ACT & SAT: Beginning of Prep to Final Push

By September 12, 2013 No Comments

With school underway, many seniors are giving the final push to boost their score on the ACT and/or SAT. At the same time, juniors should begin thinking about which test and test date is best for them.

For Juniors

Juniors need to start thinking medium-term about the standardized tests coming up. Both the SAT and ACT are offered numerous times throughout the school year. There are not many formal guidelines for planning for these tests, but here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Which test(s)?  All schools will accept the ACT or SAT. However, some schools have additional testing requirements (mostly SAT Subject Tests). Make sure to know which tests are needed by the schools on an initial list. As for ACT vs. SAT, a student should take a practice of each test to determine which one is easier and which one is less stressful.

  • Do not go in cold!  Some college require that an applicant send in all test scores. Sometimes an applicant can only send ACT or SAT, but s/he may be required to send in all the tests from one organization. So, do not take real tests as practice tests or to “see how you’ll do.” There are ample resources online and elsewhere for students to take practice exams to get a sense of where they stand.

  • Start prep early. Last-minute preparation for tests is not the most effective strategy. Students should spend about a semester preparing for the exam – there’s a lot of material to review and a lot of timing to practice! Taking numerous practice tests and lots of prep in the weeks leading up to the test can increase a student’s anxiety about the test and lead to poor results. And, frankly, a test taker cannot master timing strategies without regular practice over a longer period of time.

  • Plan for more than one test date. It is important to look at the full calendar of test dates to plan for taking the test more than once. For example, if a student is going to take the ACT two or three times, the family must figure out the last possible date and work backwards. Taking the test twice in Junior year is best, so there may not be a need to take tests Senior year. Watch out for the test dates that are around finals and breaks – these come with a lot of distractions.

  • SAT Subject Tests. Plan for the student to be able to take SAT Subject Tests at the end of the school year. These tests require specific content knowledge that students gain throughout a given school year (perhaps math, literature, and languages are exceptions). US History will be difficult for a student who took the course two years ago!

For Seniors

Seniors at this point need to continue to focus on their grades. If they are taking additional tests, this may be a final effort to try to boost a score. Gaining some points on either test is great, but if it comes at a cost (particularly grades in school) it will could have a net negative effect on admissions decisions. Some things to remember:

  • Check the last possible test date for admission for each school on the student’s list. Then, check if there are earlier last dates for early decision, early action, or priority deadlines.

  • Determine if a later test date requires directly sending the score report. If the score must be sent directly to the school to make it on time, consider what would happen if the score is significantly below a previous score.

  • Make sure that all additional testing requirements are met. Some schools require SAT Subject Tests regardless of which test the student took (ACT vs. SAT). Make sure these requirements have all been met.