SAT and ACT scores do matter and are a critical admissions component at most colleges and universities. There are a myriad of 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 are good options for 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!) for grilling 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 a relatively inexpensive group course.
Many SAT and ACT prep classes are intensive programs led by experienced instructors. Generally they include many practice exams, numerous review questions, and a host of proven test-taking strategies. A test prep class can help you raise your scores, if you take it seriously and work diligently. You won’t gain much from just showing up. At the end of the day, the way to win the game is “practice, practice, and more practice”.
The decision on what’s best for you depends on your goals, budget and level of motivation. Take some time to consider your goals and then discuss them with your parents if they would be paying for the course. What do you hope to achieve with your ACT or SAT scores? What colleges are you considering and will improved scores make a meaningful difference? Are you already in the “acceptable” range for colleges you are interested in applying to?
Are your scores lower than expected relative to your GPA? For instance, if you are near the top of your class in terms of GPA but your test scores put you in a much lower percentile, there may be reason to believe that you can benefit strongly from effective coaching. Another group of students that can benefit disproportionately from coaching are underachievers. If you don’t know who you are, your parents do!
Higher scores may open doors to more competitive colleges. Even if your current test scores are likely to be sufficient for admission, a test prep course may make sense because higher scores would make you a stronger candidate for merit aid. Hence, while test preparation classes can be expensive, it may be a very good investment if it gets you into a more competitive college and/or results in a generous merit scholarship.
Intensive test preparation courses are just one way to prepare for the ACT and SAT. There are many other free and lower-cost resources to consider as well:
- Practice Books and Sample Tests
- Software & On-Line Interactive Learning Programs such as BrightStorm
- Group Prep Classes offered by your Community or High School
- Private tutoring for specific areas
If you don’t get the score you are looking for the first time you take the test, consider taking it again. Many students find their scores improve significantly the second time due to familiarity with the test and prep.
Lynn Radlauer Lubell, Publisher of InLikeMe.com and Founder of Admission By Design, an Educational Consultancy based in Boca Raton, Florida.