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When teens (and tiger moms) panic over the SAT

SAT prep for all budgets

“Students seeking academic scholarships will need to score in the top 10 percent of scores for the desired school.”
  • “Students seeking academic scholarships will need to score in the top 10 percent of scores for the desired school.”

My high school junior daughter came home from class all in a panic over college admission testing and what kind of prep was needed. I told her I would get right on it.

I contacted Katherine O’Brien of Celtic College Consultants to get more information on the tests. “Different schools handle applications in different ways,” she explained, “from calculating some sort of performance index, like Cal State schools do, to having numerous readers in groups pore over and discuss every application in depth. The most important considerations are naturally academic. From a student’s grades, colleges learn how he or she performed day to day. However, they know that grading is fairly subjective, with wide variance from school to school and even teacher to teacher. One of the ways colleges use to determine how a 4.0 GPA at one school corresponds to a 4.0 GPA at a different school is by comparing student scores on a national test. At present, three search tests exist, but only the SAT and the ACT are accepted universally. They cover math and English, and have optional essays. The ACT offers science as part of its exam.”

O’Brien explained that “students seeking academic scholarships will need to score in the top 10 percent of scores for the desired school.” “Research shows that familiarity with the tests and types of questions, styles of questions, and section timing have the greatest impact on students’ ability to increase their test scores. Familiarity with material being tested is the second most impactful part. Students may hire private tutors, study on their own with a book, or take live or online classes.”

O’Brien noted that private tutors and live classes tend to be very expensive ($1000 +) I wanted to go in a more economical direction, so I looked for books or online classes. O’Brien is an affiliate with ePrep.com and recommends it as a solid online course. EPrep.com offers courses for the SAT and ACT; price ranges from a 2-month course starting at $129 to a 12-month course at $599. Courses include full-length practice tests as well as video answers to every question.

Several friends whose kids had already taken these tests offered me suggestions. “Check out Khan Academy online — it’s free.” said Tina. “They have SAT tips and strategies, as well as a personalized practice test and eight official practice exams from the College Board.”

(My first son is all about tips and strategies, and found success by analyzing the test’s methodology.)

“My boys have scored well on the SAT and the ACT test,” said Natalie. “We purchased a book with real tests. We have used The Official ACT Prep Guide from the makers of the ACT ($21.70 on Amazon) and The Official SAT Study Guide, which is put out by the College Board ($19.29 on Amazon). For books that tackle strategy and approach, we have used The ACT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective ACT Strategies Ever Published by Mike Barrett and Patrick Barrett ($27.65 on Amazon) and, by the same authors, The SAT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective SAT Strategies Ever Published ($28.49 on Amazon). We have our kids take a section of the test untimed. Then I score it. The child reviews the problems he got incorrect, then retakes the same section again, timed this time. Then we do the same with all the other sections. Finally, he takes the entire test again, timed. We repeat this pattern until my son gets the score he’s looking for. So really, it’s all about practice, practice, practice.”

Tried and True Tutoring offers boot camps for the SAT and the ACT to schools in San Diego,” said my friend Katrina. “They usually run a two-day boot camp a week before the test. Cost at our school was $199 for two three-hour classes.”

Lastly, my friend Carrie said, “Check out SWAG (Students With Academic Goals). They offer free intensive three-week SAT test prep programs for qualified San Diego area students. There is, however, an application process for this.” Happily, when I perused the site, it also listed a total of seven upcoming one-day free workshops throughout the county for high school juniors. The only requirement was online receipt registration.

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