In the wake of the college admissions scandal involving the Key World Wide Foundation and dozens of parents who resorted to bribery as a means of raising their children’s test scores and securing admission to universities I, along with the entire team at LA Tutors, feel called to say: there are so many ethical and free/low-cost tools for raising your test score. Truly, if you have the will to improve your score, and to attend college, you can. We’ve seen it over the past ten years as we’ve worked with hundreds of dedicated students who have raised their grades and test scores and gotten into some fantastic university programs.
Standardized tests are not easy, and they definitely do not lend themselves to every type of learner. So, if you are feeling disheartened about your ability to succeed on your SAT or ACT, we want to assure you that you are not alone. The good news is that, when you employ the the right mindset, the right tools, and consistent effort, you will always see growth! Here are some free and low-cost ways to improve your standardized test scores:
1. Focus on improving your mindset.
This is the most important aspect of overcoming any type of challenge in life. Mindset is everything. According to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, when faced with challenges or intimidating tasks, people can orient themselves in one of two ways: either with a “fixed” mindset or with a “growth” mindset. Those with fixed mindsets believe that there is a ceiling to how much they can achieve in a particular area of life – e.g. “I’m just not a math person, and that’s that!” — and those with growth mindsets believe that with consistent effort, they can improve – e.g. “I believe that I can improve, and I am open to learning new ways of approaching math problems.”
Over the years, I’ve found that my students who have adopted a growth mindset have seen much more improvement in their grades and test scores. They’ve been the most open to learning, growing and trying new approaches to problem-solving. With that said, here is your first free resource: an article titled “Why Mindset Matters” by Dweck herself. Read this before you dive into any intensive test prep. You can also purchase a used copy of her book on Amazon.
2. Take advantage of free, online test prep resources.
When you get into college, you will find that self-motivation is absolutely necessary – even more so than it has been throughout high school. There is so much that you can do in terms of improving your test scores on your own, without the aid of a private tutor or an expensive course. If you are not in a position to work with a tutor, you can take advantage of several free resources to improve your test-taking skills and increase your subject knowledge. Khan Academy, now an official partner with The College Board, is a fantastic, robust resource for SAT prep – and is absolutely free! You can also access this free guide for ACT prep on the ACT website. The ACT website also provides practice questions for each section. Just visit this link and scroll down to the box on the right-hand side that says “Practice for Each Subject.” Your guidance counselor at school should also have access to some free official practice tests; be sure to ask for these.
If you feel you need additional motivation to actually sit down and do the work, you can always team up with a like-minded accountability buddy. Set a big-picture goal – for example, a 200-point overall score improvement — as well as small goals for yourself each week – e.g. “this week I am going to complete one timed Reading section and also spend two hours brushing up on my Geometry skills.” Here are some suggestions from The College Board regarding setting goals for test prep practice.
3. Take practice tests – both at home and in proctored settings.
This aspect of preparation is essential – especially for those who experience test anxiety. Whether you are working with a tutor or preparing on your own, it is essential to have the experience of taking a full-length SAT or ACT in a setting that mimics that of an actual test environment. If your school offers proctored practice tests a few days a year (most schools do), take advantage of these scenarios. Also, there are private tutoring companies that offer full-length, proctored practice tests. We hold these in Los Angeles once a month, and they are open to the public. Check out this link to view our next in-office proctored tests. I recommend taking as many full-length, timed practice tests as possible in preparation for your test day.
4. Work with a tutor.
Of course, if you have the means to work with a private tutor, even if just for a few sessions, I encourage you to do so. At minimum, you can spend a handful of sessions focusing primarily on test-taking strategies that you can apply during solo practice. By learning new strategies for navigating common stumbling blocks on the SAT and ACT (each test having its own set of traps, there being several commonalities between the two tests), you can drastically improve your score. Obviously, the more consistently you can work with a tutor, the better. But even if you meet with a qualified tutor, say, twice a month for five months, and work very diligently in between sessions (while adapting a growth mindset!), there’s a very strong chance that you will see an increase in your confidence and test-taking abilities.
When selecting a tutoring company, do your research. Does the company employ experienced professionals, or is the staff comprised of college students? Ask around for recommendations, and read reviews. Also, once you start working with a tutor, be sure that he or she is a good fit for you. If you feel that your tutor’s teaching style isn’t a good match for you, most tutoring companies are happy to assign a new tutor to you. Be sure you are switching tutors for the right reasons – e.g. there is a genuine communication barrier vs. “she assigns too much homework!” A high-quality tutor can and should challenge you beyond your comfort zone, so be prepared for that.
If you have any questions at all about test preparation, tools or resources, feel free to reach out to us directly. We are rooting for your success!