The National Association for College Admission Counseling, NACAC, has released a new paper entitled “Preparation for College Admission Exams“.
According to this new paper, the average gain on the SAT from paid test prep is about 30 points and less than 1 point on the ACT. The paper also finds that many colleges suggest that even small score differences such as this can make a difference in admission. Both NACAC and the testing agencies consider it inappropriate to use such small differences in the admissions process.
The paper leaves open several questions including whether some paid test prep companies are more helpful than others, are there particular types of students who would benefit more from test prep and is paid test prep more helpful than a student who does the prep themself.
Based on my experience I don’t think there is a black and white answer to the question of whether a student needs paid test prep. I have seen some motivated students prepare on their own and do very well. Other students, had great improvements after taking a paid test prep course. And some have seen very little change in their scores after paid test prep.
Much of the answer seems to depend on the particular approach of the test prep company as well as the motivation of the student in question. Those students with more motivation seem to do better with paid test paid. But these same students also typically do well with self prep. Motivation seems to be the biggest factor in how much a student may improve their test score.
Finally, don’t forget those colleges that have gone test optional and don’t require standardized tests. Here is a list of test optional colleges.