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SAT Prep Classes: Take them or leave them?

If your child is old enough, you might find yourself wondering, Are SAT and ACT preparatory classes worth the effort and expense?  Valid question.

First, it would be wise to recall what’s at stake with these two well-known college admissions tests. Higher standardized test scores give students a better chance at admission into more prestigious colleges and universities, broadening their options. Moreover, higher scores can unlock doors to scholarships, including merit-based and university-specific funds. So it definitely makes sense to try to maximize ACT and SAT test results!

In 2017, students that never took the PSAT averaged a 501 in reading and a 510 in math; students that took the PSAT as a junior and sophomore or younger averaged a 554 in reading and a 544 in math. — SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report

Students can choose from a broad array of test preparation opportunities, the most common being self-guided workbooks, online practice tests, YouTube videos, classroom lessons and private tutoring options. The latter two options can be pricey but effective; however, you might start early with free options and see how far they get you.

College Board, which administers the SAT, has partnered with Khan Academy to offer free personalized practice plans for that test; you can check it out here. Other popular test preparation materials are available through The Princeton Review, Kaplan, Peterson’s, ACT Online Prep, and many others; your guidance counselor may be able to advise you on a good fit.

Wherever your child chooses to focus test preparation efforts, these goals can help them make the most of their time. Pass them along!

Aim to come away with some current test-taking strategies. SAT takers used to have to guess cautiously, knowing they’d be penalized for wrong answers. That’s no longer the case; neither the ACT nor the SAT marks you down for wrong answers, so it’s better to guess than leave blanks. Other tips include looking out for trick questions at the end of test sections, quietly reading passages to yourself to “listen” for grammatical mistakes, and finishing the easiest questions first.

Identify strengths and weaknesses. After your first practice test, you’ll be able to identify the areas where you perform well and the areas where you can improve. You may encounter a formula you need to learn again, or you may discover unfamiliar vocabulary that keeps popping up. Perhaps you’ll discover a certain area that’s worth focusing on with a private tutor, where even one or two sessions can have a dramatic effect on your understanding.

Familiarize yourself with the pacing. It’s common for even the brightest students to feel like they’re running out of time, so don’t ever spend too much time on one question. The tests are also long in duration and will require some mental stamina, which you can build by taking practice tests that are timed.

The goal of all standardized tests is for you to show what you know, but too often anxiety stands in the way of achieving your best. So practice early and often: Your anxiety should go down and your confidence will go up!

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