For students who plan to retake the College Boards, how best to prepare?

The Educational Testing Service recommends working on your weaknesses at school and familiarizing yourself with the free practice SAT test and the "Taking the Test" booklet, part of the SAT registration package. "We encourage a student to take it at home, with a watch in front of him, to get an idea of the timing and format," says an ETS spokesman.

Bookstores carry several compilations of old SAT tests for practicing, and software programs for computerized review are also available. College Board preparation has even broken into the booming video market with such products as the $69.95 "SAT TV Review," a two-hour video tape and companion workbook developed by College Preparatory Service.

And, then, there are the cram courses -- classroom practice and review -- that emphasize test-taking strategy, make big promises and cost hundreds of dollars.

If studies of The Princeton Review's success rate are accurate, there's good reason the $595, six-week nationwide program attracts the attention of college applicants. The average improvement of its graduates is 142 to 162 points. Steve Quattrociocchi scoffs at admissions director talk of the meaninglessness of the scores. "An admission counselor is looking at two applicants -- or 2,000," says the Review's regional director here in Washington. "The fact remains that ... when all other measures appear equal, the SAT score is going to be important."

"If I were an 'A' student and still had difficulty taking a test, I would definitely go to some kind of test prep course," says Shelly Goldin, director of high school programs in the Washington region for Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Services.

Like The Princeton Review, the $565 Kaplan course boasts big score hikes -- 150 total. "Knowing strategies should be good for 150 points," says Goldin. "Should that make a difference? Absolutely. When you get 1,000, you're talking one school, when you get 1,100, you're talking another."

Kathleen O'Connor, an educational consultant and president of the Rockville-based company College Planning, believes that the best kind of SAT preparation depends on the individual student. "My problem with computer software reviews," she says, "is it is very hard for most 17-year-olds to be self-motivated enough to sit at the computer every night."

The prep courses? "Still depends on the kid," says O'Connor. "The Princeton Review is a fast-paced course. Kaplan is a reliable course that's good for a kid who likes formats, structure and repetition. There are a lot of local courses that are very reputable. And there are individuals out there tutoring one-on-one, and work well with kids who have a 600 or 700 combined score."

But just as important, counsels O'Connor, is for parents to lighten the pressure on their kids. "Parents tell me what their own SAT scores were. I tell them, 'Give it up, please.' "