The SAT isn’t the kind of test students can cram for in one night.

Help your kid get a better score

1 Get familiar with the test. The College Board, which administers the exam, offers free practice resources, such as SAT test directions, sample questions, test-taking approaches and an official practice test. Check out Cramming and short-term test prep aren’t the way to better SAT scores. Research has shown the average gain from short-term test prep is similar to the gain that comes from taking the test a second time. “The best way to get ready for the SAT is to do well in school, take the most rigorous courses available, study hard and read as much as possible,” according to the College Board.3 Licensed test-prep companies aren’t endorsed by the College Board. The College Board uses its retired test content to create practice tools available on its website. Test-prep companies can’t use any of that content.College Board

The college entrance exam is designed to show how much and how well they can apply the academic lessons they learned throughout high school.

That’s one reason to be concerned with the latest results, which show statewide public school students’ scores falling for the fourth consecutive year.

When asked about the scores, state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais ticked off four bigger problems the state needs to address — elementary-aged children’s literacy; a one-size-fits-all model; a lack of choices for students outside the public system; and holding educators accountable for results.

“Until you fix the big things, you’ll spend a lot of effort working on the small things that don’t have a lot of impact,” he said.

The state’s public high school seniors scored a composite 1,422 out of a possible 2,400 — or 800 on each of the exam’s reading, math and writing sections. That’s down five points from 2011.

The state again fell below the national average for public school students of 1,477, which dropped four points from the previous year.

The country as a whole generally has seen scores dropping, although it saw a record 1.66 million students take the test. FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to preventing the misuse of standardized tests, said the national trend for all students has been on the decline since the test added a writing section six years ago.

In the Lowcountry, Charleston and Dorchester 2 schools bucked the statewide trend of falling SAT averages. Charleston saw its composite average score rise 16 points to 1,442, and suburban Dorchester 2 had its overall average improve by 12 points to 1,463.

Berkeley County schools saw its composite average fall four points to 1,443, and the average in rural Dorchester 4 slipped 35 points to 1,332.

Melissa Matarazzo, Charleston schools’ executive director of achievement and accountability, said it’s important to look at scores over time, and those appear to be trending in the right direction in Charleston. She would like to see Charleston’s writing scores improve further, and that’s a focus for the entire district.

Ginger Reijners, Charleston schools’ director of secondary guidance, said it’s up to schools to decide who should take which college entrance exam and how students are prepared, and they have more options.

“More opportunities are in place to help students prepare,” she said.

Some schools have prep classes for which students can earn high school credit, while others make the PSAT, or the Preliminary SAT, available for students to take, she said.

Zais said parents should know the SAT is vitally important for admission to certain colleges, but it’s not a good indicator of the efficacy of individual schools. Some schools encourage all students to take the exam, while others don’t.

“I don’t put much stock in it,” he said.

Many four-year universities require students to take the ACT or SAT, but an increasing number of colleges don’t require either. About 850 schools nationally don’t require either in an effort to look more deeply at individual students. Furman University in Greenville is among those schools.

The College Board also released on Monday state-level Advanced Placement results, which reflect how students are faring on efforts to earn college credit. More than 1,800 additional students earned “passing” scores on the Advanced Placement exam compared to last year, and the overall number of test-takers increased by 14.3 percent to 21,432 students.

Local district and school Advanced Placement figures weren’t available.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.