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Are SAT Prep Courses Worth the Cost?

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Question: Are SAT Prep Courses Worth the Cost?
SAT prep is a big business -- thousands of companies and private counselors make impressive claims about their ability to improve your SAT scores. The article below compares the hype to the reality.
Answer: A lot of companies or private counselors will tell you that their SAT prep courses will result in score improvements of a 100 points or more. The reality, however, is much less impressive.

Two studies suggest that SAT prep courses and SAT coaching raise the verbal score by about 10 points and the math score by about 20 points:

  • A College Board study conducted in the mid 1990s showed that SAT coaching resulted in an average verbal increase of 8 points and an average math score increase of 18 points.
  • A 2009 study by NACAC, the National Association of College Admission Counseling, showed that SAT prep courses raised critical reading scores by about 10 points and math scores by about 20 points
The two studies, although conducted over a decade apart, show consistent data. On average, SAT prep courses and SAT coaching raised total scores by roughly 30 points. Given that SAT prep classes can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, the average result is not many points for the money.

That said, the NACAC study revealed that about a third of selective colleges stated that a small increase in standardized test scores could make a difference in their admission decision. Some schools, in fact, have a specific test score set as a cut-off, so if 30 points bring a student over that threshold, test prep could make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Students and parents need to recognize that standardized test scores do matter at most selective colleges, but they should also note that the modest gains seen with test prep courses and coaching could also be achieved with inexpensive independent or group study.

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