EKStarting the college prep journey? Here’s a quick overview of the whys and wherefores of SAT and ACT tutoring.

Which (as in, which test: SAT or ACT)? I have a long answer to this question, but here’s the short one. Students who are fast workers and do well in their math and (importantly) science classes usually do better on the ACT. Students who are exceptional readers and writers, and who like to take their time with their work, usually do better on the SAT. Note that the tests are graded on a curve, and most students tend to score about the same on both of them. But choosing the right test can be worth a few percentage points. (By the way, I do not recommend getting tutored for both tests.)

When? Again, I have a long answer to this question, but here’s the short one. There are four general starting points: (1) If a student has completed at least Algebra 2, the window opens the summer after her sophomore year. This allows her to get most of her SAT or ACT prep over with before her junior year (traditionally a difficult year). But not all students like working over the summer. (2) Starting in the fall of her junior year is also fine. (3) Or if she is taking Algebra 2 her junior year, I recommend waiting until winter. All three of these starting points give students plenty of time to take multiple official tests (I recommend two or three). But there’s a downside: We expect students to get smarter during their junior years (amazingly enough!), which leads to . . . (4) A student can wait until the summer after junior year. The downside? Now she risks running out of official test dates her senior year (usually October or November is the end of road). It’s not an easy decision. For what it’s worth, most students get started fall of their junior years—a compromise.

How (as in, how much tutoring)? For most students, anywhere from 20 to 40 hours of tutoring is probably fine (I usually recommend 30 hours). Much more than 40 hours may be excessive, unless a student is reaching for an important target score for a particular college.

Who? There are many tutoring options out there: one-on-one, classroom, virtual (online). One-on-one tutoring is usually the most effective (but it’s also the most expensive). Perhaps the more difficult task is choosing the right tutoring company. Some advice: Ask for a tutor bio, especially with larger companies (avoid rookies). Ask if you can meet your tutor up front, or at least insist on a “risk free” first lesson (a tutor may sound great on paper, but the tutor-student connection is important, and sometimes elusive). Ask about a company’s curriculum (some companies are “referral” companies, with no “in-house” curriculum—stay away from these). And: ask around.

I hope this helps you get rolling with SAT or ACT prep. Good luck!

L.A. native Erik Klass is the owner of KlassTutoring and the author of The Ultimate SAT Tutorial and The Ultimate ACT Tutorial.