Standardized Test Scores – How Important? How To Improve?

SAT/ACT scores are a threshold metric at many colleges. Not only do high scores improve your chances of acceptance, they may also lead to significant scholarship money.

Those who say you can’t prep for the SAT and ACT are wrong. Empirical evidence proves that scores can jump significantly with effective preparation. In fact, each new word you learn that appears on the SAT, can improve your score by 5-10 points.

Comfort and familiarity are other key factors. Some people are naturally good test takers – they stay calm and perform at a high level during the exam. Even the best test takers can benefit from practice, preparation and mastering test-taking strategies. Preparation for the SAT and ACT can significantly improve your scores – and your college options.

More than half of the SAT tests your vocabulary (e.g. your understanding of words, reading comprehension and writing ability) in some manner. Therefore, there is no better way to boost your SAT scores than to improve your vocabulary. Since certain words appear on the SAT more frequently than others, focus on improving your SAT vocabulary (e.g. SAT word prep lists and challenging reading).

The other key area of the SAT tests your math skills – Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra I & II. The key here is familiarity along with quick and accurate execution. That requires refreshment and practice – especially for advanced math students taking courses beyond Algebra II who aren’t solving SAT-type problems on a regular basis at that time that they actually take the SAT.

There are many programs and resources to help you improve your standardized test scores ranging from free (mostly online) to expensive personal tutoring. Depending on your needs, goals, timetable, budget and level of motivation, there should be good options available to you.


There is nothing magical about expensive prep courses – many experts contend they are effective because they provide a structure (and motivation based on the expense!) to grill you with thousands of practice questions. A motivated student can master test-taking strategies (i.e. effective guessing) and significantly improve test scores through diligent, self-directed study or an inexpensive group course.

A great place to start is with a free practice test. Don’t study. Let this be your baseline. You can get a full length SAT Practice Test (including answers and explanations) on The College Board web site. Read the instructions carefully.

Here are six “can’t miss” free programs to boost your scores:

  1. Sign Up for SAT Question of the Day provided by The College Board.
  2. Get The Free Official SAT Practice Test.
  3. Sign Up for Dictionary.com Word of the Day
  4. Check out The New York Times Learning Network — Daily News Quiz, Test Prep Questions, Word of the Day
  5. Sign up for The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times and try to read at least one article or op-ed piece each day. A free daily newsletter such as the WSJ’s On The Editorial Page (one of many newsletters offered by the WSJ) is a great way to learn about current issues while improving your vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.
  6. Sign Up for My College QuickStart ™ from The College Board.
If you took the PSAT/NMSQT on or after 2006, you have access to My College QuickStart My College QuickStart includes these features:
  • My Online Score Report – An enhanced score report that allows you to review each PSAT test question, your answer, and the correct answer with answer explanations.
  • My SAT Study Plan – A customized SAT study plan based on your PSAT/NMSQT test performance, highlighting skills for review and practice.
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