I was 15 or so the first time I took the Scholastic Aptitude Test for college. In retrospect, I made a couple of monumental mistakes. First, I did very little, if any, studying for the test. Then, I listened to the bad advice of a classmate who told me not to answer any question I wasn’t sure on. I turned in an exam booklet with more than a few blank questions and got an 1150 out of 1600.

I suppose my score wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, falling somewhere in the average range, though I wasn’t proud either. The following year, I resolved to do things differently. My college application was at stake, and while I was good in some areas (I didn’t need a writing tutor for any of the essays), I knew my overall score needed boosting. Thus, I enrolled in an SAT prep course.

The course met for a month or so for about an hour a session outside of normal school hours. Like a young kid working with a Spanish tutor, I had seemingly all I needed to know drilled into me. We did practice analogy after analogy. We worked on the math. I think we even took a practice test. I learned things like that I actually knew a lot of this stuff already, and that if I encountered a question I wasn’t 100 percent positive on, I could render a guess and still have a decent shot at being right.

The payoff came on test day when I scored a 1320 out of 1600, my highest SAT marks ultimately. To this day, I tell everyone I can to take a prep course.