Endless studying options in preparing for the SAT and ACT


The Official SAT Study Guide from College Board.

Jillian Knoll, Contributing Writer

For one Saturday of nearly every month of the school year, Schreiber’s main lobby is flooded with anxious juniors and seniors sitting down to take the SAT. Their plastic Ziplock bags with sharpened pencils and graphing calculators clunk as they walk down the hall to take a test of “scholastic aptitude,” or the ability to perform in subjects taught in school. Despite the fact that the SAT is supposed to measure a student’s knowledge of school subjects, some say that a student’s potential is influenced more by their access to SAT preparation services rather than their knowledge of the high school curriculum.

The release of  PSAT scores in December typically sends sophomores and juniors into a fit of panic and searching for options to improve their scores before taking the actual test. Although the College Board portrays SAT preparation services as a resource incomparable when compared to sustained success in a standard high school course schedule, many report average score improvements of upwards of 200 points from even as little as a two-week SAT preparatory course.

“I think that in general, students who try hard academically do well on the SAT’s.  In addition, SAT prep can only help you,” said senior Emily Hack.

Private tutoring, online preparation, classroom style courses, and self-studying, are all SAT and ACT-prep options. Students in Port Washington have a variety of preparation courses to choose from, including Princeton Review, Test Takers, and A-List among others. Prices for preparatory courses often depend on class size, as Princeton Review charges $1,600 for “small group instruction” but $600 for a “group course.” Part of the success associated with classroom-style SAT courses is that you are forced to study, whereas if you decided to self study for the SAT, there are a number of distractions that could prevent you from accomplishing your chosen task.

“Personally, I saw improvement with my SAT scores [after taking a preparatory course], although I was able to obtain a higher score on the ACT with less preparation,” said senior Ali Peltz.

One problem with both preparation courses and private tutoring is that they are expensive. Students whose parents can afford to pay for the courses or tutoring may have an unfair advantage when taking the test compared to those students who could not take the course.  This inequality combined with some students having testing anxiety leads some students to apply to “test-optional” colleges such as American University, Connecticut College, and Dickinson College (a full list of test-optional schools is available at FairTest.org).

Other students choose to self-study for the exam using the ubiquitous “blue book” of SAT tests available from the College Board in combination with a review book from Barron’s or Princeton Review. Schreiber also provides an alternative to self studying in the form of Method Test Prep, an online course available for free to anyone with a Naviance account.  The College Board offers an online practice essay scoring service as well. The online preparation course can offer an alternative to self-studying in that it provides structure to students who would otherwise suffer from being forced to create their own test preparation schedule.

Senior Yuliya Astropova attempted to use Method Test Prep to study for the SAT to complement other sources of review and said, “I found that I already knew most of the material they presented, as it increases in difficulty,” although she did find the vocabulary portion to be extremely helpful.

Although many colleges and universities offer alternatives to standardized testing in the college admissions process, taking either the SAT or ACT for admission remains a requirement at most schools. Students should avoid panicking come senior year by starting test preparation early in their junior year.

Senior Matt Kim works as an SAT tutor.

“The hours you spend studying  for the SAT have the greatest influence on your score,” said Kim.

Studying for the SAT in any manner, whether it is on your own, in a preparation course, or with a private tutor, will be the only true way to reach a desired score.