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How much do students benefit from free practice SATs? Some say a lot

Charla Bear
Highline Public Schools encourages sophomores, such as Cordae McAfee (right), to take the PSAT by paying the testing fee. McAfee says he didn't know enough about the test to care about his results but took it anyway.

Thousands of students across the state are taking the SAT this weekend.

The college entrance exam plays a big role in admissions, but a lot of students are poorly prepared for it. Some educators say an easy way to change that – and get students to gear up for college earlier – is to pay for sophomores or juniors to take a preliminary version of the test. 

Before Raquel Rodriquez even starts taking the SAT, she’ll already have an inkling of how she might do. The senior at Mt. Rainier High School in Des Moines took a practice SAT a couple of years ago.  Just as she suspected:   

"My reading and writing scores are a lot better than my math scores."

Still, she says seeing the results of the trial college exam was a wake up call:

“It made me realize, alright, thank God for this practice test. Now when I come to the real test, I need to take that seriously, study for that. It definitely motivated me to keep up with that and keep good grades and keep studying and set my mind on college.”

Setting expectations

Her reaction is exactly what administrators at Highline Public Schools were aiming for when they decided to make PSATs a priority in the district. For the past few years, they’ve spent about $15,000 annually to pay for each student to take it once, preferably when they’re sophomores.

Julie Hunter is principal at Mt. Rainier. 

“It definitely, I think, sets an expectation of a college-going culture. Or that we want you to continue your education after high school,” she said.

Other districts, such as Everett Public Schools, think they’ll get more bang for their buck if they pay for juniors to take the test. Several students in Des Moines agreed. Cordae McAfee, 15, says he only took the PSAT because teachers told him to.

“They gave us a packet and told us to study. I have it in my backpack, I think.”

Nevertheless, he admits he didn't study for it.

Test paid for

Hedging their bets, Seattle Public Schools pays for both 10th and 11th graders to try the PSAT.

Regardless of when students take the exam, all the seniors admit, in retrospect, they’re glad they did. They’re even happier the district picked up the tab, since most of them say they wouldn’t have paid to test out the SAT on their own.

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.
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