There’s a lot at stake when it comes to standardized test scores, including college admissions and access to scholarships. With what may feel like the entire future on the line, it’s no wonder many parents and students are willing to do whatever it takes to help raise test scores and potentially open doors. And while there are many legitimate test preparation companies out there that can provide valuable tutoring and coaching through this often-stressful experience, there are also unscrupulous individuals and organizations eager to take advantage of unwary families.
Example of an SAT Test Prep Scam
Although test prep scams can take different forms, many follow the same pattern highlighted in a news report from Washington State. In this case, a phone caller identified themselves as part of a special program partnered with the school’s guidance office. The victim’s son had supposedly been identified to participate in special test preparation and had already agreed to take part at school, so now all that remained was to get the parent’s credit card number for a deposit for supplies. If the “borrowed” supplies were returned, the charges would be refunded.
Of course, that never happened. While the family did receive DVD’s related to the SAT, when they returned them no money was returned. In fact, additional charges worth hundreds of dollars were made using the family’s now-compromised credit card number.
The Test Prep Scam M.O.
Most test prep scams include some variation on the pattern experienced by the family from Washington–personal information and credit card numbers are exchanged either over the phone or over a website, with a promise of a guaranteed refund either for returning supplies or for an unimproved score.
So, how can you weed out legitimate testing/tutoring programs from those simply looking to capitalize on your college preparation efforts? Here’s some simple tips to keep yourself safe:
Get a Recommendation
One of the very best ways to avoid disappointment is to get a recommendation from someone you know and trust. Ask friends, neighbors, and school officials which companies they’ve had good experiences with. Also check the Better Business Bureau for possible concerns and complaints. Other social media review sites may also be able to provide helpful insight into a company, but remember it generally isn’t hard for a company to write their own “reviews” and post them.
Confirm “Special Programs” with the School
If someone mentions a special program in an email or phone call and says it’s been sanctioned by the school, don’t automatically assume that’s a gold seal of approval. Before handing over any money, call up the guidance office at your high school and confirm the information.
Be Wary of “Borrowing” Expensive Test Prep Materials
The most successful (and respectable) test preparation companies offer more than a mail-order video to help students prepare. While paying for supplies, such as a good test prep book or the opportunity to take practice tests, isn’t unreasonable, be careful around any group that wants a large deposit for supposedly returnable materials.
Read the Fine Print
Even when dealing with a legitimate company, failure to read the fine print can leave you feeling taken advantage of. Pay especially close attention to details surrounding any supposed guarantees or reimbursements. Improve your score or get your money back? Double-check that there isn’t a specific range your initial score has to be in. Also, understand exactly what they mean by “money back”…is it an actual refund, or something more like vouchers for additional test prep courses?
While anxiety over test scores can leave any family feeling vulnerable, taking time to research and select a test prep company that meets your specific needs (rather than responding to a “special offer” over the phone or email) isn’t difficult and can have a long-lasting impact on your testing experience. For more information about different test preparation options and how to avoid ones that will waste your time (and money), feel free to contact Curvebreakers. With decades of combined experience helping students through the college admissions process, our tutors are experts at cutting through the hype and honing in on things that actually work.