The Princeton Review for SAT: An Honest Review

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The Princeton Review is one of the oldest and most successful test-prep companies around. Founded by a Princeton grad, they’ve been preparing students for the SAT (and a wide array of other standardized tests) since 1981.

Thanks to those decades of experience, they’re experts on the complex world of college admissions testing. And because these tests are such a large concern, The Princeton Review has lots of resources–financial and otherwise–to invest in their programs and their students. At the same time, their sheer scale gives The Princeton Review a corporate flavor, a quality that you may find either reassuring or alienating.

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Here, I’ll take a look at The Princeton Review’s online SAT programs, then give you a quick rundown on the comments that I’ve heard most often over the years from students and their families. Finally, I’ll offer guidelines to help you decide whether studying with The Princeton Review is right for you.

Princeton Review’s SAT-Prep Options

Like all older test-prep companies, The Princeton Review has traditionally focused on in-person classes and tutoring. These days, they’ve expanded their menu to include a variety of online offerings. Most of their SAT programs now combine automated, on-demand prep with some degree of individualized coaching. Which option you choose will depend on how much time you have to prepare and what kind of instruction you’re looking for.

Here are The Princeton Review’s three main options for online SAT-prep:

  1. SAT & ACT Self-Paced
  2. The SAT Ultimate Classroom
  3. The SAT 1400+

The SAT & ACT Self-Paced

The Self-Paced course is (almost) entirely automated and on-demand. You’ll get access to practice materials for both the SAT and the ACT in one package.

Here’s what’s included…

  • Over 280 short video lessons covering both academic content and test-taking strategies
  • Over 3,200 practice questions
  • 377 drills
  • Short, single-section practice tests to help with focused learning
  • Four genuine College Board practice SATs
  • Full-length practice ACTs
  • SAT and ACT review sections
  • The Princeton Review’s Adaptive Recommendation Engine that personalizes the program in response to your performance
  • A dashboard where you can see your scores and track your progress
  • Three hours of “chat time” with a teacher, giving you access to a human tutor when you feel stuck
  • A seven-day money-back guarantee

There’s also a Self-Paced Plus option, which gives you 23 practice tests and five hours of one-on-one communication time with instructors.

The SAT Ultimate Courses (Ultimate 18 and Ultimate 25)

These are The Princeton Review’s most popular SAT courses. Here you get access to all of the automated features listed above, plus…

  • Either 18 or 25 hours of Live Online classroom instruction
  • Unlimited access to previously recorded Live Online sessions
  • Access to specialized SAT Advantage classes where instructors hone in on a key SAT topic
  • Either three (Ultimate 18) or four (Ultimate 25) proctored practice tests
  • 140 more video lectures
  • Additional self-administered practice tests
  • Individualized homework assignments
  • Detailed score reports to help you gauge your progress and focus your practice

Live Online events are exactly what they sound like: participatory group classes offered via video (in contrast to the pre-recorded video lectures that are also included). When you sign up for an SAT Ultimate Course, you’ll choose a class schedule that works for you and commit to attending at that time. Your class will meet once or twice weekly for three or four hours.

In addition to the Live Online sessions, you’ll get the same three hours of instructor chat time that comes with the self-paced packages.

Because of the Live Online component, the Ultimate programs aren’t quite as flexible as an online-only course. Be aware that class time plus homework do add up to a significant weekly time commitment.

The Ultimate courses also involve three printed books:

  • The Official SAT Study Guide (College Board)
  • 10 Practice Tests for the SAT (The Princeton Review)
  • The Princeton Review SAT Manual Version 6.0 (The Princeton Review)

The Official SAT Study Guide is an essential resource for anyone getting ready for the SAT. All of its questions and practice tests are authentic, written by the same company that creates the SAT (the College Board). However, there are only eight of these tests available, so The Princeton Review supplements them with extra practice materials written by their own staff. As an SAT coach, I see this as a significant concern. For more on why, take a look below under “Cons.”

The SAT 1400+

Students enrolled in the SAT 1400+ program are guaranteed a final composite score of 1400 or higher.

To qualify for that guarantee, you must:

  • Have taken the SAT or PSAT before and scored at least 1160
  • Attend every scheduled class session and complete all practice problems and assignments.

Students and families are sometimes frustrated by those requirements (especially since the company tends to put them in fine print). In fact, it’s only reasonable to ensure that everyone in the program is capable of achieving a 1400, and that they work their absolute hardest to get there.

The Princeton Review has been developing its teaching methods for decades. They’re confident that with their instruction, any student who’s already succeeded in reaching a 1160 will be able to move up to a 1400+.

Here’s what’s included…

  • A personalized study plan.
  • Live Online video classes in three-hour or four-hour blocks once or twice weekly over one to two months (36 hours total)
  • Specialized SAT Advantage classes where instructors zoom in on a key SAT topic
  • Access to all of the self-paced practice materials
  • Unlimited access to two expert instructors on demand. Tutors are available to you 24/7.
  • Four proctored practice exams
  • Eight single-section practice tests
  • 20 additional practice tests
  • Books for review and practice
  • A guaranteed composite score of 1400+ or your money back

Finally, The Princeton Review offers some form of score-improvement guarantee for every one of its programs. The qualifying criteria vary a little depending on which course you’re enrolled in.

Pros and Cons

Over my career as an SAT teacher and tutor, I’ve heard a wide range of responses to The Princeton Review from students and their families. Here are the comments that come up most often:

The Pros:

“My instructor was incredible.”

The Princeton Review puts a lot of time and care into choosing and training their staff. They look for both subject expertise and a warm, supportive (and humorous) demeanor. Just about everyone seems to be a fan of The Princeton Review teachers.

“We love the 1400+ guarantee.”

As far as I know, The Princeton Review is the only test-prep company to offer a guarantee like this. It speaks to their confidence in their faculty, and in the teaching methods that they’ve developed over their decades in business.

“I didn’t run out of questions.”

A dearth of practice questions is a real problem with many online SAT-prep companies. Diligent students often run out, especially if they’re focusing their drill on specific subject areas or question types. And since there’s no dedicated library of questions reserved for practice tests, students sometimes discover that there are no practice tests available to them because they’ve used up all of the questions. None of this happens with The Princeton Review.

“You get to practice with the College Board book.”

Working with authentic College Board questions is an essential element of everyone’s SAT-prep. As mentioned above, The Princeton Review uses the eight available official College Board tests in its programs. Unfortunately, they supplement The Official SAT Study Guide with lots of lower-quality questions written in-house. (See below under cons).

The Cons:

“The books are full of mistakes.”

I stopped using The Princeton Review materials in my classes some time ago for this very reason. There were quite a few typos, as well as flat-out mistakes, in both the Math and Verbal practice questions.

“The practice problems felt unrealistic.”

Once students tackle the actual SAT, they may notice a difference between The Princeton Review practice materials and the real test. The Princeton Review does incorporate some College Board content into their programs, but most of what students see is material written by The Princeton Review staff. There are other third-party companies (like Magoosh and Ivy Global) that do a better job of matching College Board content and style.

“The book was tough to get through.”  

I’ve heard this said about all or most of The Princeton Review’s printed resources. The text feels unclear and the tone strikes some readers as condescending.

“There’s no mobile app.”

Unlike most other online SAT-prep companies, The Princeton Review doesn’t offer an app to let students use the on-demand content when they’re out and about. With SAT Ultimate and SAT 1400+, course participants are also required to refer to three full-sized books. These constraints make The Princeton Review courses a little less portable than other prep-programs that are entirely online.

“The dashboard is unhelpful and hard to navigate.”

The Princeton Review dashboard offers less detailed information than some others.  Students sometimes find it hard to assess how they’re doing or get where they need to go.

“There wasn’t enough individualized attention.”

I hear this especially from students who are already achieving high scores and want to move up even closer to a 1600. Live Online classes are geared to the needs of the group. If you need exceptionally specialized coaching, one-on-one tutoring is probably a better choice for you.

Princeton SAT Prep Review: Final Thoughts

Considering what a large and geographically wide-ranging organization The Princeton Review is, it’s not surprising that students come away with a variety of impressions. Your experience will depend, to some extent, on which program you choose, how much individual interaction you want, and who your teachers are.

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You may do well in The Princeton Review SAT-prep program if:

  • You like the idea of working with one of the big, established test-prep companies
  • You’ve used The Princeton Review materials before and know that you like them
  • You’ve studied with The Princeton Review for another test (maybe a PSAT or ACT) and gotten good results
  • You’re already familiar with the official College Board practice tests, and are most interested in learning The Princeton Review’s test-taking strategies
  • You feel comfortable in a setting that’s a little more corporate and a little less warm and fuzzy
  • You want to study with an organization that has access to lots of detailed information about the ins and outs of universities and the college application process