Why test prep matters for the SAT and ACT

By Jordan Schonig

As testing season arrives for college-bound students, some of you will be wondering if studying for the SAT or ACT will be a necessary investment. Can you even study for such a test? Doesn't the test just measure intelligence? These kinds of questions are not uncommon. In fact, such confusion is largely perpetuated by those who produce the tests themselves. The College Board - the company that produces the dreaded SAT - firmly maintains that the nature of the SAT precludes "cramming" of any kind; rather, they claim, the best way to prepare is to take a variety of challenging courses in high school and maintain ideal study habits.

Surely, the company that produces the SAT must be correct, right? Not quite. The goal of the College Board is to produce a test that will neatly rank all college-bound students based on their aptitude for college, thereby making it easier for college admissions boards to make their selections. To admit that everyone can study for the SAT would defeat this goal. The truth is, while not everyone will get a top score on the SAT or ACT, everyone can and should study for such tests-studying simply works, and here's why.

1. Why Is Studying Possible?

The SAT and ACT are standardized tests, meaning their material is consistent and predictable; this way, no one student has an advantage over another, so the results are fair and balanced. If the test material predictable, then we have a good idea about what kinds of questions will show up on any given SAT or ACT. By studying the right kinds of questions and the academic skills needed to understand them, we can increase the likelihood of scoring well on the test.

2. The SAT/ACT is not an IQ test

While the College Board seems to present the SAT as a kind of IQ Test that measures an inherent set of academic skills, such is not the case. The SAT and ACT do not measure intelligence; if they measure anything, they measure your ability to take that particular test. SAT math questions, for example, are not like most of the math questions you solve in math class, nor are they like logic questions you'd encounter on an IQ test. They are unique to the SAT, and so should be studied to gain familiarity.

3. Studying is worth our time

What most students fail to realize is that, if you compare the time needed to secure a competitive GPA (think four years of school at 5 days a week, six hours a day plus homework hours, etc) versus the time needed to improve significantly on the SAT/ACT (anywhere from 24 to 500 hours), there is no doubt as to which is a more efficient use of your time.

4. How can I start?

Despite the protestations of the College Board, test prep is a huge business. There is a surplus of quality study material to choose from, including test prep classes, books, and materials online. Before deciding on classes or books, check out test prep websites like Sparknotes.com or Grockit.com that offer inexpensive but in-depth overviews of SAT and ACT preparation. The important thing is to familiarize yourself with the test before you begin a strict study schedule. Don't let the tests discourage you. You can and should study for them.

About the author

Jordan Schonig is an ACT/SAT/GRE tutor for Grockit. Grockit is a fun and engaging learning community that encourages students to learn from group study, game play, expert tutorials and solo study. Students that prepare with Grockit have proven to achieve higher scores on college admissions tests.