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Kaplan SAT Prep Review
Our detailed analysis and review of the Kaplan SAT prep course
Generally regarded as the king of test prep, Kaplan has been prepping students for the SAT for decades. And generally speaking, they have done so with great success. Each year, hundreds of college-bound high schoolers score in the top 5% of all SAT takers after having used Kaplan SAT prep. But does a big-time name and track record of success mean that this is the best SAT course for you? We examine and rate the Kaplan SAT prep course in this comprehensive review guide.
To give their students maximum flexibility, Kaplan offers a number of course options, including On Demand, Live Online, and Unlimited Prep. These packages vary widely in price and by level of study resources and access.
Their most basic course, the On Demand course package, is aimed at students needing only the bare necessities for their SAT Prep. This offering comes with video lessons, practice questions and a few simulated exams, but not much else. This is the barebones package intended for students either on a budget or just in need of the basics. As such, this course bares the very approachable price point of just under $150. As far as SAT prep courses go, this is a real bargain.
At the next level up, Kaplan offers its flagship Live Online class. This is likely the type of course that most students and their parents think of when contemplating traditional prep courses. This package builds on the On Demand course by adding 18 hours of live class time, as well as hard copy prep books. Given the addition of the all-important live class feature, this course carries a slightly higher price tag of around $600. This is not cheap, though still not as costly as other SAT courses we have reviewed.
Finally, Kaplan offers its deluxe Unlimited Prep course. This course doesn’t add much in the way of extra study resources to the Live Online class, but adds in full scale PSAT prep materials and longer access to your SAT content. With this package, your access isn’t limited to 6 months, but rather extends to December of your senior year of high school. If you’re taking the PSAT, you’ll get everything Kaplan has to offer on this front, as well as unlimited use of the live classes for both SAT and PSAT. This comes at a cost of around $1,300 full retail.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
Our Analysis of Kaplan’s SAT Prep Coursework
Unsurprisingly, Kaplan provides one of the most comprehensive curriculums in SAT prep in terms of both actual content and structure. Looking at the online portion of their coursework first, which is the basis of the On Demand course curriculum, there are five levels of work that must be completed. Within each level, there are several individual subject-based modules that must be finished. Deeper yet, within each module there is a lesson, drill, and quiz component (i.e. Kaplan’s “Learn It, Drill It, Prove it” system). Put this all together and you have one very robust study plan that I personally found to be very impressive.
The subject-based modules are the foundation of your work and each covers a topic such as “solving equations” or “sentence structure.” In other words, each module covers a standalone subject that is vital to mastering the SAT. You always start with the lesson component of the unit, which revolves a video lesson.
I’ll start by saying that Kaplan’s video lessons are next level. No one else in SAT prep comes close, except maybe Princeton Review. Kaplan has done a masterful job designing their videos around their audience – which is to say, teenagers. Rather than boring prerecorded lectures, Kaplan offers short, engaging videos that are never more than 10 or 12 minutes in length. This is the first strategy for keeping high schoolers’ attention.
The second technique they employ is using a very conversational and casual means of communication. Your instructor sits on a couch onscreen or behind a minimalist desk and just talks to you, almost like you’re having a quick chat over coffee. They use analogies and stories to make otherwise difficult topics seem relatable and understandable. And as they speak, animations, catchy graphics and written notes appear around them on screen.
The entire production creates a very light, fun video that you can engage with. But it’s not all just casual fireside chats. At times, your instructor will demonstrate a point with an example problem. To do this, the screen will cut to a digital whiteboard with your instructor in the bottom corner (similar to a webcast). Your instructor, in the bottom corner holding an iPad and stylus, marks up the onscreen practice problem with notes and equations. They walk you through step-by-step how you would solve a question of the type discussed.
I personally love these video lessons. The frequent cuts between casual couch conversation and practice problems, as well as the graphics and animations sprinkled in, really holds your attention. And don’t forget, these video lectures are only about 10 minutes long, so they’re usually over before you even get into it. I honestly would give these videos three thumbs up if I had another hand.
Once done with your video lesson, you transition into the drill portion of the module. In this section you are given roughly 6 or 7 drills (sometimes more and sometimes less) to work through. These drills take a few different forms, so as to test your understanding of what you just learned in different ways. Most commonly though, you are given a list of possible answer choices and must select all that apply to the given question. This makes getting the answer correct much tougher than a true/false or even multiple-choice question.
Once finished with your drills, you move directly into the quiz section of the module. I really appreciated this portion of the unit. You are given 4 or 5 exam-like questions to test your knowledge. It’s not much, but they do an excellent job of putting you in a test-like conditions. And more important than each question is the video solution that accompanies it. After each question you review the video solution to see how you have answered the problem. Now this is optional if you get the question correct, but I would suggest doing it regardless.
These solution videos are fantastic. Like the video-based instruction, the production value is very, very strong. Your instructor appears in the bottom corner of the screen and works the problem on the digital whiteboard as they explain the most efficient means of getting to the right answer choice. This is where the real learning comes in.
However, this is also where my one real beef with the Kaplan SAT course lies. These video solutions are so good that I would like to see them used for every practice problem. Kaplan offers 1,000+ practice problems (more on this below), but it is only the handful of quiz questions that get these first-rate video explanations. I want every problem to have a video solution like this! And this is not an unreasonable ask, really. Competitors Magoosh and Testive SAT Prep each offer video solutions for their questions. So I’d like to see Kaplan do this as well.
That is generally it for each subject-based module. After you wrap up answering and reviewing your quiz questions, you move on to the next study unit. In total, I would estimate each module takes about 30 minutes to complete. Which makes sense, as Kaplan claims that their prep package requires just 30 minutes of prep per day – roughly translating to one study unit.
Beyond the core coursework, you are also given access to Kaplan’s Qbank. This is essentially a library of 1,000+ realistic multiple-choice questions. This library contains problems that closely mirror official SAT questions across all problem types, including reading-based passages, math with calculator, math without calculator, and more. In addition, you can create custom practice sessions through the Qbank based on problem type, number of questions and other factors.
This ability to personalize a quiz is a major advantage, as it allows you to narrowly practice on your weak spots. If you’re struggling on math with a calculator, you can tee up a 20 question practice set and hammer that area to make some improvement. Or you can always just set up a practice session with all question types to get a healthy mix of questions to test all subjects. Either way, this bonus practice material is a huge help.
As mentioned above though, you do not get video solutions with each of these practice questions. These problems only have corresponding text explanations. That said, the Kaplan text explanations are quite good. Each is thorough and covers the problem from a few angles. Each explanation provides a “strategic advice” section that covers high level suggestions, “getting to the answer” which shows step-by-step how to get the right answer choice, and a wrap-up “takeaway” section. Altogether, this is a very detailed text-based solution that does have significant value. But I do still wish for video.
One final point worth mentioning is that after you complete your practice sessions, you can access the “review” portion of the Qbank to analyze your performance. Kaplan doesn’t provide analytics as powerful as other prep providers, but they do allow you to see some basic metrics around your performance, which is helpful.
All in all, I was very impressed with the Kaplan SAT prep course. As mentioned, if I could change one thing, it would be adding video solutions to all practice problems. But otherwise, this course is on point. The video lessons are crazy good with their engaging graphics and high production value, and the execution of the drills and practice work around them is first-rate. Kaplan’s SAT expertise is clearly evident in its coursework.
The Kaplan SAT Live Classes
The analysis above only touches on the core components of the online curriculum and doesn’t cover the live classes, which is the other half of the instruction (at least for students that purchase the Live Online or Unlimited Prep package). Many students (and their parents) seeking out the best SAT prep course for their needs often look for a live class component, and rightfully so. To take the On Demand prep course, you have to have a certain level of self-motivation, and not mind studying on your own.
But for many students, they need the accountability and commitment that comes with a live class. The Kaplan live classes generally take place over 9 sessions that are 2 hours long. You sign up for a scheduled class, and are expected to be there and prepared each session. This ups the ante for many students who may otherwise slack with the self-studying.
I personally took the Live Online course and found it to be amazingly beneficial, whether you’re a motivated self-studier or not. The classes cover material that goes well beyond what you get in the video lessons. Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of overlap between the content of the video lectures and live classes, but the classes just dive deeper. They also provide a different perspective. The video lessons, while excellent, are highly choreographed and scripted. The live classes are not. The instructor will often dole out side tips or provide some helpful anecdotes or mnemonics as study aids.
The instructor that led my class was also very, very good. She was crazy smart and obviously knew the SAT inside and out. She used memory aids often to increase retention and was not afraid to go off-script. And another cool feature of the Kaplan Live Online class is that if you have a question, there is a second teacher working the chat function. That way your teacher is never really bogged down with questions and can focus on the material. I really liked this small, but important feature.
Accompanying the Live Online and Unlimited Prep classes, you will get a set of printed prep books from Kaplan. Note I did not mention the Self-Paced course there – that course option is entirely online. The Kaplan books that come with the high-end packages are worth their weight in gold. The best book of the bunch is the SAT Course Book. This workbook is integrated with your live course.
The material in this book is aligned with your class lecture and covers testing strategies, as well as content review. It is where the bulk of “learnable” material is housed and well worth the attention. The book is written in a clear and easily understandable manner. It is also sprinkled with some awesome graphics and practice problems to help learn in different ways. The other prep books, including the book of practice tests, are helpful, but the course book is the big value here.
Kaplan SAT Practice Tests
In addition to the video lessons, live classes, books and everything else covered in detail above, Kaplan also provides some rock-solid practice tests. No matter which course format you select, you will get access to 8 full-length practice exams. This isn’t the most we have seen – Princeton Review actually provides an astounding 24 with their Live Online class equivalent – but it is pretty respectable.
And more importantly than the volume of tests, the key point here is that 4 of Kaplan’s tests are actually official College Board SAT practice exams. Meaning you get access to 4 real, previously used SAT’s. This is a huge advantage for practicing under exam-like conditions. The 4 tests that aren’t official exams are dang good in their own right, and I really liked them, but there’s no beating the real deal. It is worth mentioning that Kaplan also provides a realistic testing experience with their paper tests. Not all courses provide this experience, so it is nice to have here.
Dashboard and Interface
The Kaplan online platform is about as clean and intuitive as it gets. The dashboard is simple, with your “Study Plan” serving as your homepage. From this screen you can easily drill down to each study unit and practice test along the left-hand side. The layout of where are your materials are located is extremely clear, and the drilldown function has a real nice hover feature and responsiveness.
I know that user interface isn’t always at the top of parents’ priority lists when considering an SAT prep course for their kids, but this platform is truly easy to operate.
In terms of extra resources that accompany the core coursework, I would say Kaplan’s offerings are a little sparse. Whereas other prep providers offer some nice resources like college rankings, score predictors, text reminders to study and other cool tools to make the most out of your prep, Kaplan only has one real add-on. But luckily, it is a good add-on.
Kaplan’s SAT Channel offers students the chance to squeeze in some extra lessons. These recorded lectures take a deeper dive into particular topics that often confuse students and are heavily tested. In total, there is around 16 hours of recorded SAT Channel lessons, and they are generally excellent. These lectures get into the nitty gritty of specific topics, and analyze content on a level unlike what you get in your main coursework.
This is particularly beneficial if you have a certain area where you are weak. Assuming one of the SAT Channel lessons covers this topic, watch it. They do not shy away from the detail and will give you some great strategies for easy improvement. These lessons are also filterable from the SAT Channel page, so you can quickly sort through them.
Kaplan SAT Tutoring
Tutoring is not a standard part of any Kaplan SAT prep course, but they do offer it through a separate package. If you’re the type of student that needs some specialized attention because you are weak on a certain area or perhaps you’re just targeting a top 5% score, you may need some more personalized guidance than you get with the standard course.
I didn’t personally use the Kaplan tutoring, but I have to imagine it is strong if the tutor is half as good as my class instructor. My Live Online teacher was very intelligent and a great communicator. She was also excellent at using memory aids (like mnemonics and stories) to help with retention. So if the other Kaplan tutors are as good as she was, I would think you’d be in excellent hands.
Now, before I mention the price of these tutoring packages, try not to have a heart attack. The packages offer 10, 20, 30 or 40 hours of tutoring, and range in price from around $2,000 up to $4,600. Yikes, I know. That is a lot of cash – but if you truly need it, don’t be scared off immediately. When you factor in that these packages also come with full access to the Live Online course and all other Kaplan SAT materials, the price per hour gets a lot more reasonable.
Content Access Periods
When you sign up for the On demand or Live Online Kaplan SAT course, you will be entitled to 6 months of access. For most students, this should be more than enough. Most other providers do give 12 months of access, but honestly, in my opinion, that is overkill. 6 months is all most student should need. There are certain cases where you may need more (for multiple re-takes or a stretched study schedule), but otherwise 6 months should cover you. But if you do fall into one of those buckets where you need tons of prep time, look at the Kaplan Unlimited Prep package – it is designed for folks just like you.
Wait, There’s No Mobile App?
Unfortunately, Kaplan does not provide a mobile app for its students. Now whether this is a big deal or not totally depends on the type of student you are. If you like to watch video lessons and work practice problems on our iPhone while lying in bed, this could be problematic. But if you’re like most students, I assume you will bust out your laptop for something as serious as SAT prep. I have to think it’s hard to study on a 4-inch screen. But I’ve been wrong before. In any event, if you are one of those people that likes to play on their iPhone in bed or sitting on the couch, check out Magoosh. They have about the best mobile app in the game.
Does Kaplan Have a Higher Score Guarantee?
Kaplan does offer its students a higher score guarantee across all course formats. Read the fine print to make sure you qualify (there are some technical rules), but assuming you do, Kaplan backs up their courses with a money back promise. This is a really nice insurance policy if you’re on the fence. They are basically promising you a better score or your money back.
Kaplan’s General Refund Policy
As a note, if you change your mind after purchasing your Kaplan SAT course, you can generally return it for a full refund (less shipping costs) within 3 days. And you can actually get 75% back up to 7 days. So if some personal circumstances pop up right after buying that prevent you from taking the class, or maybe you just change your mind about college (I doubt it), you can call them and a get a refund.
Verdict: Kaplan SAT Prep Course
There is a good reason so many parents entrust their kid’s SAT prep to Kaplan – their SAT curriculum is about the best out there. Led by some stellar video-based lessons, Kaplan’s core SAT coursework is rock-solid. The video lectures are short, engaging and use some fantastic digital effects to draw in students’ attention while getting the most pertinent testing strategies and content review across. And for those students taking one of the live courses, these video lessons are complemented by some first-rate classes with instructors that are both knowledgeable and excellent communicators.
I have a couple very minor bones to pick with the Kaplan course, including the lack of mobile app and thin roster of supplemental resources, but my one real complaint is around video-based explanations of problems. I just wish Kaplan would use the same amazing video solutions they provide for quiz questions around all of their Qbank practice questions. They are that darn good. But I do understand that would be a tall task for 1,000+ practice problems. And in any event, those problems are backed with some excellent text-based explanations. All things considered, I was thoroughly impressed with the Kaplan SAT prep course and believe it lives up to the hype. This course easily earns a 5-star review.
How much does the Kaplan SAT prep course cost?
Kaplan offers a selection of SAT prep course formats, ranging in price from around $150 up to nearly $1,300.
Are the Kaplan live classes worth it?
Yes. The Kaplan live classes offer more content than is provided in the self-paced package, and are particularly effective for students that need commitment and accountability.
Will Kaplan SAT prep raise my score?
If you take the full Kaplan SAT course, including all lessons, drills, practice problems and tests, it is almost certain your score will go up. The quantity and quality of the content is that impressive.