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SAT tutoring

Original post made by PalyDad, Downtown North, on Aug 18, 2013

My son, a Paly senior, is about to apply to college. He likes the CSUs (California State University). They are peculiar in that they accept students based solely on GPA (through grade 11) and math/verbal SAT scores (they ignore the writing part). They have a specific formula for calculating an "eligibility index". Each year there is a certain cutoff score, depending on who applies; students with an index higher than the cutoff get in, and ones below it do not. (I'm slightly simplifying; if a student lives near a particular CSU, there is a fixed, lower cutoff, but you get the idea.)

He happens to have an index that is slightly below typical cutoff scores for the past few years. But he gets one more chance on the SAT, in about 6 weeks. He scored around 1050 (math+verbal) I think, so he has some room for improvement. Even a boost of 100 points could make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

I noticed that Ivy Tutor has a 6-week SAT class about to start. Has anyone had any experience with this company, or with SAT tutoring in general? I'm thinking that he probably can't learn a lot of math or English in 6 weeks, but perhaps he could learn test-taking techniques if he had the right sort of coaching.


Comments (20)

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Posted by One born every minute
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by PalyDad
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 18, 2013 at 3:42 pm

[Portion removed.]

I am interested in parents' experiences here, with this company or any other. I did notice that Ivy Tutor has no yelp reviews, other than filtered ones (including several 5-star reviews from the same 2-3 days using the same words). And I don't see any other comments about them either. How can a company that has been around for years have no reviews? Someone must be going to them. Who?

1 person likes this
Posted by PALY Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 18, 2013 at 7:45 pm

I personally posted a negative Yelp review and there were several others at the time. This enterprise SPAMED the entire PAUSD electronic database unethically and their web-site was closed for a while. There is no owner to speak with, they'll tell you it is a tutoring corporation, but all it is is an open space outside a pottery store with a few cubicles, so there is no quiet privacy. The tutor my child had was so very bad and useless that I demanded a refund. The lady I spoke with on the phone told me that she does not care about all the negative Yelp reviews but she still agreed to give me a refund for one of the sessions.

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Posted by PALY Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 18, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Please do Ivy Tutor search in "SEARCH PALO ALTO ONLINE" and you will find other posting about IVY TUTOR in Palo Alto.

1 person likes this
Posted by amother parent
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 18, 2013 at 8:14 pm


There is something fishy going on with Ivy Tutor, the spam, and so forth. Try Princeton Review, or get a first hand opinion on tutors from other parents you may know. Also, ask the Paly college guidance department because there is free prep online available.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2013 at 7:05 am

There are many other reputable test prep companies in Palo Alto.

4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm

The key to studying is to practice a lot because the test allows for 1 minute per problem. Some students begin studying in middle school, some in high school, some in Junior year after the PSATs, and others, a few months in advance. Don't think that just because your child gets good grades and reads a lot, they will do well on the test; this isn't an IQ test, and studying can help the outcome. English teachers should be teaching our students vocabulary, but these days, appallingly, not all do. There is a lot of vocabulary - no more synonym/antonyms, but in the reading comprehension area, if you don't know what one word means, you can't answer the question. I know of a student who began pasting a word on the wall everyday since middle school and took all the highest lanes, of course. He went to Harvard but was also accepted into MIT. The kids shooting for Ivy Leagues are definitely studying for years. Some aren't happy with 700s and take classes to improve. And of course, there will be some arrogant parent who posts that their child hardly studied and got a 2100 the first time.

College Board has questions
Naviance has questions

YES - College Board SAT
Yes - Princeton Review SAT
No - Barron's SAT

Yes - AJ Tutoring (depending upon the tutor, or take the group class)
Yes - Mr. Test Prep
NO - Revolution
No - Think Tank
No - Ivy Tutor (based upon them emailing me unethically)

1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Many families use Elite Prep.

1 person likes this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Marie is a registered user.

My kids used Princeton Review. Both of them were National Merit Scholars (although that was based on the PSAT not the SAT). I was very impressed by their services but they are expensive. In our case, the main benefit was probably confidence building and structured practice for the test. Actually, the techniques taught, especially how to time yourself so as to maximize a score when there isn't enough time to do everything on the test, were valuable for finals in high school and college too. If a particular service is much cheaper, then it probably isn't as good. If money is an issue, check out courses at Foothill, PA Evening School and summer school. Check with your high school college guidance counselor.

1 person likes this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I have a son who's a junior at Paly, and the topic of SAT prep is coming up right now. Am I the only one who feels that the whole SAT prep business is bad for society? It's no different than assault rifles: once we as a society start condoning the right to pay for and bear arms, it's a slippery slope down to a place where
a) everyone has them; and
b) they provide no safety value *and* put lower income citizens at a disadvantage to the extent they can't afford similar firepower

Same with SAT prep - if everyone does this, how is this not an elitist power-grab that hurts society?

NOTE: I'm probably gonna buy P/SAT prep help (or at least a book) for my son, but feel like a $*@&$ for doing it.

1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm

@Chris: Agree with you, but life isn't fair. At least there is no formal caste system here.

The College Board is such a racket. I paid $18 online for the questions he missed to be sent to me. I called and they first told me it was sent in April. When I asked them to resend, they told me the March test doesn't send the missed questions but the January and October ones do. They claimed they would refund my money and couldn't answer why it was an option when I was paying online. What if I hadn't called? They'd have my $18; they probably still do have it; I should check to see if indeed they did refund me.

1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 10:24 pm


Parents pay for test prep courses because it works and it matters, not because it's fair or isn't a waste of time.

1 person likes this
Posted by A way forward
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 22, 2013 at 8:09 am

Perhaps if we support and leverage research that shows of these tests their predictive value for academic or career success, or lack thereof, we could influence university admissions programs. If they have no predictive value modulo demographics, maybe publicly funded universities could be forced to stop using them.

We would also need another way to at least continue pretending that university admission processes account for the vast differences among high schools, and the appropriate interpretations of their students' records.

The difficulty of this problem is probably why universities depend on these test results without knowing what they mean in the current context of pay-for-prep.

A good, thorough approach to learn what matters about applicants in order to determine fit would be much more work for admissions committees, but would likely repay itself fairly quickly with reputation and alumni donations.

Real work on processes to do this might help free us from this scam. Maybe a topic for an Ed grad student thesis?

3 people like this
Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm

@ Chris and some others:
Yes, you have it nailed right on the head.
I would encourage a teen to use a self-study SAT book in a structured fashion (with a goal of completion by a certain time). It is wise to study for these tests, but I have been disgusted and saddened by the hyper-emphasis of some Palo Alto parents, among some others, on bragging rights on these test scores.
The test prep industry is disgusting, costly, plays to parental fears of not obtaining Ivy offers, highly variable in terms of staffing/advice and skewed towards Tiger Moms.
Let your teen express him/herself individually in other ways and grow so that s/he has something to write about in college app essays. You can't get around the importance of doing "well" (Palo Alto standards are very high) on PSAT, SAT, APs, however you can keep it in perspective and encourage other areas that are part of most college apps.
A high test score CAN be obtained through costly tutoring/prepping, however one's character, experiences, growth, individual initiative, paid job experiences, art works and whatnot are from individuals and are *sometimes* recognized by major universities.
It is in the interest of society that we encourage excellence in our youth, and rather than a dog eat dog competitive test prep environment skewed by parental wealth and test prep practice, whereby a student can raise his/her scores by a significant amount if closely managed over a period of years --I suggest you look ALSO to personal accountability, initiative, creativity, accomplishments, which are really not the aim of the College Board or test prep industry

1 person likes this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Perhaps related, cheating among Harvard freshman is on the rise:

Web Link

No wonder, when spending money only some have to score higher on standardized tests is part of what gets many into schools like Harvard in the first place. Parents of Paly & Gunn students are leaders in that respect. Many thinking students will rightly say to themselves "My parents are telling me that getting into the best school is key to my future career success, so now that I'm accepted an in, why not continue giving myself an unfair advantage?"

1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 6, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

Don't like cheating? I highly recommend one our nation's military academies.

Two words: Honor Code

Are they perfect? No.

Free Educatuon from one of our nation's top schools? Yes. Guaranteed employment upon graduation. Service to your country.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 7, 2013 at 1:14 am

Sadly, some people pay for the services of a professional test taker (GED, ACT, SAT). I first heard about it 20 years ago while working in Asia. Apparently parents will pay for such a service and do not feel it is wrong. So sad, but true. It undermines the efforts of all the honest hard working students out there.

1 person likes this
Posted by another parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm

I don't think tutoring for SAT is unethical.

It's unfortunately an industry for which we are forced to buy the product because if we don't, those who buy it tend to have better results (if nothing else because they are spending the money to improve) or they feel the are more confident after getting the attention of a tutor. If you can afford it, why not.


For the 100 points you are looking for though, the cost of SAT tutoring may be more than you need though, and investing time and structured attention to a few practice tests could be just as useful or looking for free tips online. Taking the tests over and over will help your son find where he is making mistakes, and he's bound to improve 100 points.

AJ Tutoring I have heard is one of the better tutors, ask them what they suggest.

1 person likes this
Posted by High School Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 22, 2015 at 12:33 am

Has anyone used Sequoia Academy?
In addition to all the classes they have listed only, they say they offer college counseling and help with writing admission essays.

Their website says "Alumni of the Sequoia Academy have gone on to receive higher education at some of the nation's most prestigious institutions, including MIT, Princeton, Harvard, UPenn, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and many other schools of equal academic caliber."
I can't find anyone who has used them or knows about them, but parents are so competitive that it is hard to get any information.

2 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 24, 2015 at 8:35 pm

[Post removed.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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