The SAT. The ACT. They are the two standardized test options currently available to students wishing to apply to the great majority of the four-year colleges and universities in the United States. These exams spur trepidation in parents and students alike – for good reason. The exams themselves generally account for 20% of the admission decision at the average U.S. institution of higher learning, and the additional peer pressure shared between students only ramps up the value we place on these rather ridiculous statistical measurements.
We all know, or at least we believe we understand, the tests and their inherent value. We associate them with entry into the college or university of our child’s dreams. Make no mistake – these tests are lukewarm measurements of your child’s academic abilities or their future earning potential and are simply one more tool for college admission officers to separate very good students from great students. The tests represent one more opportunity for admission offices around the country to make a slight differentiation between high GPA’s held by students from Seattle, Boston, Southern California, or anywhere else around the country, or for that matter, the globe.
More importantly, we forget about the other major value standardized tests provide our families – they are highly influential in determining which students are awarded merit based aid – the free cash given by schools or outside organizations that is not determined by your ability to pay the tuition, fees, room and board, etc. I will always tell a family that the fear they feel about college is misguided – they should have some fear – but not necessarily about getting into a “good” college – that is a misnomer – there are lots of good colleges all across the country; the fear should be about how the heck to pay for it all!
So let’s get down to brass tax: should you invest in test preparation for your child? I did not misuse the term. This truly is an investment that if treated properly and quality preparation is provided, can make a significant difference in your child’s chances of getting into their dream school or help them make the cost of other colleges on their list much more affordable. There are many examples of students who used the power of test preparation as a tool that saved themselves and their parent(s) tens of thousands of dollars off of the college ‘sticker price’ that they elected to attend.
So many families go about this process the wrong way. Even some college and guidance counselors make the wrong call. I have never understood the advice that students should just go “take the test cold and see how it goes,” then decide what, if anything, needs to be fixed. I think the method is right on – what I think is problematic is the notion that students should start by taking the real test cold – without any prior prep. That makes no sense. Would you think it wise to not study for an important school test, go take it without any prep, get a bad grade, then negotiate with the teacher to retake the exam, knowing you have lowered your confidence level and raised the stress over the value of the second attempt? It’s just silly.
The best advice I can give is to recommend that you get your student in front of a realistic mock SAT and ACT test, before their testing window opens (generally sometime in 11th grade), to see what their natural strengths and weaknesses are, determine what remediation, if any, they might need, and help determine which test is a better fit. Over 99% of colleges today accept either test equally, so you really have options. Once you have a starting experience and some realistic starting scores, and you match those scores up with the dream schools average scores for admitted students as well as the rest of your students college list, you will know if test prep makes sense or not. Then you can look at all of your prep options and find the best match for your student, whether that be buying a book, online prep, classroom prep, or 1-on-1 tutoring.
I encourage you to contact me at your leisure with questions or concerns you may have about the testing process, the prep options, or if you would like to get in front of some mock tests. It is a free service The Princeton Review is glad to provide to your family.
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