Self-prep is on the rise for the SAT and ACT. Students use all sorts of resources to create a test prep plan that works for them, and many start out by trying to do it alone. For some, this strategy works, and they reach their goals (hooray!). For others, they see improvement on their first official test but then hit a plateau.

What do you do if you’ve made progress, but it’s not enough?

Retake the test

There’s no limit to the times you can take the ACT or SAT. If you didn’t get the score you wanted the first or second time, just take it again! ACT recently reported that 45% of students take the ACT more than once.

At ArborBridge, we see the same trend. Most of our students take the test twice because they know that they can keep improving: the second time around they’ve done more prep, and they’re more comfortable with the official experience.

In fact, the ACT reports that 57% of students who retake the test improve the second time. But 95% of ArborBridge students who retake the ACT improve upon their first attempt. And their improvements are significant. On average, our students improve their scores by 35% the second time. On the ACT, that can mean almost 2 more points.

Change your prep strategy

If you plan to retake and you’ve hit a plateau, it’s time to shake things up. Doing the same thing again won’t get you a different score. A few things to try:

Use new materials

Maybe it’s the book you’re using or the software. You’ve used all the practice material you have available, and you need to find more. Try switching to a new brand of books. Try a different app. Try a new series of videos. Exposing yourself to new materials will push your boundaries and help you think in new ways about the test.

Seek expert help:

Often students who self-prep get far at first but then hit a wall because they can’t see what they’re doing wrong. They got all the low hanging fruit, but now that the hard stuff remains, they need someone to guide them.

That’s where a tutor can help. A tutor can see what you’re missing and introduce changes you never thought of. And because it’s targeted, expert help, it often doesn’t take much time to see results.

How does it work?

What can tutoring add if you’ve gotten as far as you can on your own? One of our tutors, Rose, recounts how she helped her student, Sophie:

A rising senior, Sophie was an extremely motivated student who had always excelled in academics and athletics. She studied for the ACT on her own and even attended four study sessions offered by her school. She scored a 32 on the April ACT. Her goal was to score to score at least 34, so she continued studying on her own. But couldn’t get higher than 33 on practice tests. Her biggest concern was pacing because she wasn’t consistently able to finish every section.

I worked with Sophie for 4 weeks to prepare for the July ACT. I looked at her past tests for high-impact areas—not only questions she missed, but also questions she had answered correctly but inefficiently. On her own, Sophie did not know to reflect on questions she had gotten right and instead spent her time learning concepts underlying the problems she missed. She did a great job learning those concepts but wasn’t enough of a test expert to realize that those skills rarely appear on the exam. In effect, she had wasted time mastering material that wasn’t helping her score.

Additionally, Sophie felt she was making progress because of her strong academic skills, but tutors know that a strong academic foundation alone is rarely enough to get students their best score. In Sophie’s case, answering questions the academic way was time-consuming, so we introduced strategies and shortcuts for questions she had always gotten right and thus had never paid attention to. The pacing and prioritization strategy we developed for those questions afforded her the additional time she needed to answer questions she had previously rushed or run out of time on.

Sophie was always capable of independently identifying what questions she missed. As her tutor, I helped Sophie identify her strengths, and fine-tuned strategies to maximize them. When she took the July ACT, Sophie was a more confident test-taker who truly owned her strategies. She exceeded her goal and scored a 35.