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

With many students juggling schoolwork, 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. However, 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.

While there are a number of test-optional and test-flexible colleges in the US, most of the country’s most selective institutions still rely on standardized test scores as part of the application evaluation process.

Changes are coming to the SAT and ACT within the next year, and college bound high school students – especially current sophomores and freshmen– are going to feel the full effects of the shift. Without proper planning and preparation beforehand, students run the risk of going into a completely redesigned test unprepared – leaving them with a large score improvement goal, should they perform poorly.

There are many other benefits to standardized test prep, however, it’s not always realistic for families to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on tutoring or prep courses¬ – and that’s okay! Just like with selecting a college, families need to find test prep options that are a good financial fit.

Test prep comes in a variety of shapes and sizes – from expert personal tutors and large prep classes, to lower-cost guidebooks and free online resources. Whether you choose to hire a professional or utilize free resources, test prep is a good investment of time and money. Here’s why.

Gauging progress can help students build a better-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 to the “no” pile very quickly. In fact, colleges have consistently noted standardized test scores as one of the top three factors in admissions decisions, along with grades and strength of courses. This makes test score improvement a big consideration for parents and students.

Students learn strategy, not just content.

The idea that success on standardized tests depends solely on aptitude is a misconception. While students need a base knowledge of the content, test-taking strategy is just as important in order to be successful. Through test prep with an experienced tutor, students can learn tips and methods to maximize their time and performance. Things like process of elimination, pacing, and identifying question difficulty are just a few essential skills required to better understand 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 of gains 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, regardless of how high or low a student is scoring.

By taking even just one or two timed practice tests, students can improve their SAT score by 30 points. 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 and make a student competitive in an applicant pool that might have been unreachable before.

For example, the median ACT composite scores for admitted students at Pennsylvania State University is 26-30 and 31-34 at the University of Pennsylvania. A student considering Penn state with an ACT score of 26 or 27, with some hard work and test prep, could raise his or her score a few points and be a serious competitor in the Ivy League admissions pool (as long as the rest of his or her application is strong, too).

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 even a small gain could be a tipping factor and that students can see very significant score increases if they work hard for it. It takes time, effort, and persistence in order to really impact your scores – same as for any other test students would prepare for. 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, helping them identify and reach their goal score through hourly sessions. Our tutors offer customized test-prep plans for students, and offer guidance and support for students who may need 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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