Does Test Prep Really Help with College Acceptance?

Does SAT Prep Really Help?

SAT and ACT exams are one of the many components of a college application and are generally taken during junior or senior year of high school. College admissions offices use these scores to compare applicants from different high schools and determine their ability to take on coursework at the collegiate level. These scores can also influence how much you’re awarded in scholarships and the course levels you’re placed in. Most four-year and some two-year colleges require applicants to submit their test scores as part of the admissions process.

Now that you know the importance of SAT and ACT scores, you might be wondering how you can get your best result. Like with any test, studying and preparation often generates the best results. In fact, the College Board reported that just 20 hours of extra preparation improved overall scores by 115 points.

So, will a higher test score help me get into college? In short – yes. Financial Aid Expert Mark Kantrowitz revealed that students with higher SAT scores have a better chance of college acceptance. Let’s break that down:

SAT SCORE - order: Very Selective, Moderately Selective, Minimally Selective, Open Admission, Other. 400 to 1000, 6 percent, 25 percent, 9 percent, 10 percent, 50 percent. 1001 to 1200, 21 percent, 35 percent, 7 percent, 7 percent, 29 percent. 1201 to 1400, 44 percent, 31 percent, 6 percent, 4 percent, 16 percent. 1400 or more 64 percent, 17 percent, 4 percent, 4 percent, 11 percent
SAT scores reflect acceptance rates from selective college admissions, open admissions, and other programs1

Now, read on for best practices that can help you get better results on your SAT and ACTs.

How to Prepare for the SAT or ACT to Get Your Best Score

Successful test prep happens both inside and outside the classroom. You can do this by enrolling in Honors or AP courses, studying extra hard, and widening the scope of your reading and writing. Actively seek ways to challenge yourself and expand on your skillset.

If you want to zero in on specifics, here are some easy ways you can get ready for the test ahead:

  • Learn what to anticipate. Familiarize yourself with the exam format. Ask friends or family who have already taken the test what to expect. Or research online – the College Board has a great online resource you can use to learn more about how the test is structured. Having some background beforehand will calm your nerves on the day of.
  • Decide when you want to test. Find a date to take the test and register right away. Once you finalize the date, you can create a timeline for studying and practicing.
  • Establish a study schedule. Carve some time into each week to focus on preparing. There are a variety of free and personalized tools available for you to use. Take advantage of these resources and make sure you’re sticking to your schedule.
  • Take practice exams. You can access a number of free practice exams online and choose between downloadable and interactive formats. By practicing beforehand, you can find your strengths and weaknesses, and work to improve before the big day.
  • Be mindful of time. Time yourself as you’re taking practice exams. The SAT and ACT have very strict timelines that differ from the usual high school test. Take stock of your performance. Whether you finished too quickly or not quickly enough, understanding how you rank in timing will help you determine how you can improve, which can be as simple as reading the questions more thoroughly or seeking out test-taking tips.
  • Be proactive. Locate and remember your testing center, get a good night’s sleep, and bring some snacks to eat during your breaks. Most of all – be confident! Your hard work and practice will give you what it takes to succeed.

Why Does a Good SAT or ACT Score Matter?

A strong college application is a culmination of factors like high test scores, intense class rigor, extracurricular activities, and leadership experience. Though testing scores are important, they’re not the only factor colleges take into consideration, so remember that if you’re not completely satisfied with your score.

To maximize your time preparing, however, many colleges publicly share the range of scores that they’re looking for. Research these ranges for the colleges you’re interested in so you can start to set expectations for yourself. You can compare these scores to the scores you receive on your practice exams and see if you align with their expectations and identify areas of improvement before the big day.

Is the SAT or ACT Going Away?

Though more colleges are making these tests optional, they likely won’t go away forever. And, as long as most colleges still require them as part of their application process, it’s best that you opt in and take the test. Other than being an important part of your college application, standardized tests like the SAT and ACT help you understand how you’re performing amongst your peers, areas where you can improve, how ready you are for the intensity of college courses, and the level of academic support you’ll need once you get to college.

The data supports it – the more you prepare for the exam, the higher score you’ll achieve. On testing day, try to remember what you’ve learned, pace yourself, and do your best. And, if you’re not satisfied with your score, you can always retake the test in a few months after a little more studying and prepping. You’ve got this, and we’ve got you.

  1. Kantrowitz, M. (n.d.). In Who Graduates from College? Who Doesn’t?: How to Increase College Graduation Rates without Sacrificing College Access (p. 203).


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