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FAQ: The 6 Most Common Questions About Test Prep

We love speaking with parents and students. Among the many insightful questions you ask, there are a few that come up more frequently than others. We thought it would be helpful to share the answers with all of our valued friends, just in case you were wondering too.

Ari Freuman

on June 26, 2024

Navigating the landscape of standardized tests can be daunting. At Ivy Tutor, we’re here to demystify the process of preparing for the SAT or ACT. In this blog post, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about when to start preparing, choosing the right test, the amount of homework needed, and more. We’ll also explore the distinctions between test prep and subject tutoring, and discuss the implications of “test-optional” college admissions. Join us as we provide insights and strategies to help you confidently navigate your college admissions journey.

1) How early should my child start preparing for the SAT/ACT? 🕒

The ideal time to begin preparation is during the summer before the junior year. We generally do not recommend beginning test prep in the sophomore year or earlier  unless students have busy schedules or specific learning needs. For parents who are starting later, the next best time to begin tutoring is right away.

2) Do colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT or vice versa? 🤔

No, colleges do not have a preference for one test over the other. Both the SAT and the ACT are widely accepted at U.S. colleges and universities. Admissions committees view both tests as valid measures of a student’s academic abilities. It is advisable for students to choose the test that best suits their strengths and where they feel they can perform best.

3) What is the optimal amount of homework? 📚

We recommend limiting test prep homework to no more than three hours per week. Grinding for hours on end is not as effective as shorter, interspaced practice sessions. We advise that students avoid cramming. This approach not only solidifies the material but also enhances problem-solving skills by applying concepts in various contexts, improving overall performance. This is not just our opinion. It’s a finding widely supported by test prep performance research.

4) How much improvement is typical for students? 📈

Our most recent class achieved an average improvement of 198 SAT points from their baseline scores. The median increase was 180 SAT points, while the largest improvement recorded was 360 SAT points. For ease of presentation, we convert all ACT improvements to their SAT equivalents.

5) Most colleges are “test-optional.” What does that mean in practice? 📝

During the pandemic, many colleges adopted test-optional admissions policies as numerous students were unable to take standardized tests. These policies proved popular and led to increases in both applications and the average reported test scores. However, data consistently shows that colleges still exhibit a strong preference for applicants who submit their scores and show a bias against those who do not.

6) How is test prep tutoring different from subject tutoring? 🙋

College admissions tests are distinct from the achievement tests students often encounter. The admissions tests are measurements specifically designed to reward a unique set of skills and abilities. While test prep tutoring overlaps with subject tutoring in some respects, test prep tutors are ultimately teaching students how to think critically, creatively, analytically and independently. These are lifelong skills which go far beyond improving scores.

Have More Questions? We’re Here to Help!

Your journey to college admissions is important to us, and we know you may have more questions along the way. Don’t hesitate to reach out! Whether you’re curious about test prep strategies, college admissions, or how we can tailor our tutoring to fit your needs, we’re just an email or phone call away. Let us be a part of your success story—ask us anything!

Ask Us Anything!


Ari Freuman

Ari began his journey into test prep while working on his Master’s degree in Psychology at SUNY New Paltz and continued through his second Master’s in Statistics. Thanks to insights from his graduate-level studies, Ari became one of the top private tutors in the New York metropolitan era, where he earned a reputation as the original “Ivy Tutor.” Ari decided to create Ivy Tutor when he realized how difficult it was, at any price point, to find tutors who could reliably help students reach their scoring potential.


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