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SAT or ACT Test Prep on a Budget

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My heart breaks a bit more every time I see a story or parent comment about not having the same privileges rich families have for college and test prep. When I was taking my GRE, I boosted my score by at least 100 to 200 points by taking free practice tests and purchasing a $20 software program. 


So many more options exist now for cheap SAT / ACT prep than ever before such as free practice tests, free videos, and apps for $20.


Here are just a few options for your student to start:


Paper SAT sample tests


The first step in preparing for the SAT is taking a sample test to see where your strengths are. Then, you can focus on weak areas for study. For instance, when I took the SAT, there was a large percentage based on vocabulary. I didn’t study much for the English section, because I’ve always gotten good grades in English courses. 


My vocabulary was great for regular writing, but not for the SAT. I would have increased my score by at least 100 points if I had studied my weak area beforehand.


Practice tests are free from The College Board, which administers the SAT tests.


Khan Academy online practice tests


Khan Academy offers free practice tests and video examples for each portion of the test. The free help and even practice schedule is wonderful, but it isn’t as fun as other apps. These videos are recommended by The College Board for additional free test help.


Ready4 SAT mobile app


For about $20 for either Apple or Android, your student can get a colorful app with vocabulary flashcards and over 1500 sample questions. There are also progress charts. The whole app costs less than an hour of tutoring. Plus, the opening questions can help hone in on the areas your student most needs to study.


ACT test prep


Kaplan is well known for education tools and expensive in person courses for decades. The software I used to boost my GRE score came from Kaplan. Subscribe to on demand videos for $40. The highest online price is $99, which includes four live sessions and videos. 


Subject specific tutoring at community colleges


Once you narrow down what areas your student needs extra help in, they can get tutoring for $25 or less per year from a local community college. Look in the traditional places such as the testing center or from the English writing center on campus. If you have a local university in your area, this is a good place to look, too. Your student may just need an hour or two of focused study.


Focusing and stress relief strategies


It’s very common for the stress of the test instead of lack of knowledge to be the cause of a low test score. I remember taking my PSAT and a song came in my head. I lost 5 minutes of test taking time because of that earworm. To stay calm and avoid distractions, have your student practice good study habits and these relaxation techniques. Practicing full length practice test at home also helps with focus practice.


Combination of these strategies


Good budgeting for SAT prep starts with thinking about both time frame before the test, preferably at least a month, and the areas the student needs to work on. Start with free tests and then look at other options. An hour or two of tutoring plus online and mobile test prep can boost a student’s score without spending $1,000 or more SAT prep courses.


5 Takeaways

  • Focusing and stress relief techniques are as important to test taking as your student’s knowledge base.
  • Community colleges have tutors in math and English for reasonable rates.
  • The College Board and Khan Academy offer free practice tests. The College Board has PDFs that can be printed. The Khan Academy offers free videos.
  • The Ready4 SAT app has over 1500 practice SAT questions in a colorful format for $20.
  • Test prep king Kaplan offers ACT prep via videos and live sessions for between $40 and $99.

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