Test Prep: Should You or Shouldn't You?

To prep or not to prep? That is the question -- and an important one when your test scores and your wallet may be at stake. Shelling out hundreds of dollars 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.

Even a little test prep is better than none, so you may want to ditch the TV for a pencil, some books, and a fresh cup of coffee.

Consider the basics

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 also a good idea, especially if you need to review concepts that you may not have covered in a couple of years. Standardized tests 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 really get serious about test prep is in the winter of your junior year, before you take any tests for the first time.

No free lunches

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 prep 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.

Something is better than nothing

Choosing any form of 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 test prep methods offer this, so keep it in mind as you explore your options.

Read, read, and read some more

Test prep aside, 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 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; just make it a daily habit!

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