Kaplan has been around almost since the invention of standardized testing. They’ve been preparing students for the SAT (and a plethora of other educational exams) for over 80 years.
Like all of the famous old test-prep companies, Kaplan made its name through in-person classes and tutoring. More recently, they’ve added a spectrum of online options to their lineup. These range from the entirely automated through to the completely customized.
Here, I’ll be looking exclusively at Kaplan’s online course offerings for SAT-preparation. The more automated the program, the greater freedom and flexibility it offers you. The “live” choices (those that include individualized classes and/or tutoring) require you to commit to a schedule, at least for a few days a week. For many students, the extra accountability is welcomed. For others, an on-demand program is perfect for fitting test-prepping into a crowded schedule.
Here are Kaplan’s four main options for online SAT-prep:
The Self-Paced program is entirely pre-recorded and available on demand. If you’re looking for maximum flexibility and spontaneity, this may be the perfect course for you.
Be aware that the Kaplan books give you access to online practice tests. Using them, you won’t be able to mimic the real paper-and-pencil experience. One good solution is to choose your favorite Kaplan course and complement it with independent practice on the eight official College Board tests (available to print for free on the Khan Academy site).
Despite its name, this program is actually very similar to Self-Paced. You get all the same resources, plus:
Live Online is Kaplan’s most popular online SAT program. It gives you access to all of the Self-Paced materials, plus live-streamed classes where you can interact with teachers and classmates IRT. And, as Kaplan says, “No commute means pants are optional.”
Class sessions are built around video streamings of your instructor, an online whiteboard for problem solving, and a chat area staffed by the teaching assistants. If you miss a class, you can catch up later by watching the recorded version.
This is an expanded version of Live Online. It includes all the same features with the addition of:
If you want to make the most efficient use of your study time, nothing matches individual tutoring. With this package, you commit to 10, 20, or 40 hours of one-on-one coaching via video link. You’ll also get:
Here, you get access to all of Kaplan’s test-prep resources for the PSAT, the SAT, and the ACT through December of your senior year. That includes both online and in-person classes, plus all the on-demand practice you can shake a stick at. With Unlimited Prep, you can take and retake Kaplan PSAT, SAT, and ACT courses as many times as you want.
Except for Self-Paced, all Kaplan SAT and ACT programs offer guarantees. The conditions vary a little depending on which course you take, so be sure to read the fine print.
Over my years as an SAT tutor, I’ve heard a variety of comments from students about their experiences with Kaplan. They range from the wildly positive to the deeply disgruntled. Here’s a (highly unscientific) round-up of the positive and negative feedbacks that come up over and over again.
“My instructors were excellent.”
Kaplan claims to hire less than a tenth of the aspiring teachers who apply to join their team. To qualify, an instructor needs to have scored above the 90th percentile on the tests that they teach. Kaplan staffs each of their classes with a teacher and two TAs, so students get lots of individualized attention.
“The strategies were really helpful.”
Kaplan teachers are exceptionally good at integrating test-taking strategies with academic concepts.
“The practice tests helped a lot.”
I’ve heard from many students who benefitted from Kaplan’s full-length practice tests, especially when taking tests with online proctoring. As an SAT coach, I feel strongly about the value of working with authentic College Board practice tests, and Kaplan does integrate four of those into its programs. The other four are mock-ups created by in-house writers.
“The class schedule was flexible.”
Kaplan has a lot of scheduling options designed to work for busy students all over the world. You can choose classes that meet one, two, three or four times a week.
“The dashboard is helpful.”
Students like Kaplan’s informative and responsive interface.
“The real SAT felt different.”
Students sometimes notice a confusing difference between the real SAT and the material they’ve been studying at Kaplan. This problem is endemic to most test-prep companies because very few of them use authentic College Board practice materials.
If you’re looking for third-party practice SAT questions, there are other companies that do a better job of matching the College Board’s style and content. My personal favorite is Ivy Global.
“It was too much homework.”
(This comment is not exclusive to Kaplan students).
People choose online SAT prep because they have busy schedules, so it can be frustrating to discover that you’re expected to complete more prep between sessions. Kaplan, like other reputable test-prep companies, does assign a fair amount of homework after each class session. In addition, students must take quizzes and watch introductory videos on upcoming material. It all adds up to a significant weekly time commitment.
As you’ve probably guessed, I don’t consider this a real negative. Homework is the price we pay for the higher scores we crave. If you truly can’t fit regular homework into your schedule right now, choose the Self-Paced or Live Online Essentials option.
“They never returned my email.”
I’ve heard from quite a few Kaplan families who are frustrated because books don’t arrive in time, tech support is inadequate, or communications feel unsatisfactory. Kaplan is a huge company. On the up side, that means they have exceptional resources and experience to offer. On the down side, their size may make some students feel anonymous or overlooked.
“We spent too much time on stuff that I already knew.”
This is a common complaint among students who are already scoring high. As I mentioned, Kaplan SAT classes (both in person and streaming) are led by three test- experts, so students get more individualized attention than they would in many other programs. Even so, classes are calibrated to the level of the group. If you truly need specialized coaching, one-on-one tutoring is a better choice for you.
You may do well in a Kaplan’s SAT program if: