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

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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?

college, education

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BabyL... BabyLouie

Don't agree. My #1 daughter is a good test taker, very competitive, and wanted prep. She prepped, it paid off. OH! did it pay off.


On the other hand, not so  sure about my boy. He's... a boy.

clean... cleanaturalady

I have a daughter who is a Freshman in high school and her friends (and their parents) are already talking about SATs and PSATs and ACTs.  Lots of pressure to go to extreme lengths to get better scores in my area.  I have several friends whose Juniors are taking SATs for the second time after paying exorbitant fees to be tutored.  Seems like overkill to me.  I want my kids to do that best they can, but I don't want them to be stressed about it.  There is plenty of time ahead of them for stress, why start them out at age 15?

Carey... Carey2006

NO......my experience many decades ago was the PSAT weren't worth it & I'm against standardize testing such as the SAT....(& all the changes they apparently made doesn't make me like them any better!)

tazdvl tazdvl

My son is not a test person so he never took it.

ethan... ethans_momma06

My child is to young to take it, but I took mine not to long ago. I don't think that people need to go 'prep crazy' but it is nice to have some idea of what the test entails before walking in there.

Pnukey Pnukey

We have a few years to go before we have to worry about SAT's, but I like to think that my kids are being prepped through their schooling to do well  on the test.

jeann... jeannesager

I made a significant jump on my retake of the SATs. Of course this was back in the day when it was still based on 1600, but it jumped 170 points. My parents didn't pay for SAT prep, but our high school had a computer program for prep that you could use in the computer lab, and I did.

sodapple sodapple

when i took the SATs, i actually had pratice with the Princeton Review and in my part i don't think it did any good but who knows. i took it twice and got very simmilar scores =-/

asil asil

my kids are too young... but when i took it i got a book for FREE from the library, went over a few things in the book (i'm horrible at math for example so brushing up was nice)... and did VERY well on the test... better than my sister who was an A+ student... not as good as my bro, who has a photographic memory (cheater!)... so i don't think it's worth the money, but it is worth a FREE book to brush up.

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