Are you ready for your stint as a "semiprofessional test-taker?" Like learning to drive, the more you prepare and practice the more confident you will be come test day. Read on for a quick tour of your test prep options.
Practice, Practice, Practice Is Often Enough
For many students, taking many practice tests at a table using a timer is all the test prep needed. At most bookstores you will find test preparation books that offer test-taking tips and sample tests with answers. These guides are great for students who have limited computer access or who are more comfortable with printed materials. You can find a wide selection of test preparation books in our CollegeData Bookstore. There are many sources for online practice tests, including the College Board and the ACT websites.
Test Prep at Your High School
Many high schools offer test prep classes that are taught by teachers on staff or by an outside company. Fees for these classes are often inexpensive. Your high school may also make an arrangement with a local community college to offer test prep. It's worth popping by your counselor's office to see what your local options are.
Commercial Prep Courses
A number of companies also offer classes. Courses range from one-day seminars to weekly classes over a three-month period. Your instructor will walk you through the entire test, giving tips and explanations. You will also take many practice tests that will help you uncover your strengths and weaknesses. The costs of these classes can be high, anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Course providers pride themselves on delivering results, so if you have the time and money, commercial test prep classes may be for you.
Online Tutoring Options
Online test prep courses let you do the work at your own pace any time of day from the convenience of home. Of course, this requires discipline and good study habits. Qualified teachers teach the courses much like conventional classes with lectures, sample questions, overviews, and feedback. You will have the opportunity to take numerous practice tests and check your answers. The cost ranges from inexpensive to hundreds of dollars, depending on how much the instruction is personalized. They often include such extras as study guides and software that you can use after the course has ended. Many offer free online practice tests.
Personal Coaches and Tutors
If you are easily distracted by a classroom environment or can't seem to find the time for an online course, a private tutor or coach—who will tailor the test prep to your individual learning needs—may be the answer. As you might expect, this type of test preparation is not cheap. Private tutors and coaches can cost thousands of dollars.
Choosing Between the SAT and the ACT
Since you can choose to submit either your SAT or ACT score to any college that requires test scores, you should find out if you perform significantly better on one test over the other. Take practice SAT and ACT tests and then take each test on an official test date. If you perform significantly better on one test, focus your practice on your stronger test.
How Much Does Test Prep Really Help?
A test prep course will not teach you the fundamental skills and knowledge that you should have acquired during your high school education. It can help you practice these skills, refresh your knowledge, and become more comfortable with the tests. The more familiar you are with the SAT and ACT, the more confident you will feel and the fewer nervous mistakes and oversights you'll make. It is up to you and your family to determine the best option for you.
Should You Take a Test Multiple Times?
Test prep works only up to a point. Research shows that after taking the test up to three times, a student typically shows no significant improvement. In fact, the most significant improvement usually comes after the second attempt. So if you are happy with your score after the second try, relax and move on to your other college admission tasks. The exception is when you need a certain score to qualify for a scholarship or sports program. In those cases, it would make sense to retake the test until you have reached the required score.
Standardized test preparation comes in many forms and price ranges. Some say you can improve your scores only slightly, others claim test prep can make a substantial difference. At the very least, practice and familiarity may lead to higher scores—so you stand to benefit from your investment.