SAT Scores: Retakes & Pricey Prep Courses Don't Help

exams students test classroom desk
Flickr photo by ccarlstead

According to the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the SATs, most students who retake the SAT don't see large improvements in SAT scores.

And now that the Princeton Review has recanted advertising claims that its "Ultimate Classroom" SAT test-preparation course can boost SAT scores by 255 points, there's a question as to whether paying for any one of those expensive SAT Prep courses can make any difference for your child's scores.


Last year, the National Association for College Admission Counseling reported that test preparation courses have minimal effect on improving SAT scores, showing boosts of only about 10-20 points on average in mathematics and 5-10 points in critical reading. Doesn't seem worth the hefty $1,199 price tag on the "Ultimate Classroom" course, does it?

Then Kaplan, Inc., a competing test-preparation service to Princeton Review, challenged Princeton Review's advertising claims about SAT score improvement by filing a case with The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Princeton Review claims their recent change of focus -- away from claims for score improvement -- is not related to Kaplan's challenge

To make matters even more gloomy, retaking the test in hopes of score improvement might not be the answer either. Kathleen Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the College Board, says students who take the SAT test a second time, on average, only "increase their scores by about 30 points."

Overachievers might be surprised to hear that actual average SAT scores, according to Steinberg, are: 501 in critical reading, 515 in math and 493 in writing. (The highest score you can get on any section is 800.)

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, generally believes good coaching can significantly improve SAT scores but also offers this practical SAT-taking advice for high school students with testing jitters:

  • Students should take a free sample SAT test online and take advantage of the College Board's more affordable test-prep books and online course (the online course is $70, the book is $22 at CollegeBoard).
  • Know that questions in sections typically go "from least difficult to most difficult, so that an obvious answer at the beginning of a section is correct, but an obvious answer at the end of a section is probably a trick."
  • Complete as many questions as you can. You get one point for each multiple-choice question you get right, you only lose a quarter-point if you get a multiple-choice question wrong, and you get no points subtracted for incorrect answers to math questions where you supply the answer.
  • Be aware that there are 844 accredited colleges that do not require SAT scores. That's a lot of options.

Is your child preparing to take the SAT soon? What's your experience been?

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