SAT and ACT Prep – Is it Worth the Time and Money?
Few letters strung together like “SAT” or “ACT” can conjure up as much fear, anxiety, and dread in a student as these! Students hear the hype about college admissions and think that their very future depends on their SAT or ACT score. In some ways, they are right – but in other ways they are very wrong.
When applying to highly or very selective colleges, the SAT or ACT score is one of several critically important factors in the admissions process. If this is the goal, then yes, every point might count. Yet many other highly selective colleges and universities have gone “test optional” and no longer require standardized testing at all. Still other less selective colleges and universities do not require scores that reach the stratosphere, and will look at a student for his/her potential and motivation to learn more than they look at the test score. The standardized test score is just one component of what colleges are looking for.
So when it comes to SAT/ACT preparation, is it worth the time and money? It depends. The Times Union in Albany , New York, had an article this morning about the effective of test prep. In it, they quote the College Board, creator of the SAT, as saying that test preparation will not dramatically raise scores, and the Princeton Review has been pressured by the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus to drop the claim that their “Ultimate Classroom” SAT prep class will be able to raise scores by 255 points.
What is a student and parent supposed to think with this kind of information? Does this mean it’s just not worth the time and money to even try to prepare? I personally think that yes, a student should prepare for these standardized tests, and that they should take them, even if they apply to a school that is test optional. They can decide later whether or not to submit the scores. “Better to have it than not” is my motto. But I also think that students and parents need to be reasonable about their expectations (expect improvement but don’t expect miracles), and be wise and strategic in how the student prepares.
I have a variety of SAT and ACT preparation materials on my website under resources – college. Some resources listed are free, and others are fee-based. My advice to students is first of all, know yourself. Are you motivated and disciplined enough that you can study by yourself? If so, there is plenty of free help out there. Do you work well in a group that is led by an instructor with an approach that fits the average student taking the class? Then take a class. But perhaps the most effective method to prepare is to know how you learn, what you need to improve in order to perform better, and how to attack the standardized test strategically. If the family can afford it, I highly recommend private instruction with well-trained and professional SAT/ACT tutors. A true professional really understand the test, how it works, how to strategize to take it, will administer a diagnostic test to assess the student’s strengths and weaknesses, and then customizes instruction to meet the student’s individual needs.
As with everything else in life and college applications, be reasonable. Everything is best in moderation. I advise the students I work with to make a plan, do their best, be informed, but to not let the SAT or ACT rule their life. It does not define who the student is. Instead of investing too much time in test preparation, students should be finding their passions, doing their best in academics, and contributing to their school communities in other positive and meaningful ways. That’s how they will really get the desired college’s attention!