STUDENTS EVERYWHERE! Test Season Advice and Reporting from a Tutor’s Perspective


Do you feel this way?
I can tell because the office is awash with teenagers every evening, all of them working as hard as possible to beef up their scores in an effort to fight their way into their top colleges. The ACT classes are as intense as they have ever been. The building is packed to the brim with nervous Exam Club students scoring within just a few points of last year’s National Merit Cutoff Score.

If you are a high school student or parent reading this, you may not know anything about test season or why any of this matters, so let me fill you in with a brief explanation of why you need a game plan- NOW- for the standardized test period of high school.


The PSAT is a do or die test. High school students only get one shot to lock in a score that falls into or near the top half percent of test-takers in each individual state of residence. Cutoff scores for individual states vary from one to the next. If a student breaks into that scoring percentile, he or she becomes a National Merit Semi-Finalist, thus earning a $2500 college scholarship and an admissions advantage at almost every school out there. For Ivy League caliber schools, scoring that high (from 200 to 225 out of 240, depending on your state) is close to a requirement. A student can also shoot for “commended” status by breaking a certain score as well. If you need PSATs to practice with, you can get them here.


The PSAT and the SAT are based on the same question bank, thus allowing for you to study for both at the same time. While structural strategies may change and a few big differences exist (such as the SAT’s essay section, which does not exist on the PSAT), all PSAT strategies are useful on both tests. You’re busy enough to not have to prepare twice, and your money could be better spent than to have to prepare for one, go through a period of forgetting everything, then preparing for the other.


Test scores aren’t the only admissions factor… but they’re usually a requirement. There are some schools out there who say they don’t require tests, but almost all of the good ones do, and some of those that don’t still “consider” them. If you are a high school student who is close to the admissions cut for a school and runs up against applicants with similar credentials, carrying an impressive test score might be the difference between acceptance and rejection.

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The test prep industry is a big market. The barrier for entry is low, but most tutors don’t have significant experience in a given area or their own materials. Some companies have better strategies and more versatile teachers than others. Materials vary, too. Take the time to investigate your test prep companies and choose the one that will get the best results.

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