One common question that I talk with students and parents about is regarding the schedule of tests and test prep for the ACT or SAT. There are many factors to consider and it can vary based on the student’s starting scores and goal score. Below are some things to consider.
- Take a practice test of both the ACT and the SAT. During the summer before junior year, try a full length practice ACT and SAT. There are free full length tests on www.actstudent.org and www.collegeboard.org , respectively. This way, you can see which test best showcases your strengths. Because colleges will use either test in the admissions process, it is a good idea to know on which test your preparation efforts will be best spent.
- Plan based on your rigor of curriculum. Currently, the SAT covers up through the first half of Algebra II. The ACT covers through pre-calculus. Students that have already finished taking Algebra II by the end of 10th grade could start preparing during the summer before junior year. If your math track has not covered the material, it may be best to wait until junior year as SAT or ACT prep should be a review of material learned rather than an introduction to new concepts.
- Think about your schedule during the school year. Do you play a spring sport and are always busier during that time of year? Are you involved in clubs that require more of a time commitment during certain times of the year? Will you have SOL tests, AP exams, and finals during the spring that will need a lot of time and attention? You should be prepared to dedicate about 4-5 hours per week to prep so it’s important to think about your schedule before junior year begins and decide when that is the most feasible.
- Are you applying to competitive schools that require additional testing? Many of the more highly competitive schools also require or recommend (read that as required) SAT II: Subject Tests. These are 1 hour long per subject area and students can take up to three tests in the same sitting. It’s important to know if you need to take these as some of the tests are only offered on certain SAT dates. Also, you cannot take the SAT and SAT II’s on the same day. Therefore, you need to plan your testing dates accordingly. May or June are usually the best times to take the SAT II’s since these dates will correspond with your preparation for an AP exam or final on the same material.
- Test on a date that allows you to order your questions and answers. There are a few test dates during the year in which you can order a copy of the test booklet and your answers for an additional fee. This is a great way to review your exact mistakes and prepare for future tests. I recommend testing on at least one test date that allows this. For the SAT, the question and answer service is available in October, January, and May. For the ACT, the Test Information Release is available in December, April, and June.
- What is your goal score? Are you trying to get into the top score ranges? Is your goal to increase 400 points? If so, that will take a lot of work. Keep in mind that the SAT and ACT are not tests that you can cram for. The more you want to increase the score, the earlier you should start practicing. Think about your goals early to avoid unnecessary stress during fall of your senior year.