SAT test preparation books sit on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble store in New York City.
SAT test preparation books sit on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble store in New York City. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: In the high stakes world of college admissions, there's probably nothing with higher stakes than the SAT. That's why parents shell out millions of dollars for those test prep courses every year, hoping it'll give their kids an advantage. But a new report out today says there may not be much of an advantage after all. From Washington, Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH: The National Association of College Admissions Counseling hopes its report chills the SAT prep business.

DAVID HAWKINS: There needs to be a buyer-beware notice for students and families who are thinking about commercial test preparation.

The group's David Hawkins says the report pulled together academic studies about the effectiveness of SAT preparation. It found that the average score increase as a result of the prep courses is 30 points.

HAWKINS: Preparing for the test is a good idea. Perhaps investing large sums of money in that preparation may not be as good of an idea because as the research suggests, you can probably get similar increases just by doing some self study.

The courses and private tutoring can cost several thousand dollars as opposed to $30 or so for a study guide. But students and parents must think it's worth it because they keep paying. Kristen Campbell is the national director of college prep programs at Kaplan.

KRISTEN CAMPBELL: Our families continue to come to us and tell us that preparing with us helps and that we're able to help them achieve their dreams and their scores.

The report also found that a significant number of universities use hard SAT cutoffs in admissions. So just a few points could mean the difference between getting in or not. And ironically, that bit of information could actually provide a boost to the test preparation industry.

In Washington, I'm Tamara Keith for Marketplace.