I used to believe what I was told by the College Board about preparation for the SAT tests, namely, that all one had to do was to take rigorous high school courses and that would prepare one adequately for the SAT verbal and math tests. For some people, both when I took the exam as well as today, that was, indeed, enough. They are the lucky few who can walk in on a test and with little advance preparation, do extremely well. For the rest of us, however, that is not the case. To come closer to our potential, we need appropriate preparation.
So what am I recommending and why? The SAT verbal and math tests are supposed to measure "ability" rather than "achievement." SAT II, AP or Regents exams are the ones which measure achievement. Whether the SATs do measure "ability" accurately or not is up to debate. There is no question that achievement, not just ability, is a significant factor in how well one does on the SATs. In addition, understanding of the structure and methodology of the SAT tests is very important.
The achievement side of the SAT can be addressed through rigorous course work; the structure and methodology side cannot. Since the majority of college-bound students, particularly in this area, take courses in high school which go beyond the level of material on the SAT, most notably in math, the way that the SAT differentiates students is to some degree based on misleading or tricking test takers. Consequently, understanding how SAT questions are structured, where the traps or tricks are likely to be, how to avoid wasting time, etc. becomes very important. Most are not that difficult to learn, but they take time, practice and guidance from someone who knows what to look for and for the student to gain the comfort and confidence to perform at them best.
Based on what I know most, students do not need to take the most expensive or intensive program to become adequately prepared. A prep course like those given in Herricks, private programs like Kaplan, individual tutors, etc. are all options. Even just buying one of the many review books such as the Princeton Review can be very helpful if the student spends some time looking seriously at them and does several practice exams. Understanding what you did incorrectly and why is crucial.
Regardless of the limitations of the SATs, they are still a significant factor in the college admissions. In light of this, it makes sense for every student to put his or her best foot forward. Good advance preparation can help.