What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Should I Self-Study for the SAT or ACT?

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Shravya Kakulamarri in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



Studying for the SAT or the ACT is a daunting task. You might think the easiest approach is signing up for a prep course. However, this might not be necessary nor the best use of your time and resources. Read the rest of this post to figure out why people self-study and learn if it’s the right approach for you. 


Studying for the ACT – a Real Student’s Experience


Why Take the ACT Instead of the SAT?


Hearing about other student’s and their process of studying for the ACT can provide useful insight into the entire experience. For example, Shravya decided to focus only on the ACT because of the science component, as she was thinking about pursuing medicine. Because the ACT has a science section, she thought the ACT would play to her strengths. 


If you are interested in studying anything STEM related, the ACT may be the better option. Although the ACT doesn’t actually test your knowledge of science, critical thinking skills and research analysis will come in handy during the science section. 


Studying, Testing, and Scores


Shravya took the ACT twice. The first time was in December of her junior year, when she got a score of 33. Based on the schools she was interested in, she decided to take the exam again and try to get a slightly higher score. After self-studying for a few months, she took the exam again at the beginning of her Senior year and got a 35. The extra studying paid off! 


Although Shravya actually did take a prep course before her first time taking the exam, it wasn’t very helpful. She only found it useful to clarify certain topics. Instead, the most productive part of her studying was taking practice exams to simulate what it would be like on test day, practice under time pressure, and build stamina. After taking additional practice tests and reviewing challenging concepts, Shravya received a score she was happy with through targeted self-studying.


Shravya studied for about two months during the school year. She studied one hour each day during the week and used books from Kaplan and Barrons to review material. Over the weekend, she would take a practice exam on Saturdays and review it on Sundays. The following week, she would review concepts that she had missed during that week’s practice exam. This is an example of a logical way to organize your studying and an efficient way to tackle your weakest topics.


Many test prep companies offer a free exam, so be sure to browse around before paying for practice tests. Additionally, CollegeVine has helpful resources for finding free ACT and SAT practice tests. 


Why Do People Self-Study?


This section will explain why people choose to self-study for the SAT/ACT.


1. You Scored Well on a Diagnostic Test


If you score well on the first practice test you take, it may not be necessary to spend money on a prep course. Although it is rare to do extremely well on either the ACT or SAT your first time, usually because you aren’t familiar with the timing or the type of questions, there are still some cases where a prep course is not worth the money.


2. A Test Prep Course is Out of Your Budget  


If you and your family are unable to dedicate financial resources to a prep course, self-studying is a great option. If you make a detailed plan and stick to it, you can do just as well if you self-study. The important thing will be asking your peers or teachers to clarify concepts you are struggling with during your own test preparation. 


3. You’ve Already Done Formalized Test Prep in the Past


Let’s say you already took a PSAT course or took an SAT preparation course your Sophomore year and are planning to take the exam again your Senior fall; in this case, it might not be necessary to take another prep course. Making your own plan to review the concepts you struggle with can be more time efficient and cost effective. You should already have an idea what the structure of your studying should look like, so an additional course might not be worth it.


Is Self-Studying for You?


Self-studying is a better fit for some people than others. If the points below sound like you, you might be better off creating your own schedule to prepare for the SAT or ACT.


1. You are Organized and Self-Disciplined


The most important part of self-studying is creating a schedule for studying and sticking to it. Even before you take a diagnostic test, you should write up a timeline of when you will spend time studying. If this sounds like a daunting task and you don’t think you will be able to stick to it without the structure of a course, then a prep course might be helpful. But, if you are organized and self-driven, then studying on your own shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, you have the benefit of adapting the schedule to your needs rather than being required to show up to a class each week. 


2. You Aren’t Too Far Off from Your Ideal Score


If your diagnostic test reveals you are already in a competitive position for the types of schools you want to apply to, then self-studying may be the move for you. Even if your score is significantly below your ideal place, but you can identify which areas you need to improve on, then targeted studying can be much more effective than taking a general course, where you will spend a lot of time covering topics you are already acing. By self-studying, you can get more out of each hour you put in by only reviewing the concepts you struggle with. 


3. You Have a Group of Peers You Can Study With


If you have a group of friends who are motivated to also self-study, this can make the process a lot more painless and productive. You can help each other set goals and review tricky questions together. The communal environment will be similar to taking a course, yet it will be less structured and won’t cost you anything. If you think you can get a group together, this may be a great strategy to hold yourself accountable to carry out your self-studying schedule. 


How Does Your ACT/SAT Score Impact Your College Chances?


Selective colleges use a metric called the Academic Index (AI) to represent the strength of applicants’ grades and test scores. If your AI is too low, a school may not even review the rest of your application. 


We’ve made it easy to understand the impact of your ACT or SAT score by creating a free Admissions Chances Calculator. This calculator will let you know how your score stacks up against other applicants’, and give you tips on improving the rest of your profile, including grades and extracurriculars.


You can also search for schools based on preferences like location, major, cost, and more. Give it a try to get a jumpstart on your college strategy!