The 4-step plan that a Harvard and MIT grad says will help your students do well on college boards - no cheating required

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  • The recent college cheating scandal has left parents, students, and educators reeling. How are non-famous, hardworking students supposed to compete?
  • In this op-ed, Jessica Yeager, a graduate of Harvard and MIT with over ten years of tutoring experience, says there are four important ways.
  • If your student is crunched for time or has a large score gap to make up, in-person or online group classes or one-on-one tutoring are probably the way to go.

While many parents and students suspected an unfair side door existed for celebrities and people who were willing to pay for it, I don't think anyone expected 50 people to be charged in connection with a college-admissions scheme uncovered by the FBI. The stories of correcting ACT and SAT tests to get nearly perfect scores and Photoshopping students' faces onto other student athletes' bodies has parents, students, and educators reeling. How is your non-famous, hardworking student supposed to compete with that?

This investigation and prosecution shows us all that in the end, cheating doesn't pay. The good news is there are so many ways for your student to improve their scores without cheating. On the Dream College Summit - Test Prep Tips Edition, I interviewed seven amazing test prep experts and got their advice for raising ACT and SAT scores the right way.

Start with actual tests

It's important to understand where your student is starting from before you get into test prep. The only proper way to do this, is to get a free practice exam from College Board or ACT.org. Have your student take the practice exam in a test-day environment. No music. Timed just like the real test. Often test prep companies and tutors will proctor a practice exam for your student for free. The important thing is to make sure it's a real practice exam from the test makers. Do not start with practice test or questions from one of the big test prep companies. These questions are not the same, and you won't get a good understanding of how your student will perform on the test.

Jessica YeagerJessica Yeager.Courtesy Jessica Yeager

Figure out what scores your student needs

Now that you know where your student is starting, you can figure out what score they need for their dream colleges. I like to use Cappex.com with my students because it tells you the 25th and 75th percentiles for each schools without needing to go to a million different websites; a good rule of thumb for students is to shoot for above the 75th percentile at their dream colleges. Now that you know your student's starting point and where they need to go, you can figure out the best way to address the score gap. If there's no score gap, congrats! Your student doesn't need much test prep before the test.

Decide how much time you have

Another important factor in test prep is how much time you have for prep. This can dictate if and how much outside help you might want to get for your student. If your student has a year to study and prepare for the test and they only need to get a few points on the ACT or a few hundred points on the SAT, self-study with really good strategy materials and real practice exams from the test makers can be a great option for the self motivated student.

Classes or tutoring

If your student is crunched for time or has a large score gap to make up, in-person or online group classes or one-on-one tutoring are probably the way to go. There are so many options out there, though. I know it's hard for parents to figure out what might be right for their students. Often if time is really short, one-on-one tutoring is going to be the way to go, as your student will get to hone in on the exact things that are tripping him or her up. If however, your students works better in a class setting and has the time to go through the process (usually 2-4 months), that can be a really great option. An important thing to do before signing up for tutoring or classes is to test drive whoever will be working with your student. An easy free option for that is signing up for the Dream College Summit - Test Prep Tips Edition, where you can listen to tutors and teachers like Shaan Patel, Peter Peng, Stacey Howe-Lott, and others to see if they might be a good fit for your student. Many tutors and classes will let you interview them or give you access to a lot of free material before you have to put money down. If they don't, you might want to keep looking.


Jessica Yeager is a graduate of Harvard and MIT with over ten years of tutoring experience. As a senior in high school, she gained acceptance to Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, and Columbia. She is the founder of Impress the Ivies and host of the Dream College Summit. Her students have gotten into elite schools, like Harvard and Carnegie Mellon.

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