What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and which study methods are worth paying for?

ACT/SAT Prep

Our counselors answered:

What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and which study methods are worth paying for?

Lisa Hatch
Independent College Counselor College Primers

Picking the Perfect Prep

College entrance exams are controversial. Some perceive entrance exams as unfair and view test preparation as a waste of precious time. But, while many may debate the ability of entrance exams to predict college success and question the fairness of tests that have been shown to favor those in higher socioeconomic groups, the fact is that most colleges and universities continue to consider SAT and ACT scores as part of the admissions package and there’s not much you can do to change that. So, now what? There's solid evidence that good test preparation does work. A recent national survey revealed that, overall, formal test preparation can result in at least a 30-point increase on the SAT and a one-point increase on the ACT. These increases could mean the difference between acceptance and denial. But how do you know which form of test prep to pick? For almost 25 years, I have been engaged in the process of preparing high school students to take college entrance exams. I started out by offering live-lecture test-preparation courses to rowdy groups of juniors and seniors through community education. After the Internet got up and running, I converted the live-lecture curriculum to a format that was friendly for online users. I have also written books on test preparation (including the new edition of ACT For Dummies, due for a December 2011 release). My experiences have given me insight into which types of training work best for which students. Before I continue, though, let me reveal my bias. I have not found any reason for students (and their parents) to spend thousands of dollars and gobs of class time to prepare for the SAT, ACT, and other entrance exams. Therefore, I’m not a big fan of expensive and lengthy test prep courses. It’s not that they don’t help you; it’s just that you can get the same (or better) preparation by spending less money and logging fewer hours in a classroom. For instance, for the same tuition that many national companies charge for their test prep classes, a student could enjoy one-on-one attention from a local private tutor. Generally, if you're pretty self-disciplined and a relatively good test taker, you can adequately prep with inexpensive books and other self-study tools, like online courses. If you need help in one particular area or if you accomplish more with individualized attention, a one-on-one tutoring schedule or small group prep class would be a better bet for you. Ask you friends or school counselors for recommendations. Regardless of the format you choose, you'll get the most for your money if your prep method includes all of these elements: instruction in how to approach test-taking, including a discussion of how to analyze reading passages and eliminate wrong answer choices; a review of math that includes numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, coordinate geometry, probability, and trigonometry (for the ACT); a review of English usage and punctuation; practice on actual test questions from previous exams with thorough explanations of the answers; and instructors who relate well to students and understand the test-taking process.

Deb Kalikow Pluck
Founder & Director New Path to College

The 3 Best, No-cost Ways to Prepare for the SAT

1) Read a lot of books! Visit your local library to borrow books. Look up every word you are not familiar with and then learn all you can about it. 2) For 4 weeks this summer, set aside 90 minutes each week to prepare. Here are some links to some free downloadable timers to help you stay on task: http://appsapps.info/instantboss.php; http://ticktocktimer.com/; http://timeleft.software.informer.com/; http://e.ggtimer.com/. 3) Examples of free SAT study tool websites: http://www.inlikeme.com/test/preparing-sat-and-act.html; http://sat.collegeboard.org/home; http://www.number2.com/.

Tyler Burton
President Burton College Tours

Part of your homework.

Make a schedule for SAT prep that is included in your nightly homework. Before you launch into a test prep regime, take a complete SAT to determine your areas of strength and weakness. If you can afford it a private tutor may be the best approach to fine tune your skills. Many night programs as public high schools offer a test prep course for much less than some nationally recognized test prep companies. If you are not a test taker then visit fairtest.org for a growing list of competitive schools that are going test optional.

Ellen erichards@ellened.com
Owner Ellen Richards Admissions Consulting

A strong academic curriculum

As is the case with anything in life that is worth pursuing, nothing can better prepare a student for college admissions tests better than long term, intensive preparation. Students should take the most challenging course load they can viably handle and learn academic skills intensively throughout their education. Last minute crash courses can not make up for the in depth training that the tests are meant to gauge. Additional advice: 1) Save your money and start your child off on the right track from the beginning by fostering a love of learning and a desire to succeed in school. 2) Use only authentic test preparation materials made by the makers of the test. SAT materials can be found at www.collegeboard.com and ACT materials at www.actstudent.org. Often you can obtain these materials at not cost. 3) Avoid high priced test prep that promises increased scores. Research shows that students rarely increase their scores significantly, regardless of how much they prepare. 4) Opt for individual tutoring in specific areas of weakness rather than large classes that include students who are at varying levels of understanding in different areas – this can confuse students who are behind in certain areas or bore students who are way ahead in others. 5) Realize that test instruction should be tailored to the individual student, not the test. Study skills and general test taking strategies should be automatically infused into any individual coaching you pursue. The most important aspect of test preparation is familiarity with the test format. Knowing what to expect ahead of time is the most simple and straightforward way to maintain an edge in anything a person pursues.

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

Increased Exposure Improves Scores

Self-disciplined students can manage test preparation without outside support from a tutor. Paying for assistance can be useful for students who need someone else to establish a plan, deadlines, and structure for preparation. The best way to ensure strong standardized test performance is to take a challenging high school curriculum. More so than achievement in individual classes, demanding schedules predict strong SAT performance. However, at the time that students begin to fret over standardized tests there isn't much room for adjustment in this area. Leading up to your first SAT or ACT, emphasize repetition in your preparation. Just like a crossword puzzle or the game show Jeopardy!, the style of inquiry is more challenging than the content. Increasing exposure to the style of a standardized test will improve the outcomes. Most test preparation companies and individual test tutors focus on simulating the test environment. But, students shouldn't feel compelled to take the SAT or ACT over and over again. Rather, repeat the style of questions in specific skill groups through at-home practice questions. One excellent College Board resource is to the Skills Insight tool which enables students to practice skills in a desired test-band range. Visit the site for more details: http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-skills-insight

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

What Works Best For You?

There are lots of ways to prepare for the SAT: self-study, SAT classes online, SAT classes in-person, individual tutoring, and combinations of all these methods. First ask yourself -- how do you learn best and most efficiently? Do you like studying on your own and do you have the discipline to follow a self-designed study schedule? Are you able to learn most efficiently and effectively in a group lecture setting? Do you prefer one-on -one tutoring? Many students find that they prepare best when they commit to a combination of these methods. SAT classes are great -- but without self-study at home, they might not be that effective. Self-study can also be useful but where do you go if you have questions? Individual tutoring may be helpful -- but it can also be quite cost prohibitive. You might want to receive tutoring on the portion that you find more difficult, and then use a study guide or group classes for the remaining portions. There are many online and in-person options available. You can always go to your neighborhood bookstore or library to check out a SAT study guide. I always recommend getting the study guide prepared by the College Board -- since they are the ones who prepare the SAT. In addition, there are also many new apps for your phone available that make your SAT study goals more readily achievable! No matter which method or methods that you choose, however, the bottom line is that you have to devote time and quality effort into this endeavor. That's really the only way to prepare.

Helen Cella

What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and which study methods are worth paying for?

Practice questions. It is worth paying for a class if you are not self motivated.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Test Prep: Make the Choice that Works for You

There is no one right way to prepare for standardized tests, but given the reality of the ever competitive application process, it almost imperative that a prospective applicant undertake some form of test preparation. As to which is best, a lot depends upon a student’s learning style. Some need the formal classroom like approach, while for others a computer program might be the best way to go. Meanwhile, one-on- one tutoring might be best for someone else. The approaches, not to mention the costs, vary widely, but if one wants to compete effectively , it is definitely in their best interests to undertake some kind of advance preparation.

Carita Del Valle
Founder Academic Decisions

What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and which study methods are worth paying for?

The best way to study is entirely dependent on your learning style. Once that is determined then specific methods are more important and a better use of your mom and dad's money than others. Either way, having a credentialed teacher who is well-versed in differentiating education would be the best choice.

Mike Kent
Founder / Director CollegeMax Counseling

What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and which study methods are worth paying for?

One of the best ways to prepare is to be sure you are taking numerous practice tests along the way. Whether you prep on your own, or with a tutor, you want to get yourself into the habit of practice that will be like the real thing. That means setting the timer and taking the equivalent of a full section without interruption. In addition to getting more experience on the problems, you will start to feel more comfortable with the pacing and timing. Remember, you can't train for a marathon (the SAT/ACT) by just doing sprints alone (individual practice problems without ever taking full sections)! Mike Kent CollegeMax Counseling mdkent99@att.net