3 Ways Underclassmen Can Get a Head Start on the SAT and ACT

    by Colleen McGeehan – Director of Instruction


Though we don’t recommend that students start specifically preparing for the ACT or SAT until the summer after their sophomore year (at the earliest), there are still plenty of things that freshmen and sophomores can do to make sure they will be prepared when it comes time to take these tests!

1. Read.

I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Students should be actively reading what they are assigned in their classes (and I mean actually reading, not reading a summarized version or listening to the books on tape). And then ideally they will read even more outside of what they are assigned. In particular, reading short articles (and especially non-fiction articles) will best prepare students for the SAT and ACT. Strong readers see the best results on these tests!

2. Pay attention in math class.

The ACT and SAT will test math topics that students learn through Algebra 2 (if students are on grade level, this will be the class they take junior year). Often freshmen and sophomores will be taking Algebra 1 and Geometry—these classes introduce students to foundational skills that will be tested again and again on the SAT/ACT. In the math section of both the ACT and the SAT, 60-70% of the questions are specifically testing concepts learned in these classes. If your students are struggling in their math classes, it might be a good idea to find a math tutor to make sure that they have the basics down. Even outside of standardized tests, their future math classes will build on the ideas they are learning in early high school!

3. Take rigorous courses…

…and do well in them! Your scores on standardized tests will be important in the college admissions process, but they are only part of the story. Most colleges report that the rigor of a student’s high school curriculum and their performance in high school classes are the most important factors in the admissions process. There are plenty of tricks and tips that we teach students in test prep, but ultimately these tests are designed to holistically measure what students have learned in high school. Doing well in high school classes is, therefore, the first step to doing well on college admissions exams!


Freshman and sophomore years are too early to start with actual test prep, but working to build academic knowledge and confidence during these years will pay off in the long run. To hear more about what students can do to prepare, join me at our next parent chat!