Written by: Joe Emerson // Jun 9, 2020
Last updated: Jun 9, 2020
Are your top college picks standardized test-optional? Did you take the necessary standardized test(s) and score within your picks’ target range? Are you disciplined, self-motivated, and test savvy enough to go it alone? If you answered yes to one or more of those scenarios, forget the formal test prep. If not, give it some serious thought, and consider our top four reasons test prep courses are worth the investment.
Smart Preparation Is the Right Answer
Standardized tests differ, and prep work will differ accordingly, but there’s a lot of common ground if you’re taking the ACT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, or SAT. And even if you plan to face off with a standardized test for professional certification purposes, all four of our top reasons for taking test prep courses apply.
4. Test Prep Courses Show You What to Expect
The word “standardized” is key here. Standardized tests are defined by long-term consistency of format, method, and content to assess test takers’ knowledge and understanding/application thereof.
Testing content, format, and methods don’t change much over time; that means a good course can:
- Teach to the test, reviewing exactly what you must know
- Show the types of questions and content by section
- Let you know what to expect on test day, from proctors and rules (Calculators allowed? Pens or pencils? Paper?) to what each section will cover, how much time each section is allotted, and the sequence
- Based on patterns, identify signals in text and the presentation of questions that can steer you toward the right answer and away from wrong ones
Thorough test prep means no surprises on test day, and that’s a plus – physically and emotionally. It helps you walk into the test center relaxed and confident, which means you’ll be more likely to walk out smiling.
Reason No. 3 is a big confidence-builder, too.
3. Prep Classes Teach Test-Taking Strategies
On test day, it’s not just what you know that matters. Even if you have a brain like a supercomputer, you’re going to lose points if you arrive tired, too nervous, or late; don’t know the rules; don’t bring those must-have supplies; or spend too much time on a single tough question and, as a result, have to leave others unanswered.
Prep courses arm you with knowledge and teach strategies that enable you to make the best use of what you have learned. Here’s some strategic thinking from IvyWise for when the pencil hits the paper.
- Know the test structure, the “style, type, sequence, and number of questions on each section.”
- Don’t get bogged down on hard questions. Skip them, and return if there’s time.
- Use the process of elimination on multiple choice questions you aren’t sure about.
- In the English section, the most concise answer among options often will be the right one.
- “No change” and “none” answers are red flags. Be cautious if one of them is the answer you’re leaning toward.
- Answers to multiple-choice math questions often can be reverse engineered to verify your choice, but don’t burn too much time doing it.
- Memorize important formulas. You won’t have time for piecemeal reconstruction of key formulas during the test.
- In the reading sections of the ACT and SAT, passage topics are consistent. Plan how you will tackle them, and do what you’re best at first.
2. Courses Gauge Likely Score Range, Which Helps in Targeting Schools
There’s a simple formula for saving time and money and avoiding unnecessary heartache and rejection.
If you already have a target list of schools, check each school for SAT/ACT expectations. If you have your test score(s), see whether a 30-point bump would give you an edge in the admission process and warrant another shot at the test(s). (Reason No. 1 explains the 30 points.)
If you’re fairly certain you can close the grade gap, open your wallet. Open it even faster if you’re gunning for graduate school, because the prep course investment for grad school probably will pay the sweetest dividends. (More on that in reason No. 1.)
Those 30 points don’t come cheap. Scoring them will take sweat equity, time, and money. Is it worth it? Not if the grade you need is out of your range. If that’s the case, winnow your list; then add schools with standards you can meet.
1. Test Prep Classes Have Been Shown to Raise Scores
ThoughtCo cites two studies on the effects of prep classes on standardized test scores, one from the 1990s and one from 2009. Both found that formal prep work raised verbal scores on the SAT by about 10 points and math scores by about 20. The findings aren’t recent, but getting similar results over that time span indicates a comparable study now would get the same numbers.
On average, ThoughtCo says, “SAT prep courses and coaching raise total scores by roughly 30 points.”
Forbes’ numbers indicate grad school test prep can close a larger gap than the 30 points supported by the ThoughtCo studies on undergraduate testing. Forbes says:
“Students who used test prep classes were able to increase their GMAT scores by 93.7 points. Those who used tutors reported a 90.2 increase in their final score. However, test takers who got the biggest boost were those who used both a class and a tutor. They averaged increases of 100 points on the GMAT test.”
Forbes’ bottom line: The cost of graduate school justifies the expenditure of “a few thousand dollars” to boost GMAT or GRE exams. A 30- to 50-point increase on the GMAT “easily could be worth nearly $1 million in lifetime earnings for an MBA-bound test taker.”
Standardized Test Looming? USF Definitely Can Help
USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education’s long list of excellent career-oriented programs includes test prep classes for people pursuing project management, process improvement, or other certifications.
For those still on the college path, USF has stellar test preparation classes for the ACT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, and SAT.
Whether you’re a professional returning to school, an undergraduate eyeing grad school, or a high school student targeting colleges, our expert instructors and tailored courses provide the comprehensive preparation you need to earn the best possible standardize test scores.