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The Benefits of Test Prep: Getting Into Your Top-Choice College

With many students juggling school work, extracurricular activities, and other commitments, it’s easy for some to put off the SAT or ACT and hope for a good score the first time around. Just like with college applications, there’s a lot of preparation and planning that should go into standardized testing. Test prep is a critical piece of the college admissions puzzle, as it can greatly increase students’ chances of acceptance to their top-choice colleges.

Why is Test Prep Important?

While many US colleges and universities are currently operating under test-optional or test-flexible policies, a few of the country’s most selective institutions are going back to requiring standardized test scores as part of the admissions process. Test prep is critical to ensuring that students achieve the best-possible scores on their SAT or ACT, so they can submit strong scores for their college applications.

The SAT is going completely digital in 2024, so college-bound high school students are going to feel the full effects of the shift. Without proper planning and preparation beforehand, students run the risk of going into the completely redesigned test without the necessary preparation. Test prep comes in a variety of shapes and sizes – from expert personal tutors and large prep classes to guidebooks and free online resources. Whether you choose to hire a professional or utilize free resources, test prep is always a good investment of time and money.

Test Prep Can Help Students Build a Best-Fit College List

One of the most important parts of the college preparation process is building a balanced list of target, reach, and likely colleges. Selecting the schools for this list depends on a variety of factors, one being a student’s chances of admission based on grades and test scores.

Test prep for the ACT or SAT isn’t just about getting a perfect score – expert tutors monitor students’ progress and gauge what score students can realistically reach based on their previous performance and improvement. This is critical, as it can help students and counselors build a better college list, with more accurate expectations for target, reach, and likely colleges.

Good Scores are Necessary in Order to Be Competitive in Admissions

Standardized tests are a necessary evil in college admissions – while a perfect SAT or ACT score doesn’t guarantee admission, dismal scores can send students directly to the “no” pile. When applying to a college with test-optional admissions policies, submitting a great test score can mean the difference in admission between you and another candidate that opted to withhold their scores.

According to NACAC, colleges have consistently named standardized test scores as one of the top three factors in their admissions decisions, along with grades and course rigor. You can check how different admissions offices evaluate applicants by looking at their Common Data Set, which is usually available on the school’s website. Often, the standardized test score category is marked as “important” or even “very important” for schools with test-required policies. If this is true for a school you are interested in, it means you should be prioritizing test score improvement throughout the application process. 

Students Learn Strategy, Not Just Content

The idea that success on standardized tests depends solely on aptitude is a misconception. While students do need to form a base understanding of the test’s content, test-taking strategy is just as important for success. Through test prep with an experienced tutor, students can learn tips and methods to maximize their time and performance. Factors like process of elimination, pacing, and identifying question difficulty help students better understand how to approach the SAT or ACT.

Even a Little Bit of Prep Can Improve Scores

How critical is test score improvement to a student’s chances of admission? Even the smallest gain can make a difference. According to a NACAC study, about one-third of selective colleges state that a small increase in standardized test scores could make a difference in an admissions decision. An improvement of just 10-20 points on the SAT could make the difference between landing in the “maybe” pile, rather than the “no” pile.

At IvyWise, we’ve seen students improve their ACT scores by four points with just a few hours of tutoring – a big difference when competing for a spot at a highly selective college. Going from a 27 to a 31 can be a major game-changer, making a student competitive in an applicant pool where they may not have stood out before.

Students Will See Results – But They’ll Have to Work For It

One of the most persistent criticisms of test prep is that gains are, on average, minimal. While some critics assert that small score increases don’t merit the time or monetary investment in test prep, the truth is that students can see significant score increases – and even a small gain could be a tipping point in your favor.  That said, it takes time, effort, and persistence to really impact your scores. Test prep works best for students who are committed to improving and willing to put in the work. This is also where good tutoring comes in – a great tutor will motivate a student and push him or her to improve.

At IvyWise, our expert tutors work one-on-one with students through hourly sessions, helping them identify and reach their goal score. Our tutors offer customized test prep plans and offer guidance and support to students who may need extra motivation or help with test anxiety. Contact us today for more information on our tutoring services and how we can help your student reach his or her test prep and admission goals.


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