At most colleges, SAT or ACT scores are important components of their admission criteria. Colleges tend to be opaque about exactly how much weight they give to SAT and ACT scores, and the importance of them varies greatly between colleges. However, for the sake of illustration, let's assume that colleges weight SAT and ACT scores as about a third of their admission criteria. Though this is an assumption made for illustrative purposes, my experience is that this is probably a fairly accurate assumption on average. Given the weight given to SAT and ACT scores in admission criteria, studying for the SAT or ACT is an extremely good use of students' time if they want to be accepted into their top choice colleges. Let's suppose a student does two hours of homework for school on five nights each week. Realistically, many serious students do much more work than this but we'll use this number for our estimate. Most high schools have 36 weeks of school per year. (2 hours of homework/night) x (5 nights/week) x (36 weeks/school year) = 360 hours of homework per school year All states require that students spend at least 1000 hours in the classroom per school year. Some states require more hours than this per year, but let's use the 1000 hours. This means that in just one year of school, a student who averages only two hours of homework per night will spend 360 hours doing homework for school and 1000 hours in school, for a total of 1360 hours spent on school work. In a sense, how well a student does during these 1360 hours is represented by his or her GPA, which is another important criterion for admission to college. Let’s look at how much time a student might spend studying for the SAT or ACT. My recommendation to students who want to see a significant improvement in their SAT or ACT scores is that they do a 90 minute tutoring session with me weekly for four months and do three hours of homework on their own each week. That's a total of four and a half hours per week spent on SAT or ACT preparation for sixteen weeks. (4.5 hours of SAT or ACT studying/week) x (16 weeks) = 72 hours of SAT or ACT studying in total (Some serious students certainly work with me for longer than four months or do more work per week than this and a few of my students work with me for a much shorter time, but four months of working together weekly is about average for my students.) Let's review these numbers. My average recommendation is that students spend a lifetime total of 72 hours studying for the ACT or SAT, and these 72 hours of work will determine their scores that make up a third of their admission criteria. Students who do two hours of homework per night spend 1360 hours on their schoolwork each year, and this makes up less than two thirds of their admission criteria via their GPA. Let’s recap once more: 72 lifetime hours for 1/3 of admission criteria for SAT or ACT. 1360 hours per year for less than 2/3 of admission criteria. Never mind that many students do much more than two hours of homework per night or that these 1360 hours on schoolwork are spent each year for several years or that some schools have more than 1000 instructional hours per year or that application essays and other factors such as sports and volunteering are considered by admission committees in the two thirds of admission criteria that we attributed to GPA. Given all those factors, the calculation that we have done is probably an extremely cautious estimate of how much more impact studying for the SAT or ACT has on an hour-for-hour basis compared to doing homework. Whether a student works with a tutor or not and even if a student is going to spend less time studying than I recommend, any time spent studying for the SAT or ACT is time extremely well spent for anybody with serious college aspirations. In fact, time spent studying for the SAT or ACT has a bigger return on investment than anything else students can do in efforts to get accepted into colleges.
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