So what is the ‘magic formula’ to significantly improve test scores? It’s not really magic; it’s based on motivation, commitment, and time invested.

  • Is your teen motivated to bring his scores up? I believe that the foundation piece for test-taking success is being motivated to score well. In order for a student to improve, effort can’t be halfhearted – as I often say, “’Drop in test prep doesn’t cut it.”

I have found that a path to firing up that motivation is to create an intention to get that desirable, yet realistic score:

TIP #1: I recommend students write that desired score down and journal about what they intend to do on a daily basis to ensure that that score becomes a reality. Students will then come to believe that score is achievable and not just a mere ‘wish’.

TIP #2: A daily visualizing of life at the college dream school also helps to light a fire under their motivation. Teens can even go online and get a virtual reality tour of colleges on their lists. Check out

Now that your student is truly motivated, it should be easy to make the commitment to do what’s necessary to get that desired score goal. What does that entail? A minimum of 40 hours of study preferably done on a daily basis – 20 to 30 minutes per day over a 2 to 4-month period (depending on level). This study should be tailored to not only the score goal but also to the Type of Learner as well:

For example, students who are Accelerated Learners – have scored 680+ in each section on a PSAT or SAT or 30+ composite on an ACT – could begin 6-8 weeks prior to a test date and commit to a practice test a week. If scores don’t get to the desired level after 3-4 practice tests, engage with a tutor who is adept at troubleshooting.

NOTE: The Accelerated Learner often gets bogged down in one of the reading passages. That student needs to learn how to zero in on the point of the passage even though the writing is dense and the thesis feels elusive. This type of student typically requires no more than 6 lessons.

A student who is a Sound Learner – has scored 550+ on each section or 22+ composite – would need more foundation building as well as strategy. That said, it’s best for that student to begin with a tutor who has a program that is predicated on teaching critical reading and problem solving skills as well as strategies. Most students at this level would require training over a 3-month period to maximize their desired results.

I cannot stress this enough – TEST PREP MUST BE TARGETED TO YOUR TEEN’S    INDIVIDUAL STREGTHS AND WEAKNESSES. Some students, i.e., the Hands-On Learner, require a 3-5 month commitment as the first 6-8 weeks are foundation building alone – improving the mandatory critical reading skills that were never learned!

One size fits all programs rarely raise scores significantly.

See Types of Learner to find out about the other three types.

Practice using ONLY material written and published by the College Board or ACT – the companies that administer the tests. The College Board offers 8 free exams on their site; ACT offers one and has archived dozens of old ACTs.)

Most of the other companies’ practice test material does not truly match the ‘flavor’ of the real exams. I’ve had students tell me that they have been practice testing with such material and found their scores keep on dropping. Not good for morale!

As students go through their practice what will become their most effective teacher is their mistakes:

TIP #3: After students take a practice test, they should go through the answers and understand WHY they got the question wrong, i.e., did they only read half of the option selected, did they miss the point of the passage, do they keep on missing questions asking about apostrophes? Try to see if there’s a ‘pattern’ in the questions missed. The first step in being a better test taker is to become AWARE of why they got the question wrong.

In session, we use a Take-Away Sheet where students record what strategy should have been implemented to avoid making a similar mistake in the future. (Very often they are writing the same thing several times throughout their program!) At the end of each lesson, I ask them what was THEIR biggest Take-Away. This has proven exceptionally helpful as well as often it was something that I wouldn’t have thought resonated with them.

I hope this helps you get a better understanding of what’s involved for your teen to get a high score on the SAT or ACT. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.


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