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What Are Your Test Prep Options?

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If you’re wondering how to study for the SAT or ACT, you are not alone. Here are a few test prep options to explore to help you create a SAT or ACT study plan that is right for you.

Although many colleges and universities have become test-optional, taking the SAT or ACT may still be important, depending on your goals or college list. In addition to the fact that many colleges still require test scores, test-optional schools will consider your scores if you submit them, and high scores may enhance your academic profile.

However, preparing to take the SAT and/or ACT can be one of the more stressful parts of applying to college and many students don’t know how or where to begin. Fortunately, a wide range of test prep resources and study plans are available – from in person and online courses to mobile apps to printed books and guides. Here are a few strategies to consider.

Practice Tests

For many students, the best way to prepare for the SAT and ACT is to take practice tests at home. Free practice tests for the SAT are available from Khan Academy, which partners with the SAT’s parent organization, the College Board, to provide SAT prep. Free practice tests for the ACT are available from the ACT website and through its partner Kaplan.

Many test prep books include sample tests with answer keys. Books are usually updated annually and provide analysis of questions and test-taking strategies. While you can purchase new or used test prep books from a bookstore or an online retailer, it’s also a good idea to check with your school or public library to see if these books are available to borrow.

Study Groups

Education research has shown that studying with a group can be more effective than studying alone. Joining a weekly SAT or ACT study group can introduce you to new study and test-taking strategies, provide support, and help you stick to a study schedule.

For tips on starting and running a study group, visit the College Board website. “Teaching” the material to others is another way to retain it for yourself, so consider offering to tutor a classmate or a friend.  


The ACT and SAT websites each offer test prep resources and advice. The ACT website offers video lessons, online self-paced courses, and one-on-one online tutoring. Fees for these resources range from $99 to several hundred dollars. There are some free resources as well, such a free ACT practice test and study guide, and the ability to view one online class for free.

The College Board, through the Khan Academy, provides a variety of free SAT test prep resources, such as practice tests, diagnostic quizzes and numerous videos that hone in on different types of questions and how to approach them. You can also create your own test prep schedule on the site and set up email reminders to keep you on track.

Commercial Test Prep Classes

A number of companies and tutoring firms offer formal test prep classes both in person and online. Courses range from one-day seminars to weekly classes held over several months. These are often, but not always, taught by professional testing tutors or people who have scored in the 90th percentile on the tests and include additional study guides, activities, or materials.

Typically, in these courses, 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. If you’re taking the test a second time, some companies guarantee a score improvement or your money back.

Test prep classes and review sessions are also offered by some high schools, community colleges and public libraries. It's worth popping by your counselor's office to see what your local options are.

APPS And YouTube Videos

While mobile apps enable you to study for the ACT or SAT anywhere, most SAT and ACT test prep experts caution against relying on them as your only study source. Still, apps can supplement other prep you’re doing, help you track your progress, and enable you to study anywhere at any time.

Here are just some of the SAT and ACT study apps currently available.

You’ll also find a multitude of videos covering various aspects of the SAT and ACT on YouTube provided by a wide range of instructors. The ACT, College Board, Kaplan, and Khan Academy also have their own YouTube channels. You probably won’t want to rely on YouTube as your sole source of test prep information. However, if you have a specific question or problem you want to work on, or you just want to change things up with your test prep routine, YouTube might be a good option.

Private Coaches and Tutors

A private test prep coach or tutor can be an expensive option. Private tutors can charge anywhere from $45 - $200 an hour or more. But, a tutor will focus exclusively on the areas where you need to improve, and tailor the instruction and practice to your individual goals. You may be able to find free or inexpensive tutoring through your high school, youth center, or other organization.

Test Prep Only Goes So Far

Test prep can help you practice your skills, refresh your knowledge, and become more comfortable with the tests. But test prep will not teach you the fundamental skills and knowledge that you should have acquired during high school. Be careful that extensive and obsessive test prep doesn’t distract you from your other commitments, such as your school work and extracurricular activities.

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

Test prep experts disagree on how many times a student should take the ACT or SAT. Some say the most significant improvement usually comes after the second attempt at the official test. Others say improvement plateaus after the third attempt. If you are happy with your score after the second try, you might want to relax and move on to your other college admission tasks.

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