SAT Preparation - Overview
The 2016 SAT, with its extensively revised content, administration, and scoring, presents students with several new challenges. Test revisions are intended to make the SAT more relevant to standard high school curricula, but the fact remains that SAT preparation is a specialized skill that requires focused effort and informed assistance. Students should not take the SAT without significant preparation that covers SAT subject matter, SAT format, and test-taking strategies.
A number of SAT preparation options are available, including books, online video instruction, practice tests, SAT prep classes, and private tutoring. The College Board has published an official 2016 SAT study guide, and several private companies have released study guides of their own. The College Board has also partnered with Khan Academy in offering video-recorded online SAT instruction free of charge. SAT practice tests can be acquired either inexpensively or at no cost; these are crucial to the process of test preparation.
Though average SAT scores for all test-takers have declined somewhat over the past decade, the scores of students accepted to elite universities have gone up, in some cases substantially. Despite overall verbal score drops of 503 in 2006 to 495 in 2015 and overall math score decreases from 518 in 2006 to 511 in 2015, the SAT standards for many top schools have only gotten higher. At Princeton University, 74% of 2006 freshmen scored 700 or better on the SAT Math section. By 2015, this number had increased to 79.29%. At Georgetown University, 51% of students who began their undergraduate degree programs in 2006 had scored 700 or higher on SAT Critical Reading; in 2015, 58.86% of Georgetown first-year students had done so.
Independent experts generally agree that SAT prep courses and private tutoring are the most effective available options, primarily because they offer interaction with an experienced teacher. This viewpoint is supported by independent research. Some studies have shown average score gains of nearly 30 points per section for students who received professional SAT instruction, and these score gains can substantially improve a student's chances of acceptance to their preferred institutions. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a 690 SAT Math score recently correlated to an acceptance rate of only 3%, but a 30-point increase to 720 more than doubled the chances of acceptance to 7%. 30 points can also be the difference between a student's section scores falling in the lower half of score ranges and the upper half. At Columbia University, 49% of accepted students received SAT Math scores of 750 or below. An SAT Math score increase of 730 to 760, for example, would move a student into the upper range of admitted applicants.
In 2010, the College Board defined three criteria to create a "College Readiness Index." Adequate preparation for post-secondary study was characterized by at least a 3.33 high school GPA, high school courses of (at a minimum) an "average" level of difficulty, and an SAT score of 1550 or higher on the 2400-point scale. The 2016 SAT is an assessment that is much more focused on useful academic skills than was previously the case. Professional instruction for the new SAT therefore helps students improve in all three areas of college preparation. The primary goal of private SAT prep courses or individual tutoring is, obviously, higher test scores, but the development of broad academic skills that occurs as a result of SAT instruction will also reward students with better performance in their high school (and later college) coursework. Professional SAT instruction provides a coherent framework for learning that can be applied to almost any academic challenge.
Students preparing for the 2016 SAT are faced with information overload when it comes to deciding which SAT prep resources are best for them. Many test prep companies make highly dubious promises of unrealistic average test score gains. Some of them will even "guarantee" these results. These "guarantees" should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism, as they usually involve course repetition at lower cost rather than any sort of refund. Reputable test prep companies are characterized by tutors and instructors with broad credentials as educators (beyond mere test scores), years of experience in the test prep industry, and plausible assertions of test-score results that account for the role of student effort in the learning process.