Test preparation services like Kaplan and Princeton Review can achieve
significant improvements in test scores, partly by teaching
test-taking skills, partly by reviewing the material covered by the
and partly through practice drills. Improvements of about 50-100
points on the SAT are typical. According to College Board
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students who take the PSAT have SAT scores that are 25 to 78
points higher than students who don't. (The College Board data also
demonstrates that students from families with six-figure incomes
average 80 points more in the critical reading, mathematics and
writing sections than students from families earning $50,000 or
Standardized tests are as much a measure of test-taking ability as
they are tests of knowledge and skill. You can achieve a similar score
improvement benefit by taking practice tests under realistic timed
conditions at home. There are many books available with practice
tests, some even with decommissioned tests. Just becoming more
familiar with the test format can help avoid a panic reaction that
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There are also books that teach test-taking skills, such as approaches
to attacking a problem, pacing oneself, avoiding careless errors,
identifying wrong answers on multiple choice tests and not getting
bogged down on any one question. See Top Test-Taking Tips
for some of the most effective ways of improving your test scores.
Improving your test score can increase your chances of getting into
the college of your choice. If you start off with a good test score,
the added training might improve your test score enough to help you
qualify for scholarships based on academic merit
at some colleges. But parents should not pay for a course just in the
hopes of having it pay for itself through increases in merit-based
Parents can evaluate a testing service by asking their guidance
counselor and other parents about their experiences with the
services. The most well-known test preparation services — Kaplan,
Princeton Review, Peterson's, Barron's and Boston Test Prep — are
all good, with Kaplan and Princeton Review having the best
reputations. Some of these services publish books with practice tests
and test-taking advice; the books are much less expensive than the
full test-preparation service. There are also free services, like Number2.com,
march2success.com and free test-preparation tools at collegeboard.com,
that are worth using.