The following is a guest post from Jennifer Karan, Executive Director of the SAT Program at the College Board.
The “Five P Principle” that serves to remind us that “proper planning prevents poor performance” is a useful bit of wisdom that high school students should heed as they contemplate going to college. Indeed, as a friendly little blog post provides, students are well-advised to begin the process of planning for college at least two years ahead of time. Preparation can range from joining in extracurricular activities to attending college fairs to visiting campuses to consulting with your guidance counselor. And, of course, preparing for the SAT, frequently misconstrued as needing years of paid test-prep. See below for what preparing for the SAT is really all about.
Completing a core curriculum is strongly related to success on the SAT. Students who complete four or more years of English and three or more of math, natural science, social science and history tend to do better on the SAT. And students who pursue advanced placement and honors courses tend to do better as well. While this may seem obvious, too many students don’t complete a core curriculum – and don’t know they should, or chose the “A” in the easier class rather than challenging themselves.
There is a common misconception that the SAT requires a particular type of study, and that expensive test-prep courses are necessary for students to maximize their scores – perpetrated, unsurprisingly, by test-prep companies. Nothing could be further from the truth. The SAT tests the skills and knowledge students acquire in a rigorous high school curriculum. There are no tricks or shortcuts to achieving a high SAT score; doing well in school, taking challenging courses, developing good study habits and reading as much as possible are core traits that are most likely to lead students to success on the SAT and in college.
Test prep courses may boast of their ability to help a student increase his or her SAT score, but the 2009 analysis released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling shows that test prep courses had minimal impact in improving scores – about 10-20 points on average in math, and 5-10 points in reading – an improvement that can be achieved by simply taking the test a second time.
While there is no substitute for real learning, there is definitely value in practicing, and gaining familiarity with SAT format and question types in advance of test day is something the College Board strongly advises. This is why we provide free access and low-cost access to SAT practice tools for all students.
Knowledge and skills development are not things that can be achieved overnight, and they certainly cannot be bought. All that’s needed is some proper planning and access to the right tools to build a foundation for success.