, the impetus for that “extra push” given by a tutor is even stronger. Even out of those who replied “no” to the survey, 81% of them explained that they didn’t have a tutor because they didn’t feel it was necessary, not because their family couldn’t pay for one. Premier tutoring services in St. Louis, such as Kleitz Education Group, Darr Tutoring, The Princeton Review, and more, can charge up to $200 an hour.

Due to their hefty price tags, these services cater mostly to the wealthy, with many of them claiming to help students reach “their highest possible score” and give them the confidence they need to perform their best. Such a statement could be discouraging to families who are unable to shell out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a very non-essential expenditure.

When the infamous college scandal, Operation “Varsity Blues,” became public, the disparity between the opportunities given to the top 1% and the lower/middle classes was truly exposed. Though most wealthy families are not spending tens of thousands of dollars on illegal recruitment files, test proctors, and counterfeit scores, some are willing to give their kids every available chance to gain entry to the college of their dreams.

The vast majority of high schoolers can only imagine such circumstances, and the fact that they are at a disadvantage from the beginning due to something out of their control shows what is really wrong about the college process. Still, free test-prep services like Khan Academy, an online program that has paired with the College Board to provide individualized study plans for students, are a great option available to everyone.

There are so many free resources available these days for test prep that a family really does not NEED to pay for it… Khan Academy [for SAT] and ACT Academy gives you a chance to practice those tests and work on the areas of improvement at your own pace.

— Burroughs Associate Director of College Counseling Laura Fogarty

As Burroughs Associate Director of College Counseling Laura Fogarty says, “There are so many free resources available these days for test prep that a family really does not NEED to pay for it… Khan Academy [for SAT] and ACT Academy gives you a chance to practice those tests and work on the areas of improvement at your own pace.”

When asking Ms. Fogarty about the use of private tutors for standardized testing, she responded, “Tutors can be an important part of the support team for a student who needs it.  The best preparation for any standardized test occurs in the classes you are taking and making sure you are learning the material along the way since ACT and SAT are both knowledge-based tests.  Learning differences can also be a reason to use a tutor since you might need more one on one attention or focus on specific areas.  You know yourself and your study habits best, so this is a very individual, personal choice.” Her response emphasizes the idea embodied in the results from the survey.

Additionally, I asked Ms. Fogarty about another piece of assistance used by lots of Burroughs kids in the college process: outside of school college counselors. There are many opinions surrounding these services, with some swearing that a private counselor was the reason for their acceptances, and others being more than satisfied with the work done by the JBS college counseling office.  With a nationwide average student-counselor ratio of 482-1, Burroughs students are once again lucky to have counselors with a maximum of 30. When I prompted Ms. Fogarty for her take on independent counselors, she answered, “ We are so fortunate to have a team of six college counselors to work with the JBS students.  Our college programming starts with ninth graders, so by the time we are paired with students in eleventh grade, we have been thoughtfully building a sense of familiarity with the students.  Since the JBS College Counselor writes the letter of recommendation and advocates at each college for their application, it is so important for us to get to know the students well to be the best advocate we can be in the process.  With that being said, some students will choose to use an independent college counselor (or Independent Educational Consultant) but the reasons will vary.  If they do choose to work with an IEC, we hope to communicate with each other to best support the student and make sure everyone is always on the same page.”

Tutors are just one piece of the puzzle.  When considering the basic fees charged by SAT/ACT, AP, SAT Subject Tests, and the Common Application, it’s evident that these costs must take a toll on many families. What’s more, many students here know that the only thing standing between them and their “dream schools” is a letter of acceptance, but if you look across the country at public (and private, though on a lesser scale) schools, many kids will simply tell you that they are going to attend whatever college gives them the most financial aid. Of course, this is still relevant at Burroughs, just far more taboo.

It is wrong of some people in our community to assume that everyone here can pay for college without assistance. At this point, people don’t speak about financial aid they might be receiving at Burroughs, let alone what they will need for college. Still, 90% of the respondents to the survey conveyed that their family was able to pay for a private tutor. Most families across the country can’t afford to do this, let alone take numerous trips for college visits, take the SAT more than once, or hire an independent college counselor- many luxuries utilized by Burroughs families.

So, when reading over the “Just the Facts” section of the JBS website, remember the context of those numbers. We must remember that the impressive statistics that beam proudly in bold text are of course due to the exceptional students here but also earned in part thanks to the numerous opportunities received by those in the JBS community that are not seen in most high schools- chances that go far beyond college prep. We here at JBS are lucky to have so many people supporting us with all of the resources that are necessary for us to succeed.  Not everyone gets that chance.