How SAT prep can hurt your score

If you’re a high school student studying for the SAT, you may be doing it wrong. You can have the best tutor, buy the best books, and still not see the benefit you believe you should be seeing. That’s because you might be overlooking a critical aspect of studying – when you do it.

You probably do your SAT prep after school or on weekends. Ideally, though, the bulk of your studying shouldn’t be done during the school year at all – and here are three reasons why:

1. There’s little measurable benefit.

Most SAT tutoring focuses on helping you be a better test-taker instead of teaching the concepts behind the test. One study shows that on average, most test prep (commercial and private) only increases your score from 5 – 20 points. Another study pegs the average closer to 30.

In fact, your score might actually decrease with test prep. A College Board report determined that about 36% of coached SAT I test takers actually scored the same or lower after prep. These kinds of numbers indicate that your free time during the school year is better spent concentrating on your school and home life, and planning for your future.

2. You’re already studying.

According to the College Board, the SAT “tests the skills you’re learning in school: reading, writing and math.” Just by going to school every day you’re exposed to the kind of material you’ll have to cover on the test.

The College Board reports that students who don’t get test-prep help increase their PSAT – SAT score by an average of 22 points. In the time that passes between the prep test and the actual test, you amass information and knowledge that translates into a better score on the SAT.

Tutoring, if you decide you need it, should only be a supplement to gain understanding of concepts that you don’t fully grasp during your natural course of learning during the school year.

3. You may burn yourself out.

Every weekday that you go to school, you’re required to learn half a dozen subjects, take part in extracurricular activities, do homework, and have a life beyond that. Your weekends might be equally packed with activities. On top of that, you have to worry about college admissions, grades, and getting a decent amount of sleep.

Adding tutoring and SAT study to your already mentally exhausting schedule can quite simply leave you burned out. You might be too tired for tutoring before it even begins, which means you aren’t getting much – if anything – from the lessons. Even worse, your added responsibilities may be hurting your school studies.

This is especially true if you’re wired to feel stress more acutely than others. Researchers have located a gene that, when overstimulated by a stressful environment, can lead to a meltdown. Pacing yourself correctly can prevent the chance that you’ll buckle under pressure.


A better time to take SAT tutoring is when you’re free of other learning responsibilities. That’s right – if you want to get the most out of your school year and out of your studying, you’re better off studying for the SAT in the summer. So put down those prep books and wait until school is out for the summer when you can give them your full attention.

To make even more of your summer studies, consider 1-1 coaching. We hone in on your strengths and weaknesses with one-on-one instruction from only the most qualified teachers. Learn skills that will stay with you long after you’ve excelled at the SAT. (And of course, have fun!)

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