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From the first day we enter high school, the importance of the SAT or ACT is engrained in our minds. We’re told that our college decision depends on our scores. We’re told that our future depends on our scores.

When I first took the ACT my sophomore year of high school and received what I considered to be a fairly high score, I was satisfied at that point. While I wanted my score to be higher, I figured I had time over the next couple years to gain knowledge and ace the test when I took it again.

When I took it again my junior year, my score didn’t raise as much as I had hoped. That’s when I began to fret; I was running short on time, yet my future depended on this test…right?

I considered everything. I considered taking an ACT prep class, but I decided against it because many of the classes were aimed toward more basic testing tactics that I didn’t feel would benefit me. I considered self-studying with the multiple prep books I had accumulated (the library was my best friend), and I actually did go through with that—somewhat. I didn’t do huge amounts of studying, but I did a little here and there.

I also considered private ACT or SAT tutoring. It seemed effective; since it was individualized, it would be geared to my strong and low points as well as my level. Many companies guaranteed a score raise. But there was one thing holding me back: the hefty price tag (as well as the time commitment). I wasn’t overly willing to pay such huge amounts of money just for preparation for a test, yet at the same time, I considered that perhaps it was worth the investment since my future seemed to depend on it.

Ultimately, I decided against it. I figured I would take the risk, save the money and save the time, self-study a bit on my own, retake the ACT and SAT a couple times, and see where I would end up.

I ended up getting into my dream school.

No, it wasn’t all easy. I put in some work self-studying for the tests, I spent even more time preparing mentally for the tests, I spent way more time learning at school, and spent a lot of time learning tricks behind the test simply by researching online. My score ultimately did raise to the point where I was satisfied (although it wasn’t the 36 I had hoped for).

I don’t regret anything about my process. I don’t regret not tutoring for the tests.

I firmly believe that as long as your test score is in the range for the schools you are applying to (or near the range, if it’s your reach school and/or if you have a “hook” or something that makes your application stand out), then there is not much advantage to raise your score up an extra point or two. In this case, extracurricular activities, honors/achievements, letters of recommendation, course selections/grades, and essays will carry enough weight.

However, if you’re score is fairly low to begin with and not near the range for your schools, private tutoring may be worth it. Here are some things to consider:

Would a class be just as beneficial?

If your score is considerably low, then consider taking a class (which is typically cheaper) before private tutoring. Classes are often great for teaching basic tactics for tests that may improve your score significantly. This investment is much more worth it, in this case.

What is the net gain?

Unless cost isn’t an issue for private tutoring, what is the potential net gain from the investment you would be making in private tutoring? For example, many state schools offer scholarships based off your test scores directly. If you look at this chart of scores vs. scholarships and see that your scholarship will increase by a significant amount of money each year just by raising your score a point or two, then the cost of tutoring would be worth it.

If you’re looking at a private school in which you’re just trying to gain admission into the school rather than merit scholarship, it’s much tougher to determine the net gain.

How strong is the rest of your application?

Ask your college counselor or a teacher for an honest evaluation of your potential college application in comparison to the schools you’re aiming for. If the rest of your college application is strong and your score is pretty close to satisfactory, then I wouldn’t recommend tutoring. If it isn’t strong, then perhaps consider tutoring to help bring up the test score aspect.

Have you tried self studying?

How much work have you really put into this? There is a plethora of information online; it just takes a lot of time to sift through the basic “fluff” articles claiming to raise your scores to actually find beneficial articles and information. Have you tried practice tests? You don’t even have to spend money on practice books. Check out books from your library. Spend time self-studying, and you might be surprised at how much it helps, so long as you’re studying smart.

Have you taken the test more than once?

The first time you take the test, you might be nervous–which may interfere with your testing ability. Retake the test once or twice (but not too many times) to see if your score increases once you get a feel for the testing atmosphere. If you’re still nervous, try to not psyche yourself out but rather “get in the zone.” Try the typical tips about preparation the night before and day of; I know it’s easy to ignore those tips, but they’re extremely important. And try the not-so-typical testing tips as well, such as these and these. See if small things completely irrelevant to studying can actually help you.

If, after considering all of these aspects, you still feel like private tutoring would be beneficial, take plenty of time to research which company or tutor will be best for you. Tutoring is often extremely successful, so do not be afraid to reach out for tutoring if you can afford it or see it to be beneficial.

However, don’t get so caught up in the proclaimed importance of standardized tests that you end up wasting time and money when it wasn’t really necessary. I chose not to use private tutoring for my standardized tests, and I don’t regret it at all.



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the author

Annie Schugart is a high school senior from Kansas City, but she will be heading to the East Coast next year to attend Harvard. Annie is editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper, plays flute and was a part of the U.S. Army All-American Band, is the president of the National Teen Council, loves to dance, and is an avid tie-dye enthusiast. She hopes to run for president in 2032, and she hopes someday you'll join her and the world will be as one. ☮

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