How Does Test Preparation Affect Retest Scores

A quasi-experimental method and test-retest design were used to explore the impact of participating in test preparation, whether the impact of test preparation depends on the first ACT score, and the impact of specific test preparation activities. Test preparation improved students’ retest scores, and this effect did not differ depending on students’ first ACT score.

Among specific test prep activities, only the number of hours using a private tutor resulted in increased score gains above the overall effect of test prep. Students who reported feeling inadequately prepared for the second test had ACT Composite scores that were lower than those students who felt adequately prepared.

So What?

Performance on high-stakes, standardized college entrance exams (e.g., SAT, ACT) provides important information that is used by post-secondary institutions in their admission process. Higher exam scores increase the chances of a student getting admitted in more selective schools and eligibility for merit-based scholarships. This said, students and their families are spending time and resources to prepare for these assessments. It is important to provide research based evidence as to which types of test preparation activities work.

Now What?

Given the financial burden test preparation can place on families, it is imperative to understand what kind of impact is reasonable to expect.


Raeal Moore, PhD: Raeal Moore is a senior research scientist specializing in survey methodological research and research on education best practices in P-12 schools.

Edgar Sanchez, PhD: Edgar Sanchez, a senior research scientist in the Validity and Efficacy Research department at ACT, works on predictive modeling of student educational outcomes. He is currently focusing on the efficacy of test preparation programs.

Sweet San Pedro, PhD: Maria Ofelia “Sweet” San Pedro is a research scientist in the Learning, Assessment and Navigation Experiences department at ACT specializing in learning science and learning analytics. She researches K-12 learning experiences, assessment and instruction within digital learning environments.