The Secret to a Higher ACT/SAT Score

It’s November, and we are still getting phone calls from parents desperate to help their high school seniors improve their SAT/ACT scores.  The simple truth is that after multiple attempts, an increase of more than one or two more points (ACT) or forty points (SAT) is extremely difficult. There’s a point where a test score levels out, and is not going to get significantly better, and the likelihood of it decreasing is actually better.  

The reality of the situation is this, you can’t make up for 12 years of learning in a month, and as much as it pains me to say this, a test prep tutor cannot guarantee a score increase either.  Parents and students come to us sometimes, and I can see in their eyes that they hope that I will have the secret formula to a high test score that perhaps that other tutor or educational specialist didn’t.  When it comes right down to it, to achieve a significant increase on an ACT or SAT is a long term goal.  When we begin working with students in sophomore year, our test prep schedule is coordinated along with the student’s already very busy life.  We assess their potential on each test, review practice tests and PSAT scores, and put together a plan that includes at least (but often more) 15 hours of one on one tutoring accompanied by homework, practice tests, and self assessment.  Students who do all of this and focus on the task while doing so tend to increase their scores appropriately, those who do not have less predictive results.  We work with students with an understanding that learning takes time and investment from all stakeholders.

Simply put, test prep can help you increase your test scores, but basically, the SAT/ACT tests are 80% critical reading, and the best long term preparation for these tests is reading.  Reading every day, reading for pleasure, reading a variety of text, reading that challenges you.  It isn’t an accident that test prep professionals (including me!) recommend this long term strategy as one of the best ways to prepare for the high stakes of the college admissions test.  Will it help you if you start reading like a maniac a month before the test?  No. We are talking long term here, and frankly, you are not going to increase a score significantly without a significant amount of effort, and I mean an immense amount of work in the short term.  

So what to do?  If you have a senior and they are talking about taking the test again in December, really sit down and discuss that strategy.  What is their score?  What score do they want?  Are they willing to put in up to three or four hours a day practicing?  If the answer is yes, then go for it, if not, time to talk plan B or C.  

If you have a freshman or sophomore, now’s the time to encourage that idea of reading.  Students who don’t read for pleasure aren’t going to see the wisdom of reading now to score better on a test down the line, but they might get excited about reading a book together and discussing it.  If you don’t have a kid who loves to read, don’t worry yet about what they are reading so much as that they are reading. You can begin to challenge them after they get interested.  I have found that oftentimes teens who find a book they like will read everything by that author, so sometimes finding a prolific author is a good start.  They will also really get behind a series or a particular genre.  Don’t assign homework to it!  Make it a pleasurable experience.  Teens today are expert at doing literature homework without ever opening the book, that is not the goal here.  

If your kid doesn’t have time to read during the school year, encourage it during breaks and over the summer.  Put together a summer reading list with your child, one that will challenge them to try some new types of reading, perhaps challenge them to read beyond what they are already choosing, but do it together.  There is no right or wrong formula, just keep trying until you find something they like.  

It doesn’t have to be books either.  Encourage reading of articles, essays, poetry, whatever!  Reading is reading is reading.  Eventually you will be able to up the ante if they catch on.

I know, I tricked you, there isn’t really a “secret” except for hard work and diligence.  Having trouble getting your kid to read? When in doubt call us.  As educational consultants with over fifteen years experience as educators, we love to help students put together summer reading lists as much as we love to help them discover summer programs and experiences that will allow them to follow their passions and eventually will give them a great resume to present to colleges.

Annamarie Brachfeld, BA, MAEd, IEC
Co-Owner, Monumental Beginnings
Specializing in test prep, school success, and college essay