What Preparation Works to Improve ACT Scores

Standardized tests like the ACT provide a common basis for comparison of students across schools and states and have been a key point of consideration in post-secondary admissions for over 60 years. Research has shown that, in general, test preparation has a small but positive effect on standardized test scores.

In fact, among 2018 high school graduates, almost two million graduates took the ACT, and over 2.1 million graduates took the SAT. Given the importance of test scores in college admissions decisions and scholarships, a multimillion dollar test preparation and tutoring industry has emerged.

This study focused on how three different test preparation formats - in-person instruction, self-paced, and other types - related to students' ACT Composite scores.

Delivery Format: While much of the research on test preparation effectiveness has focused on group instruction, recent research showed that effects are stronger for students who worked with a private tutor or consultant relative to students who engaged in other test preparation activities that were either done on their own or in a group setting.

Retesting Effects: Test preparation that includes more practice opportunities, including re-testing, can have a positive effect on test score gains.

Socioeconomic Status: Test preparation for college entrance exams can vary in cost from free to thousands of dollars. As a result, it is no surprise that access to test preparation can vary by income, with some studies finding more affluent students more likely to participate in more expensive and more individualized test preparation programs.