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Articles / Preparing for College / How Can I Identify the Best Test Prep Advice?

Aug. 29, 2016

How Can I Identify the Best Test Prep Advice?

With the new SAT rolling out and the first administrations complete, I have been getting a lot of misinformation which has lead to my confusion.

I took the new official PSAT (actually PSAT not PSAT10) in the fall of 2015. I received a 1350 which is not too bad but not too good either. Subsequent practice on Khan academy revealed similar results.  As a result, my parents signed me up for C2 Education, hoping that I can improve my score.

Almost a year later, I took the diagnostic test from C2, and I received a final score of almost 200 points less (1110). The counselor at C2 said that their test better matches the College Board tests and that the difficulty will be what to come. The counselor said that College Board will increase the difficulty of the PSAT/SAT each year until it reaches a certain point and that C2 has just given me a practice test with that difficulty. That was supposedly why I scored lower, but I am skeptical. What do you think?

Also is there any advantage in taking both the ACT and SAT and reporting both to colleges? * Selective to highly selective colleges.

 Thank you in advance!

Hmm ...  if your scores on a test-prep company’s practice tests are lower than your scores on the actual test and on the Khan Academy samples, then “The Dean” smells a rat.  Granted, some folks insist that the new SAT is tougher than the old one, while other reports claim the opposite. But since you've already taken the new PSAT, you should have a decent sense of what lies ahead, and the free Khan Academy tests will help you to know what to expect as well. So you might just want to save your dough and keep practicing on your own. It sounds as if C2 is undermining your confidence as well as taking your money.

My own son opted for only the ACT when he was in high school. He practiced at home using a book that included several complete tests (with answers at the end). He focused his preparation on the Science section because he’d heard (from his mother, “The Dean,” and whom he does listen to occasionally ;-) ) that the questions aren’t terribly hard (and many answers can be found right within the questions themselves) but that the tough part is the time restriction. So by taking the Science portion of the test at home several times with a stop watch running, he was able to increase his speed and familiarity with the format. I suggest that you try the same approach.

Many students do take both the SAT and ACT and often will report all their scores to colleges. “The Dean,” however, is not a huge fan of standardized tests and thus pushes a more minimalist approach. That’s why I recommended to my own son that he should concentrate on just one of the tests, and I suggested the ACT because I anticipated his ability to prepare at home for the Science section. Science was his strength to begin with, but—even if it hadn’t been—I still viewed a lot of potential for improvement through practice on that section. I didn’t see any reason why he should put effort into registering for, studying for, paying for, and taking both the SAT and ACT.  While some students do perform better on one test and not the other, this can often be because they are not devoting equal warm-up time to each test.

So, although it’s highly irresponsible for The Dean to advise you without knowing a lot more about you, based on the little that I DO know I suggest that you pick one test, practice on your own (especially that Science section if you choose the ACT!), and realize that–regardless of what your final scores look like—they will not determine your happiness or success down the road, even if they do have some impact on your admission outcomes.

Good luck, whatever you decide.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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