• Strengthen Your Chances
  • PSAT, SAT, ACT, Oh My!

What Are Your Test Prep Options?

Student Group Outside College Building

The words "test day" may strike terror in your heart, but you can arrive prepared to do your best.

The better you prepare and practice for the SAT and ACT the more confident and adept at test taking you will become.

Practice, Practice, Practice Is Often the Best Prep

For many students, taking paper practice tests at a table using a timer is all the test prep needed. There are many test prep books out there that include sample tests with answers. Free online practice tests are also available from many sources, including the College Board and ACT websites.

Test Prep Classes at Your High School

High schools often offer prep classes taught by teachers or by an outside company, or they arrange for a local community college to offer test prep. Fees are usually inexpensive. It's worth popping by your counselor's office to see what your local options are.

Commercial Test Prep Classes

A number of companies also offer prep classes. Courses range from one-day seminars to weekly classes held over several months. Your instructor will walk you through the entire test, provide test-taking strategies, explain test questions, and help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. These classes can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Online Test Prep Options

Online test prep courses are much like regular classes with lectures, sample questions, overviews, and feedback. You will take numerous practice tests. Costs range from free to hundreds of dollars, depending on how much instruction is personalized. Courses often include study guides and software that you can use after the course has ended.

Personal Coaches and Tutors

A test prep coach will focus on the areas where you need to improve. As you might expect, this type of test prep isn't cheap. Private tutors and coaches can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Which Test to Focus On? ACT or SAT?

Since colleges accept both tests, focus on the one that you naturally do better on. Take a few timed, practice SAT and ACT tests on paper. Then take each test on an official test date before your senior year. If you perform significantly better on one test, and want to improve your score, focus your practice on that test.

Test Prep Only Goes So Far

Test prep will not teach you the fundamental skills and knowledge that you should have acquired during high school. It can help you practice your skills, refresh your knowledge, and become more comfortable with the tests. Also, extensive prep is not likely to dramatically boost your scores, and may distract you from other priorities, such as your grades and extracurriculars.

Should You Take a Test Multiple Times to Improve Your Score?

Research shows that the most significant improvement usually comes after the second attempt at the official test. Taking the test three times or more shows no significant additional improvement. So if you are happy with your score after the second try, relax and move on to your other college admission tasks.

What's Next?

Brush up on ways to improve your performance on college admissions tests. Take a look at Tips to Improve Your SAT and ACT Scores.

See ACT or SAT? Which is Best for You? to understand the differences between the SAT and ACT.

Use College Match to look up the average test scores of freshmen at your favorite colleges.