Frequently asked questions

For information on specific workshops, please select the appropriate topic from the "Courses & services" drop-down menu above (ACT, SAT, & PSAT prep; high-school entrance exams; core skills & enrichment; admissions coaching).

Where do your students come from?

In classes and in individual coaching sessions, I work with students from both Chicago and the suburbs (as well as Indiana and Michigan). I have also worked in person with students from Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Japan, Florida, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and California, most of whom have traveled to Chicago expressly to work with me. 

Some of my students attend East Coast prep schools (Andover, Exeter, Choate, Deerfield, Groton, Loomis, Hotchkiss, Milton, Tabor) and study with me during school vacations or via Skype. I have also worked remotely via Skype with students in South Africa, Nigeria, England, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Canada, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Jersey, North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, California, and Tennessee.


Many of my ACT/SAT prep students come from the Chicago suburbs (e.g., New Trier, Stevenson, Hinsdale Central, IMSA, Naperville North, Vernon Hills, Neuqua Valley (Naperville), Waubonsie Valley, Libertyville, Grayslake, Glenbrook North, Glenbrook South, Prospect (Mt. Prospect), Hersey (Arlington Heights), Metea (Aurora), and Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart). I have taught students from Latin, Parker, University of Chicago Lab Schools, Northside College Prep, Payton, Whitney Young, St. Ignatius, Lincoln Park IB, Lane Tech, Lycee Francais, Francis Xavier Warde, Near North Montessori, Rogers Park Montessori, Sacred Heart, GEMS World Academy, and the British School of Chicago, among others.

Do you tutor students privately by phone or e-mail?  Will you edit written work online?
I coach students on test prep, writing, and high-school and college admissions via Skype, phone, and/or e-mail, and I can critique and edit written work remotely, whether a student lives in the Chicago area or elsewhere. The same hourly rate applies to both in-person private coaching and private coaching via Skype, phone, and/or e-mail. (Please note, however, that there is currently no "long-distance" version of any of my classes; classes are strictly in-person events for students who live in the Chicago area or who have traveled to Chicago to work with me, and there is no remote participation option via Skype or phone.)


Although most of my Skype students are located far from Chicago, some local students (especially busy high-school students) choose to work with me via Skype because it is more convenient (no commute needed) and because working via Skype enables us to meet for shorter periods of time more frequently than would be possible with in-person sessions.  Some students do a combination of Skype sessions, in-person sessions, and classes, which works very well.


Typical Skype sessions run 60 minutes, though shorter sessions (20-45 minutes) are also possible (and quite productive, especially when having a check-in motivates a student to do the self-study homework that he/she should be doing).  I charge for actual time spent, regardless of the originally anticipated length of the session.

How far in advance should I contact you to schedule an appointment?

My summer schedule (June-August) typically fills up by April, and my September-October schedule typically fills up by August. For the period from November through May, students should contact me at least 2 weeks in advance to reserve appointment times. If no current appointments are available, I would be happy to add a student to the waiting list, since last-minute cancellations sometimes occur.


Is private coaching via Skype as effective as in-person coaching?

I started coaching students via Skype in 2013, and for the past four years, a substantial portion of my coaching work has been with students in other states or countries with whom I've worked exclusively by Skype. In my experience, for most purposes, coaching via Skype is just as effective as in-person coaching. In fact, a junior whom I coached for a total of 15 hours over 10 weeks simply via phone, not via Skype (because her boarding school's internet connection was so poor), raised her SAT score by 200 points, from 1820 to 2020, and improved from a 26 to a 33 on the ACT (with a 9-point increase in her English score and a 13-point increase in her Science score).


When working with students via Skype, I make full use of the Skype chat/text box, typing words and sentences to demonstrate or reinforce points (e.g., what the student needs to do differently on future ACT Reading sections), or to list to-do/homework items.  I also use the "share screen" feature in Skype as needed. And I often use Google Docs (an outstanding tool for reviewing and critiquing essays, such as college application essays) as well as an interactive whiteboard app (currently Bai Board 3). The whiteboard app is especially useful when I'm covering math topics or demonstrating a grammar rule by drawing arrows between certain words in a sentence. I sometimes ask a student to solve a math problem in "real time" before my eyes, using the whiteboard app on his/her iPad (and, preferably, a stylus); I can then critique and mark up his/her scratchwork as needed.  


Because underlining and scratchwork are so important, I ask my long-distance students to use a convenient, free scanning app (e.g., Genius Scan or CamScanner) to quickly scan and send me sample pages from their practice test sections; sometimes I have a student hold a page of a test up to the camera so I can see whether he/she did enough marking-up.  


Some of my long-distance students are surprised by how quickly and accurately I'm able to assess their skills and call out their habits and tendencies—within the first couple of sessions. Read my blog post at for an amusing and insightful anecdote from a Skype session with an 8th-grade student.


All in all, I enjoy working with students via Skype and have been gratified that my long-distance students (many of whom I never meet in person, though I feel as though I've gotten to know them well) achieve score and skill improvements as impressive as those of my in-person students.

My child is not a "gifted" student.  Is he/she a good fit for your services?

Some of my students earn high scores (after completing multiple courses and working consistently hard), but I teach a wide range of students who come to me with varying levels of preparedness. If a student completes the assignments, manages his/her time wisely, and does his/her best, that student will improve; some of my weakest students have made dramatic progress. I will accept students who are willing to work hard (even if they don't have particularly strong test scores at the outset), if they come to me early — well before they must take entrance exams for high school or college — and show that they can keep up with the class. Improvement and perseverance matter more than the initial level of a student's scores.

***The following questions pertain to small-group classes, which I offer from time to time, particularly in the summer.***

How big are your classes? Each class typically has 5-9 students. This small size enables me to give some personal attention to each student and fosters a cooperative and stimulating learning environment, in which students discuss ideas and learn from one another as well as from me.


How often does each class meet? 

During the academic year, classes usually meet once a week for 90 minutes, two hours, or three hours, depending on the level of the class (classes for younger students are shorter). I sometimes offer intensive summer workshops that meet two to four times a week; some summer classes may span 4-5 hours (morning and afternoon, with a lunch break).

Are small-group classes as effective as private tutoring?

In my experience, small-group classes with a knowledgeable, engaging teacher can actually be more helpful than one-on-one tutoring. Most students enjoy learning with and interacting with other students; the group setting provides extra encouragement, motivation, and intellectual stimulation as students strive to do their best. This is particularly true for younger students, who may find one-on-one tutoring tedious, pressure-filled, or both. Moreover, students benefit from the structure of a weekly class, with regular homework assignments and a variety of in-class exercises and discussions.


Do you assign homework?

To maximize learning and enable students to develop the right learning and test-taking habits, students are expected to do some homework during the week; the amount varies by class and ranges from 45 to 90 minutes for academic-year classes; intensive summer courses typically involve more work (2-4 hours of preparation for each class session). If a student has not completed his/her homework, however, he/she still benefits from attending class and learning here during class time; he/she can make up the homework the following week. I encourage students to manage their time wisely and complete as much of the homework as they can each week. Some coaching in study skills, organization, and time management is integrated into all my classes.


What if a student has an erratic or packed schedule, with frequent conflicts due to other commitments (such as sports, music, or drama)?

Each course meets only once a week during the academic year (with holidays during school breaks), so students must be able to attend most classes to make real progress. Students who have frequent conflicts are best advised either to schedule private coaching sessions with me (in person at my location, or remotely via Skype) or to retain a private tutor who can visit them at home on a schedule of their own choosing. 

Can I meet you before deciding to sign up for a workshop?
For the past 13 years, all new students have signed up for classes without meeting me first; that is standard procedure for any institution that offers group classes (as opposed to private tutoring). If, however, you would like your child to experience my teaching before signing up for a class, you may reserve his/her place in a trial class. A trial class costs the same as a single regular class. Alternatively, if my schedule can accommodate a short private session, you may set up an hourlong private appointment, for which I will charge my regular hourly rate. I do not meet with prospective students or parents "for a few minutes" free of charge; instructors at, for instance, Northwestern's Center for Talent Development or the Latin School of Chicago's summer school do not offer that option, and I don't either. My website includes comprehensive information on my background, course offerings, and student successes, as well as testimonials by students and parents; that information will assist you in deciding whether to sign up for a class.


How do I sign up for a class?
E-mail me to find out whether a spot is available and to request registration materials (if applicable). I reserve a student's place in a class once I receive his/her completed registration form and payment in full for the class. Because my classes are small, and because many students enjoy studying continuously with me (some of my students have worked with me for seven consecutive years), classes fill up quickly and often sell out.


© 2020 by Sara Su Jones, Elite Educational Coaching.