College Entrance Exams: Raising Scores with Free Prep Courses

Guest Post By:  Kate Willson

Recent SAT test scores show that the average critical reading section score is the lowest it has been since 1972. The high school graduating class of 2012 received an average score of 496, out of a possible 800. The average score for writing has also dropped by six points since College Board, the organization that administers the test, first began testing for it in 2006. In addition to these numbers, the overall SAT score has continued to remain below average in several states throughout the years, and this year didn’t show much improvement.

These reports raise serious concerns among teachers and parents who see poor college entrance exam results as proof that the education system in the United States is not succeeding. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to find one solid reason for these consistently poor test scores. In fact, there are several reasons why students are not doing well, so instead of discussing all the possible roots of the problem, let’s look at one possible solution.

According to past articles written on the subject, most students believed that completing a SAT prep course helped significantly increase their test scores. On the flip side, there are also articles that say prep classes aren’t always worth the money, because they only increase scores by a marginal amount. However, even if a course only helps raise a student’s score by a few points, those few points could make the difference between college admittance and rejection. The general consensus seems to be that prep courses are beneficial, but only if the sign-up fee is inexpensive. As for proof that courses do increase scores, College Board and the National Association of College Admission Counseling have conducted studies that show they do.

Some would argue that most students are already taking prep courses, and that the continued weakness in scores proves that these courses do not work. This may be true, in some school districts. However, it is also true that many more students all across the nation cannot afford courses or choose not to attend, because they do not believe the benefits will outweigh the costs.

Students who do not attend courses to prepare for college entrance exams often choose to study for the test independently by using free example tests on the SAT’s official website, and some do nothing to prepare. Although students who choose to prepare independently do succeed, courses discuss each test section and effective test-taking methods on a much wider scale. They also give students the chance to take multiple example tests that are timed and conducted just as the real test is.

So, while success rates for various SAT prep methods vary, one thing is certain; prep courses can and do give students an advantage. When discussing solutions to the low score problem, schools should consider this advantage and understand the unfairness of charging a high fee for SAT prep classes. Already, schools across the country are beginning to see the importance of offering free prep courses after school. For example, T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, offered free ACT and SAT prep programs to juniors for the first time this year. The classes were taught by an outside company and were voluntary.

Because college applicants do not have a choice on whether or not to take a college entrance exam, high schools need to find a way to provide every student with all the resources they need to succeed. Money should not be an issue, and the resources should not be difficult to attain. In addition to providing free prep courses, schools should also provide up-to-date prep guides in their libraries and inform students on where to find more information about signing up and preparing for the SAT or ACT. Once more schools begin to take an active role in preparing students for not only college entrance exams but college in general, the results will follow, and I believe they will be positive.

Kate Willson is a researcher/writer for, a great online resource for all things related to higher education and campus life. Her articles cover several topics related to learning, including trends in online schooling, advice for new college students and recent grads and college preparation for high school students. Please leave any questions or comments for Kate below.