To prep or not to prep? that is the question.

Posted: February 28, 2015

As an ACT prep instructor, I work with students every day who are trying to raise their scores. But , surprisingly, families often don't bother to think strategically about why they want a higher score for their student. Let's look at some good reasons to invest time and money in a test prep program.
Reason 1: Your score is not within the middle 50% for your school of choice
Colleges now report a range of scores instead of a single benchmark. The numbers indicate the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile of the scores of students who enrolled in their freshman class. For example, the University of Michigan reports their ACT score range as 29-33. This means that the majority of freshmen in Ann Arbor this year scored in that range. It also means that 25% of their freshman scored below a 29. Further investigation shows that while 67% of their freshmen scored a 30 or better, Michigan accepted 195 students with scores between 18-23! Thus, low scores do not necessarily shut you out of college if you have other talents to offer. However, there is no question that having a score in the upper range (75th percentile and above) will make you a more competitive candidate.
Reason 2: You want to increase your Super-Score
Many schools, particularly the private colleges and the highly-selective schools, will super-score, or refigure your ACT composite based on your highest score in each section. This super-score can be considerably higher than any one test sitting. At right you see how this can work. This student took ACT twice. The first test sitting, in April, produced a 29 composite, with strong scores in math and science. When he studied for the December exam, he had concentrated on raising his English and reading scores. While he got much better scores in English and reading, his math and science grades went down, so his composite only increased by one point. His super-score, however, increased his composite significantly. After submitting his second round of scores to his college of choice, he was invited to be part of their Honors College program, based entirely on his super-score.
Reason 3: You're looking for scholarships
Many schools offer merit aid to students based on their standardized test scores. Carthage College, a small, private liberal arts college near Chicago, offers the following automatic scholarships, renewable for four years, to their entering freshmen, based on ACT and GPA.
Click on the table for more information about Carthage scholarships.
As you can see, a good test prep program can be a worthwhile investment, even if you don't have stratospheric grades and test scores. Make sure your prep program guarantees an increase larger than the margin of error of the test: 60 points per section for SAT and 2 points on the ACT composite, and that you will be practicing on actual ACT-developed test questions, rather than questions made up by the prep company. Be sure to read more about test-prep strategies in my teen blog.

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