While both approaches have their relative merits, the decision to pursue one option over the other must be based on the individual needs of a particular student.
1. Score Levels
Group classes are designed for students with average to very good SAT or ACT scores. Classroom-based test prep is often targeted to the middle- and upper middle–score levels, so students with SAT or ACT scores between the 40th and 90th percentiles will be right at home in group classes.
Individual tutoring is better for students with scores at the high and low ends of the spectrum. Students with either very high or very low scores may not benefit as much from group classes. Those students with scores below the 35th percentile (ACT 18 / SAT 1350) may feel the information is presented at too fast a pace and that fundamental concepts are being ignored in order to cover more advanced topics. Those with scores above the 95th percentile (ACT 30 / SAT 2100) may feel the information is being presented too slowly and that the class is not covering enough challenging concepts.
Group classes are ideal for students who are self-motivated and disciplined. Students without great discipline skills may struggle with group-based test prep. As it is harder to create accountability in a classroom environment, most students who lack discipline will not complete the homework assignments. By contrast, disciplined students who complete their assignments will be able to guide the classroom discussions toward their needs.
Individual tutoring works well for students who do not always meet deadlines. For students who struggle keeping up with work or turning in assignments on time, the individualized attention of one-on-one tutoring may be a better option.
Group classes build self-awareness. Many students don't know why they do not perform well and are not aware of the information or skills they need to acquire. Class-based instruction can be very beneficial in laying out the framework for the tests and providing students with the opportunity to understand what they need to learn.
Individual tutoring works well for students who know their own strengths and weaknesses. One-on-one instruction is more effective once students know the specific concept areas they need to work on. Students who pursue individual tutoring with a lack of self-awareness will require many more hours of individualized test prep than students who know what they need to focus on.
Group classes work well for students who benefit from structure. Classroom instruction is predictable and repeatable. It creates a routine that students can count on. This can be very beneficial for students who struggle with scheduling and organization.
Individual tutoring is well-suited for those who fare well with flexibility. Many students thrive on flexibility, but less organized students often fail to prioritize their sessions. This, in turn, may create scheduling mistakes and/or missed meetings.
5. Price Sensitivity
Group classes are often much more affordable. Many students should consider taking a lower-cost group class first in order to raise their own self-awareness. They will then require far fewer individual hours to achieve their desired score improvements.
Individual tutoring is more expensive. While personalized instruction can be an attractive choice for many students, it is often much more costly than group-based instruction.
Consider a Combination
Because both group-based and individualized models offer distinct benefits, many programs now combine the two. Critical concepts and strategies are presented in the group classes, while specific weakness areas are targeted in the individualized sessions. Concepts can also be covered more methodically in the classroom, as homework is typically assigned and reviewed in one-on-one meetings. One additional perk: If you miss either a group or an individual session, you can still go to the other to stay on track.