Test prep guides, cramming can lead to better scores

Molina Soun, Staff Writer

Students spend weeks and months in advance anxiously preparing for their SAT, ACT, or AP tests.  Students who receive high scores will get many benefits, but is it really possible to improve scores by cramming for these tests?

High scores are an important factor in determining whether a college will accept or reject a student; impressive test scores also help students gain scholarships and financial aid.

Studying for these important tests can be difficult for some students, especially if they have bad study habits, have an overwhelming amount of homework, or are busy with extracurricular activities.  Finding free time to sit down without any distractions and study for hours can be challenging.

Students can prepare for these standardized tests by buying test prep books such as “The Official SAT Study Guide” by College Board, or various AP test study guides by Kaplan and Princeton Review.  Tutors and test prep classes are also available, as well as online courses.  Previous AP exams, which may include similar test questions, are also available online for free.

Despite the availability of test prep services, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) says they have minimal positive effects on scores for tests such as the SAT and the ACT.  The NACAC says that some of the increases are exaggerated by these services as most scores increase by only a small margin.

Two million students spend $2.5 billion a year on test preparation and tutoring.”

— Eduventures Inc.

“I feel that the [SAT] book didn’t really help that much,” senior Kirsten Kite said. “The words they give you in the book weren’t really in the test.”

AP tests are based on a specific subject, so students may find it easier to study for them.  The SAT contains more critical thinking and abstract questions, whereas the ACT contains subject-based questions that may be easier for some students to understand.  The SAT contains three components: critical reasoning, math, and writing.  The ACT contains five components: English, math, reading, science, and an optional writing test.

A good score has its advantages, but few students have the discipline to devote hours to test prep.

“I feel like you have to be taught it [the information],” senior Jessica de la Cruz said. “You can’t learn everything in a few days.  You have to be taught over a course of time to be able to retain information.”

SAT and ACT test prep services may help increase scores from as little as 30 points to as much as 200 points.  Depending on the college and the original score, a NACAC study found that “more than one third of colleges said that an increase of 20 points on the math SAT or 10 points on critical reading would ‘significantly improve a student’s likelihood of admission.’”

According to Eduventures Inc., approximately two million students spend $2.5 billion a year on test preparation and tutoring.  Some students pay up to $1,000 for test prep services.  Those who lack financial resources may want to search for other inexpensive alternatives.

“You have people in your class and teachers to help you,” de la Cruz said.  “There are free apps.”

Students agree that it’s possible to study for the SAT, ACT, and AP tests, especially if someone has good study habits and testing techniques.

“You could definitely get a better score,” Kite said.  “It’s beneficial.”