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Test Prep on a Budget: Six Tips for Students

On February 21, 2012, in ACT, SAT, standardized testing, Test preparation, tips, by Scott Cronenweth

Despite the growing momentum of “test optional” admissions, the college admissions process remains as competitive as ever. Spring dates for both the SAT and ACT test are coming right up, and students across the US are working hard to prepare for these high-stakes exams.

What’s the best way to prepare for the SAT or ACT? The approach you take depends somewhat on how much time and money you have to spend. A private tutor and/or classroom sessions with a test prep service could make a significant difference in your score, but these options are not within everyone’s financial reach.

Students with tight budgets shouldn’t feel outgunned, however. The playing field isn’t level, but there are still many ways to prep efficiently and effectively without spending much. Here are some tips to share:

One: Take the right test in the first place.

One way to potentially optimize your score is to identify whether you’re likely to do better on the SAT or the ACT. Plus it’s easier and cheaper to prep for one test than for two. College Planning Partnerships’ SAT/ACT Diagnostic test is very affordable and is based on Socrato’s learning analytics. Socrato also offers a free eBook to help you choose.

Two: Identify and focus on where you most need to improve.

Taking practice tests is highly recommended, but this level of scoring often doesn’t tell the full story of a student’s performance or the specific weaknesses they need to correct to achieve maximum improvement. Another free eBook from Socrato is available to help tutors and teachers improve their reporting and feedback to maximize the benefit to students. Socrato also offers learning analytics combined with practice testing at very affordable rates for students and tutors.

Three: Take advantage of low-cost practice testing.

Practice testing using well-designed sample tests are a great way to get familiar with the SAT or ACT test formats. Practice testing can also be helpful for figuring out your basic strengths and weaknesses. If you can, take at least one practice test in as realistic a setting as possible, and also time your practice tests to better simulate “test day” conditions. The College Board, which administers the SAT, offers not only free sample questions and a free, full-length practice test (with instant scoring), but also a free test day simulator online to help you get ready.

Four: Get a study guide.

There are a wide range of books out there to help guide your practice and make the most of your time. The College Board offers for only $69.95, as well as affordable study guide options. Similar study guides are available at bookstores and online from test prep services like Kaplan and Princeton Review, as well as other publishers.

Five: Make a game of it.

For around $30, you might want to try the (from the famous “Dummies” series) to have some fun, get accustomed to answering under time pressure, and maybe improve your retention rate. The game includes five test categories: sentence completion, math multiple choice, math student-produced response, writing skills and critical reading. Detailed answer information provides helpful feedback and insights.

Six: Take a low-cost prep course at your high school.

According to a study by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, about 70% of public high schools offer some kind of standardized test prep, including online study guides and classroom programs. Many of these programs charge a fee, but it is likely to be lower-cost than private test prep.

How do you recommend your students prepare for the SAT or ACT? What do you think is the key to successful test prep? Please share your comments and suggestions.

Featured image courtesy of Medill DC.

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  • Susie Watts

    As a private college counselor, I recommend that my students take an SAT/ACT test prep course that I offer to students at a reasonable fee for six once a week sessions.  There is no need to take a course that costs $1000, but most school courses are not even worth a small fee.  Students usually tell me they are a total waste of their time.  They are too large, the teachers are often inexperienced, and rarely do the students practice on real tests.  They also include very little on managing test anxiety which is a problem for many students and keeps them from doing their best.

  • Sat Prep Course

    These tips are really advantageous for the preparation of SAT/ACT . The tips should be followed by students while preparing. From all the above major points one is very important that is to Identify  the weakness and focus on where you most need to improve. Students can easily clear SAT by follow these 6 tips.

  • Michelle velasquez

    Thank you very much for providing such a motivated and useful test prep information , actually I’m going to get admission in MBA and getting ready to GMAT test and looking for the best best GMAT prep :)

  • sat tutor

    I have tried answering SAT Games before because I want to
    get accustomed on the time pressure. Number six tip is the easiest way and much
    cheaper than tip number five.

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