Of the roughly 551,000 high school basketball players in the 2017-2018 school year, about .1% of them will end up being drafted into the NBA.¹ Of the roughly 2,000,000 high school students who took the ACT in 2017, similarly, about .1% of them achieved a perfect score.²
Why make this comparison? Because students and parents can sometimes get frustrated by how difficult it is to substantially improve on the SAT and ACT. When compared to professional sports, however, it’s easier to understand. Let’s say a high school student is an average basketball player. How hard do you think they would have to work and how much time practicing do you think it would take for them to become better than 94% of all other high school basketball players? Although it will vary from student to student based on their aptitude for basketball and the quality of their coaching, in almost all circumstances we could say it’s going to take a lot of work to get better than a further 44% of high school basketball players. To almost double their competitive edge, they might need to spend 500 hours to go from the 50th percentile to the 94th percentile of high school basketball players. And, remember, it gets harder and harder to keep getting better than those other top players, because those other top players are practicing a lot too to get better than their elite peers. Additionally, there is less “low hanging fruit” on which to improve: for the average basketball player, they might be able to significantly improve just by increasing their running endurance and practicing their jump shots. For the top players, it’s going to take much more skill and targeted practice to gain a competitive edge.
The same is true for the SAT and ACT. A student starting with a 20 on the ACT is starting at the 50th percentile of all students who take the ACT.³ So, how much work will it take to similarly improve into the 94th percentile (equivalent to a 30 on the ACT)? For the average student, it would probably take 500 hours as well. Again, the higher a student scores, the harder it is to improve: all of the other top students are also competing to out-compete one another and the “low hanging fruit” (in this case going over topics like exponents and independent clauses) have already been mastered.
Does it take 500 hours of prep for our students to go from a 20 to a 30? No. But, our students are also getting the best possible SAT and ACT prep from us. Still, there are no easy shortcuts. To out-compete others, particularly the most advanced students who are trying to do the same, requires a lot of hard-work, patience, and perseverance.
But, like any endeavor, the success of the outcome will be proportionate to the effort put into it. You can choose your SAT and ACT score, as long as you also choose to work as hard as is necessary to achieve it.