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?

Craig Meister
President Tactical College Consulting

Practice with official tests--but also have a Plan B...

The SAT, which covers critical reading, mathematics, and writing skills, is often the most dreaded part of the college application process; yet, it need not be. The Official SAT Study Guide (TM): Second Edition, published by the makers of the test, is a great resource for the self-directed student. It includes ten full-length practice tests, answer explanations, and tools to figure out your score. Best of all, it costs less going to a movie. If you are unhappy with your scores after taking the real SAT, there’s always the ACT. It may be a better test to demonstrate your strengths.

Megan Dorsey
SAT Prep & College Advisor College Prep LLC

Invest time and effort in your choice of prep program...

As an educator with 18 years’ experience in test prep, I find it promising that you are thinking ahead to the PSAT and SAT!  That’s good news—no matter what approach you take, your effort will be the key to a strong test score.   Official College Board questions should be the foundation of any study plan; I like The Official SAT Study Guide and the online “SAT Question of the Day.” Then, supplement with a strategy guidebook from the library or bookstore.  And if you have the budget, ask around to get recommendations for effective prep classes or private tutoring.

Susie Watts
College Consultant College Direction

Test prep may be more important than you think...

Test prep can improve your scores on the SAT and ACT.  I recommend students use the books published by the College Board and ACT.  These are as close to the real tests as you will get.  Read how to approach each test and learn the basic test-taking techniques for the SAT and ACT.  Take a test each day, time yourself, check your answers and review the questions you missed.  You can find affordable, effective test prep in your area by going to Google and typing in “SAT and ACT test prep” and your city.

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.

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

SAT Prep

This is a subject close to me, as I've often provided SAT prep and SAT advice to my students. The best way to prepare for the SAT is by doing tons of real questions, so students are advised to use no other prep materials but those marketed by the College Board (i.e., the big blue books). Why? The College Board repeats the same types of questions over and over again, and it definitely has pet words, topics and geometric shapes! Not every type of SAT prep works for every student, and there are many providers out there. The person or company hired should first examine your PSAT or previous SAT scores to establish a baseline and set goals. Group sessions can be worthwhile, but what they lack is a focus on the particular needs of the student - both subject matter and learning issues. Whoever delivers the training must really understand the mindset of the test maker and deliver value in terms of an ability to explain how to eliminate unreasonable answer choices, for that's at the heart of a strong performance on the SATs as well as the SAT Subject Tests. Students mature as test takers during a high school, and their scores should naturally improve. However, no test prep provider should promise astronomical gains.

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

Jessica Brondo
Founder and CEO The Edge in College Prep

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

A study method worth paying for is one that has proven results. I woud say the top 2 things every student should purchase are the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide and Real ACTs and then depending on whether you prefer private tutoring, a classroom setting, or an online program, opt for something tailored to your needs.