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Test Prep: Should You or Shouldn't You?

By Peterson's Staff updated on Thursday, April 17, 2014

To prep or not to prep, that is the question — and an important one it is when your test scores and your wallet may be at stake. Shelling out hundreds of dollars for test prep may be worth it if it guarantees a perfect score and a surefire admission into the college of your dreams, but that may not always be possible. Watching winter reruns with a bowl of buttered popcorn probably won't increase your scores either, so you need to decide what you're going to do.

High school classes can help test preparation

All kinds of test prep materials abound, but one of the best ways to continually prepare for college admission tests is by maintaining a challenging high school curriculum and staying on top of your classes. Reading, studying, and homework will keep your brain in top shape and probably help you outscore your peers who are reluctant to pick up a book or sharpen a pencil.

However, a little extra help is a good idea, especially if you need to review concepts that you may not have covered in a couple of years. Standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT, and PSAT cover a lot of material, so getting familiar with their layout and the subjects they cover is in your best interest. The best time to get started with test prep is in your sophomore year, before you take any tests for the first time.

Finding test prep resources

In a market flooded with books, software, videos, courses, and flashcards, all promising to improve your scores, what's the best one to choose? They all have advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, what you choose may be dictated more by time, money, and personal preference than anything else.

However, to get what you need from them, they all come down to the same thing — you have to do the work. No test preparation in the world can implant what you need to know directly into your head without you having to lift a finger. That would be nice, but it doesn't work that way.

In terms of finding test prep resources, though, we can do some of the work for you! Here are some free online practice tests for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT available here at Peterson's. You'll still have to work through the tests and determine where you're strong and weak to prepare, of course.

Any test prep is better than none

Choosing any form of test preparation is better than choosing none, since anything you choose will boost your familiarity with the testing process and hopefully give you an extra shot of confidence. However, one of the most effective ways to prepare for a standardized test is to choose a form of test prep that includes full-length, timed tests that can help you zero in on your weak areas. Not all methods offer this, so keep it in mind as you explore your options.

Reading increases capacity for learning

One of the best things you can do to keep your mind sharp and open to learning is to read every day. Research has proven that regular reading, especially if started at an early age, makes people better learners. If you do nothing at all to prepare for your SAT, ACT, PSAT or other tests — and we certainly don't recommend that — then at least pick up a good book. It doesn't have to be Shakespeare as long as you just make it a daily habit!

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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