No, test prep is not required. In fact it shouldn’t even be needed.
The SAT and ACT are designed to test the level of a high school student’s readiness to perform in a college classroom; they’re not designed to see who has the money to spend on expensive test prep courses. Then why do so many students attend test prep classes? And why do these test prep classes claim success in raising scores?
The answer can be found at the gym. No one needs a personal trainer – we know how to exercise and lose weight. Run here, do push up there, it’s natural. But why are there so many personal trainers? 2 reasons: (1) to show you the best way to do it and (2) to make sure you do it. The same reasons applies to SAT/ACT test prep.
Does anyone have a child just begging for their parents to purchase them the SAT practice book so that he or she can sit down on weekends and read it cover to cover? I didn’t think so. That’s why you need test prep. To make sure your student practices the tests – and practices them the “right” way – in order to maximize his or her score. I cannot tell you how many students I’ve come across who do not score up to their intellectual and academic level on their first practice test simply because they don’t like tests. Test prep helps students get past that mental block and achieve the score they deserve.
Now that we know we need the assistance of an expert, the next questions is “When?” My personal recommendation is to begin prep during the summer between Sophomore and Junior year. This allows students to take the SAT and ACT in October and determine which they they are better at. Colleges only need one test, but some students are naturally better at one over the other. Once you know which test is “the test” for your student, additional practice should be done for a retake of that one test. This retake should be done between January and April, before the rigorous studying for AP test or IB exams begins. Hopefully students can be done at this point, leaving their May and June exams open for Subject Tests and simply studying for finals instead of stressing over the SAT and ACT. In addition they don’t have to spend the next summer doing prep and can instead devote it to the other parts of the college applications – community service, research,
The final question is “How Much?” We never want to stress our students out or overload them with so much prep that they burn out. So it’s a fine line we walk between helping them be as prepared as possible and remembering that they are teenagers who would like to have a life outside of school work. There are those that ignore the social need of students and throw their children at intensive programs that meet for hours a days and assign so much homework that students aren’t able to see the light of day. Then there are those who don’t do any prep and just roll the dice on their score. I believe in a moderate and reasonable approach. I want students to be prepared, but not over-prepared. We all know that students have a breaking point at which they don’t try anymore, so the trick is getting as close as you can to that without crossing it. After all, if the student doesn’t give 100% then there is no improvement.
This is why my test prep programs limit class lengths to 90 minutes, because honestly after that point the student has stopped listening. And my homework is not overwhelming, no more than an hour a week. But I do keep small group classes of 3-6 students because I feel that individual attention is one of the most important parts of test prep. Once I combine all of these together I’m able to come up with a course that isn’t only reasonable, but reasonably priced. Only $250 for SAT or $325 for both tests. Test prep shouldn’t cost and arm and a leg – because, well, it isn’t needed…