Is Free SAT Prep an Option?

Is free SAT prep really an option? If so, why would courses (and people like myself) charge so much for SAT preparation? In Southern California, where I live, it is not unusual for students to pay $1500-$4000 for SAT prep. Does that mean everyone needs to pay that much? Absolutely not. So here are my tips for preparing for the SAT on a budget (maybe not completely free, but easily under $50).

Step #1: Invest in good materials

So I put the word "free" in quotes because in reality you will need to invest at least $25-50 in test prep books. Good ones, like the ones I recommend below (or read my entry on "Best SAT Prep Books"). Yes, you could technically go to the library and borrow these books but then you can't really write in them, so it is not such a great plan (same goes for borrowing an older brother's or neighbor's books). So you need to purchase some test materials. So maybe not free SAT prep, but still "frugal" SAT prep. Try to remember investing $50-100 in test preparation may not be "free SAT prep" but that small amount could save you thousands of dollars when paying for college.

Best-selling SAT Prep Books

Step #2: Create a study schedule

One of the advantages of hiring an SAT tutor is a student will automatically be on a study schedule. The tutor assigns homework to be completed by the next session, so the student is more likely to complete the work knowing that someone else will ask about it. When doing at home free SAT prep without a tutor, it is very easy to slack off. So, you need to create a study schedule and make sure everyone knows about it.

Most of my students carve out 2-3 hours on Saturday or Sunday morning to work on the SAT. Every week. That way you can just focus on school during the week. Tell your parents: "I am committed to raising my score on the SAT, so I have set aside Saturday mornings from 9-noon to do SAT homework. Can you help me by not scheduling activities at this time and keeping the house quiet? And if I am not at home working on my homework, you have permission to 1) text or call me; 2) wake me up; 3) take my allowance away for the week. The last one works really well as a motivator!

Step #3: Take timed practice tests

Okay, so if you have blocked out a time slot for SAT homework, you should easily be able to carve out a 3-4 hour block to take an occasional timed test. Caution: Some students take too many timed tests! After taking a timed test, make sure you are also giving yourself time to practice the strategies and learn from your mistakes. Taking ONLY timed tests will not improve the score significantly. You must also analyze your tests to learn what you need to do next time to improve your score.

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Step #4: Get help from teachers and "free" advice

One of the reasons test preparation tutors are so popular is the difficulty of using some of the strategies and understanding missed problems. There are some really websites that give solutions to SAT problems for those looking for free SAT prep (or inexpensive options), but you may need to have a teacher explain some of the more complex problems. Don't be afraid to ask someone for help on specific problem areas on the test. Preparing completely alone is not fun! Use other brains besides your own.

Worried you do not have a good score on the ACT or SAT? Don't forget to read about colleges and universities that offer test-optional admissions (that's right, these schools do not require students to take the ACT or SAT exams to be admitted).