Test Prep

Finding the Test Prep Strategy That Fits Your Learning Style


If you plan to apply to college, you will most likely take the SAT or ACT at least once, and you want to earn the highest score you can. Standardized test scores are used in admissions decisions by the majority of colleges, and competition for college acceptance is fierce.

Private colleges like Stanford University or Wesleyan University accept less than 20 percent of applicants annually. Some public universities may accept closer to 50 percent of in-state applicants, but if you're applying from out of state to schools like University of Virginia or University of Michigan, you're still looking at acceptance rates of roughly 25 percent. You'll need every test score point you can earn, and that means you need to prep for your standardized tests!

While adding test prep to an already busy high school schedule might feel daunting, there are tons of test prep options that you can customize for your schedule and study needs.

Online Prep for the ACT or SAT

Both ACT, Inc., and the College Board (makers of the SAT) offer free online tools to help students practice for each exam. These tools can help you get a handle on the test format and types of questions, and take a practice test to set your benchmark score. If you give these tools a try, you will start to get a sense of what kind of prep you may need. The College Board has reported that 20 hours of its free SAT prep has resulted in an average score increase of 115 points.

You may also want to consider a paid online prep product -- there are many affordable options available, and these can help you save time and prep more efficiently by offering more advanced personalization and lesson recommendations based on your strengths and weaknesses. Online prep is a good option for students who are overscheduled and have a high degree of digital literacy, and for students who plan totake both the ACT and SAT.

Even if you choose to prep online, you should take at least one practice test on paper, using a number-two pencil, under realistic testing conditions. Both the SAT and ACT are still pencil-and-paper exams.

Test Prep Books

While one of The Princeton Review's claims to fame is producing the only SAT prep guide to ever make The New York Times' Bestseller list, there are TONS of prep books to choose from. Like online prep tools, these are affordable or free if you're savvy (you'll be able to find books for the SAT and ACT at your local library or in your guidance counselor's office). Books provide a simple way to see the full test structure and typically contain several paper practice tests. For independent learners who want a lot of realistic test practice, test prep books are a great option.

Test Prep Classes

SAT and ACT prep classes are offered in person all over the United States, and delivered live via online learning platforms as well. The quality of your prep class will depend a lot on the teacher, so it's a good idea to seek out reviews online and from your personal network. Classes will provide a comprehensive overview of the ACT or SAT content and tactical test-taking strategies. Online or in-person test prep courses are a solid choice for students who benefit from study buddies, or who need in-person instruction to stay engaged and retain information.

Private Tutoring for the ACT or SAT

A private tutor is the priciest option for test prep, but this method has serious benefits. If you're very short on time, or you've prepped on your own and identified specific areas where you need to improve, a tutor can help you gain major points in only an hour or two. If you have a lot of time and budget to prep for your exam, and you experience significant test anxiety or trouble focusing, weekly tutoring sessions will help you feel comfortable and confident on test day.

Note that a good tutor will probably give you homework in between sessions as well, so make sure your tutoring plan fits in with your high school workload and other commitments. Don't let your grades slip in favor of preparing for standardized tests!