Should I Take a Test Prep Course?

It’s one of the sure things in the college admissions process: your scores on the SAT and ACT do matter. With few exceptions, most colleges look for a minimum score on one of these two tests as part of their admissions requirements. So does that mean you should automatically sign up for a test preparation course to boost your score?

Most SAT and ACT prep classes are intensive, multi-week programs led by experienced instructors. Typically they include plenty of practice exams and review questions, and you’ll leave the class armed with proven test-taking strategies. A test prep class can be very successful in upping your test scores, but whether or not a class is the right route for you probably depends on your overall goals. So take a minute and ask yourself what you hope to achieve with your ACT or SAT scores:

  • Do you simply want to meet the minimum scores that will put you in the “acceptable” range for most colleges? If so, you might be able to hit your target score on your own or with the help of other test preparation resources (see below).
  • Or, are you swinging for the fences with the goal of a high score that will open doors to the most competitive colleges?

Even if your test score is high enough to get you admitted to college, a few more points on either standardized test may put you in the running for merit aid, money given out by colleges based on your accomplishments. While test prep resources may cost some time and money in the short term, merit aid save you tens of thousands of dollars on college tuition.

Maximizing Other Test-Prep Resources

Of course, a full-fledged test preparation course is just one way to get ready for the ACT and SAT. There are plenty of other resources out there, and many of them are free or low-cost.

  • Prep Books and Practice Manuals: Both should be available (for free) at your school or local library, or for purchase at a bookstore.
  • Software: Many companies that offer test-prep courses also sell software programs complete with sample tests, review questions, interactive lessons and test-taking strategies. These programs typically cost less than $50.
  • Online Resources: Do a quick Web search and you’ll find a number of sites that offer free practice questions, tests and study guides, as well as tips and advice for successful test taking.
  • Workshops: Many high schools offer workshops (sometimes for free) to help students prepare for the ACT or SAT. Check with your guidance counselor to see what resources are available to you.
  • Re-Testing: If you don’t get the score you want on your first attempt, think about re-taking the test when it’s available again. Many students find their test scores improve the second time they take the test. For those planning to take the test many times and get a better score on each beware: Familiarity with a test will only help so much.

The bottom line is that while the ACT and SAT test what you’ve learned over the course of your entire academic career, you’ll be more successful if you have some degree of familiarity with them. So no matter how you choose to do it, make time for some review and test prep it will give you the best possible advantage on these very important exams.

Become familiar with admission trends, or what range of scores various schools tend to admit. Take advantage of Cappex’s “What are my chances?” calculator to determine your chances of admission.