Test prep tips

Carolina College Bound file photo

By Lee Shulman Bierer – Correspondent

I’ve written about the practice tests (PSAT and The PLAN) many students take before taking the SAT or the ACT and how to interpret the scores. If you are one of the lucky ones whose school district administers either or both the SAT or the ACT you need to compare the scores.

The following link: http://www.act.org/aap/concordance/pdf/reference.pdf will help you quickly determine which test is best for you. If the scores are almost identical, choose the test you prefer. There are big differences in the content and the strategy. If your school only provides the PSAT, then take a practice ACT on your own at www.number2.com or purchase a test prep book. It is very important that you simulate testing conditions when you take the tests at home. That means, timing each section and taking the test in one sitting, not spread out over the weekend.

If you were not pleased with your practice tests and those scores don’t match up with the colleges where you’d like to apply, then it is probably a good idea to buckle down and do some test prep. But here’s my caveat, “don’t make test prep an extra-curricular activity.” That is most students’ favorite piece of advice. Many parents falsely conclude that if their child’s standardized test scores aren’t strong enough, they will be shut out of every college they apply to. As long as students have a balanced list, it is rare that a single test score would be the culprit for receiving a rejection letter.


  • Don’t plan on dedicating your entire summer to increasing your test scores.
  • Don’t hire private test prep tutors. If you’re motivated, there really isn’t a need and, many are now charging over $200/hour. There are mountains of free resources on the internet and inexpensive test prep books that, as long you’re focused, can help you improve your test scores.
  • No admissions representative wants to read an essay about test prep or see, on your application, that that is where you’ve been spending the bulk of your time outside of school. College admissions offices would far prefer you to be exploring something you care about and creating unique, life-changing experiences for yourself rather than prepping for a standardized test.
  • Consider waiting to see your score results before sending them to colleges. Each time you register for both tests, you will be given the option of identifying colleges to receive your scores. If it is early in the process, you are better off seeing the scores first and then deciding if you want to send them.
  • Understand the “superscore”. For the SAT, most colleges will take your best test scores on each of the sections, even if they are on different test dates. ACT has a composite score and schools will generally not “superscore” from different test dates.
  • Find out now, if any of the colleges you are considering require or recommend SAT Subject Tests. It is obviously much smarter to take your SAT Subject Tests later this spring, while you’re studying for finals, then to have to take them next fall. Also, a number of colleges have opted to accept the ACT in lieu of SAT Subject Tests, so that may also influence you to reconsider the ACT.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.
Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com;

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply