Most parents are concerned about how they’ll pay for their children’s college education. One of the most straightforward ways to save thousands of dollars on college education costs is for your son or daughter to score higher on the ACT or SAT. No, that wasn’t a typo—scoring higher on these tests can save you not hundreds but thousands of dollars per year in college education costs. Colleges and universities are very up front: higher ACT or SAT scores mean larger academic merit aid packages.


Here are five tips for helping your son or daughter get the best possible ACT or SAT score they can:

  1. Make sure your son or daughter takes full-length, timed practice tests before taking the official exam.
    Many families think it is best to take a first official ACT or SAT “cold” (i.e., without any prep or practice beforehand.) One of the drawbacks to this approach is that students often become demoralized when they underachieve—an unsurprising result given that they haven’t prepared. Over the last 22 years, when families have come to me after an initial low score, I have tried to reassure students that with practice and preparation, they can score much higher, but the emotional impact of a student’s first score is often a lasting one. Fortunately, there are many options for taking full-length, timed practice exams that allow students to get the repetition and practice they need before taking the official test. An additional benefit of taking a full-length exam before the real thing is that many students learn that it isn’t the questions themselves that are terribly difficult: it’s how quickly one must navigate the questions and how challenging it is to maintain the stamina required to get through the entire test that trips them up. Taking a full-length, timed exam gets students used to the speed and the endurance they need in order to score well.

  2. Make sure your son or daughter takes the SAT or ACT more than once.
    Students don’t need to take both tests twice, but they should take one of the exams more than once. Many students score higher the second time and even the third time. This is largely attributable to greater familiarity with the types of questions and the testing environment and protocols.

  3. Take the SATs and ACTs that offer the Question Answer Service (QAS) or Test Information Release (TIR), which will allow your son or daughter to learn from mistakes.
    The SAT and ACT are called standardized tests for a reason—they test students on the same concepts year in and year out. But you can’t take advantage of this uniformity and predictability if you can’t learn from your mistakes. The SAT’s QAS (offered on the March, May, and October SATs) and ACT’s TIR (offered on the April, June, and December ACTs) provide copies of the test questions and a complete answer report so that students can see which questions they answered incorrectly, distinguish pacing issues, and understand where to place their studying efforts.

  4. Provide your son or daughter with an efficient, effective way to prep.
    Self-paced tablet
    Let’s be honest: most students aren’t going to spend dozens of hours on SAT or ACT prep. The first thing every student should do is follow our checklist of 15-minute tasks. Students who follow this checklist increase their SAT scores an average of 150 points and their ACT scores an average of 3 points. The checklist consists of text, audio, and video lessons in which a teacher walks students through every strategy and technique needed to achieve great scores on these exams, questions for practice and reinforcement, and video and text explanations so students can understand the most efficient strategies for answering questions. Thousands of students use this checklist each week to score higher on these exams.

  5. Provide your son or daughter with some live instruction as the official test date approaches.
    Most students want and need real-time instruction so they can get their questions answered by a live instructor. This live instruction can come in the form of a class or private tutoring. Many students take these classes in conjunction with the self-paced checklist because they like the blended approach of live review and independent practice.

Paying for college is something all parents worry about. Using a higher SAT or ACT score to save thousands of dollars is a realistic goal. Follow the five steps above to turn the goal into a reality.