Studying for the SAT: Is It Worth It?

Will students who take SAT prep courses increase their test scores?

To me the answer is obvious. Of course, you can boost your test scores through SAT preparation.

Both of my children have benefited by attending an SAT prep course, My daughter’s score jump ed by at least 120 points. And my son, who just got his SAT scores back, got the same kind of boost. I resent having to pay for SAT prep classes, but I consider it a necessary evil.

I’m bringing this up because a new study that was released this week comes awfully close to suggesting that SAT prep courses are an expensive waste of time. The research conducted by Derek C. Briggs, an associate professor at the University of Colorado, concludes that spending time studying for the SAT will only boost the average score by 30 points.

The media seized on this finding, but what journalists didn’t do is look closely at the study’s methodology. Peter Schmidt, the author of a book entitled, Color and Money, wrote a blog post that pokes holes in the research. According to Schmidt, Briggs drew his anti-SAT test prep conclusions after reviewing three previous tests on SAT preparation efficacy. Briggs happened to write two of these older studies. This is relevant, according to Schmidt, because Briggs is a known critic of the effectiveness of SAT test prep classes.

Here’s a snippet of what Schmidt said:

Briggs not only put himself in a position to pass judgment on his own research and (surprise surprise) declared his own work rock solid, but he also has declared a consensus based on me-myself-and-I vote counting.

Further Reading:

Lousy SAT Score? Don’t Despair

SAT and ACT Tests: The Dirty Secret

Great Reading Lists for Teenagers

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and the college blogger at

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  1. Hi Lynn,

    I’m an SAT prep coach based in Los Angeles. I’ve had a small business based on word of mouth for 9 years now, and I’ve just started a blog and I’m beginning to take my work public.

    I’m working to understand prospective clients better, so I’m genuinely interested to know why you resent having to pay for test prep classes.

    Please feel free to respond here in the comments, or email me directly at


  2. Maybe you can afford expensive test prep classes, but the question most people ask is whether one should pay for expensive test prep classes when one could just as well take some practice tests out of a book from the store.

    Another strategy, of course, is to take the ACT and the SAT and send in the best score.

    My twins took the ACT and the SAT without test prep classes–just took practice tests out of the book. They both did fine–one scored better on the ACT and one scored better on the SAT. I don’t consider test prep classes a “necessary evil”–I consider them just unnecessary. The same money could be better spent visiting potential colleges, which in my opinion is a better use of money.