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?

Jane Gabin
College Counselor New York City

Critical reading is critical SAT prep, so READ!...

For the critical reading section of the SAT, there is absolutely no substitute for habitual reading.  Students who make a practice of steady reading -- newspapers, biographies, mysteries, non-fiction, science fiction, short stories -- invariably do better on this portion of the exam than students who only cram for the test.  This is not something than can be left for the last minute.   Reading should be fun, relaxing, and a treat—if you do some reading on a daily basis (and look up unfamiliar words) you will see a difference in your score.

Whitney Bruce
Independent College Counselor Accpeted.com

Any review method will help if you use it...

There are a variety of methods to review for the SAT and ACT exams, and studies have shown that even familiarity with the test can lead to higher scores.  You can prepare for standardized tests with computer programs, websites, review books, short or long-term courses, or private tutors.  For many students, the greatest barrier to preparation is their own busy schedule.  It's easy to find other commitments that take a priority over studying for the test.  Regardless of the preparation method you choose, schedule the time for your preparation and stick with it!

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

Beat the SAT or ACT: Don’t let them beat you...

Do as many free diagnostic tests as possible (outside of your home) to simulate the real SAT experience. Taking the tests more than once benefits many students as senior year is when students’ scores peak.  Classes and private tutors can help; many tutors work with small groups to save costs. For those whose critical reading scores need to rise: read, read, read. The Scarlet Letter is the best book around to develop your SAT vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. For those for whom testing is a challenge: go to fairtest.org to find great colleges that do not require test scores.

Betsy Morgan
Founder College Matters LLC

There is no such thing as testing osmosis...

Know thyself! That is the key to finding the best test prep for you. If you are amazingly self-motivated, you may be fine with a free online study guide such as number2.com and the College Board question of the day. A social learner? A prep class with others is probably the way to go. Nervous Nellie? I suggest one-on-one tutoring. But remember, the best way to prepare for standardized testing is by doing sample problems – many, many sample problems. If you are counting on osmosis to do the trick, save your money!

Nitin Sawhney
Director of Tutoring Services Marks Education

Read and practice!...

The SAT has three parts: Critical Reading, Math and Writing.  If you're trying to strengthen the Reading and Writing parts, the best work you can do this summer is to read difficult 19th and very early 20th century British and American literature. You should also be working on vocabulary.  Marks Education's online vocabulary games and quizzes, free for anyone, are the best in the business. Marks Education's free online vocabulary quizzes and games are located here: http://markseducation.com/onlineresources/index.asp. Finally, if you haven't already done so, purchase the College Board's "The Official SAT Study Guide".  This book has 10 actual practice tests that are the closest thing you'll find to the real test.  

Pamela Ellis
President Compass Education Strategies LLC

Know for thyself before paying for SAT course...

Before investing in any expensive SAT program, students may want to consider a self-study program first. One on-line program that I recommend is ineedapencil.com. The practice questions offered through this site can provide students with an understanding of what the SAT is testing and which questions require more of their attention. If students try this method first and find that they are unable to commit to a regular practice schedule, then it’s time to find a local class that offers a small class size and individual attention on test-taking tips and content sections where more support is needed.

Nancy Griesemer
Founder College Explorations LLC

Boost test scores by reading...

If you don’t do anything else this summer to prepare for standardized tests, make time to READ!  And I don’t mean Teen Cosmo or Sports Illustrated.  Get reading lists from key classes like AP History, Literature, or Language.  Even if you’re not taking AP’s, find out what books you’ll be required to read next year.  Ask friends who’ve completed the classes or possibly contact your school to borrow some texts.  Regardless, reading eases transitions and boosts those scores.  But if great works of literature don’t work for the beach, try magazines.  Look for journals or read popular culture articles in The New Yorker. 

Jim McCorkell
CEO Admission Possible

Retakes in June of junior year unless English language is an issue...

We recommend that students take their college entrance exam in April of their junior year. If you decide you want to take the test a second time to improve your score, we have found that the greatest gains have occurred by taking the test again in June when the test experience is still fresh in your mind. The one exception is for students with English language barriers who tend to do better retaking the test later (October of their senior year, ideally). This gives you the benefit of several extra months of speaking, reading and writing in English. 

Jeannie Borin
Founder & President College Connections

Choosing Test Prep help...

The best way to prepare for the SAT is to get some strategic advice, obtain individualized guidance and take practice tests. Many students take test prep courses which are good for learning about the test, the timing, various sections, and how it is graded. Individualized tutoring help can be most effective because the student’s errors are carefully analyzed so that similar mistakes are not made on the actual test. Online practice tests are the most cost effective and in some cases provide excellent guidance.  The E-prep Program is unique in that a video screen appears that explains a student’s mistakes and clarifies the questions. Information and discounted rates are here: http://college-connections.com/online-test-preparation.html

Marjorie Goode
Founder Start Early: College & Career Planning Service

Prepare within your budget and you can still find success...

Frugal, yet effective methods I tell my counselees to pursue during the summer are test taking time management strategies, a review of their responses on the PSAT, and read more. Learning how to pace oneself for the exam can eliminate the error of spending too much time on questions that should be skipped; but instead, having sufficient time for questions that are comprehensible. Reasonably priced SAT manuals can be used to take a practice test with self-monitoring. If necessary, ask someone to control the clock for you. Review your PSAT answer summary and correct your incorrect responses. Evaluate obvious problem areas; for example, omitted questions at the end of sections indicate you ran out of time.