By Dan Marlin


One axiom we have at Galin is that it is important to start test prep early. But why? In this blog post, we illustrate a few reasons why starting early will be beneficial as you embark upon the standardized test phase of your pre-college journey.

What does “early” mean?

The first step we recommend is to take a diagnostic exam at our office so that we can determine how many sessions you are likely to need to improve your score meaningfully. (Our lesson packages vary based on diagnostic score.) Your diagnostic may also reveal a preference for the SAT over the ACT, or vice-versa. Typically, the best time to take a diagnostic test is in the spring of your 10th grade year, as that opens up the most opportunities for you to test. (More on that in a minute.)

You should plan to test multiple times

The ACT and SAT are offered in the following months. Also, the ACT and SAT only release their test items three times a year (indicated here with asterisks), which you may also want to take into consideration in your planning so you can review the items you miss afterward.

September August
October October*
December* November
February December
March (public school students in WI only) March*
April* May*
June* June

Unless you get a perfect or near-perfect score on your first try, it is beneficial to take multiple tests, for several reasons. First, every time you take a test, you get more familiar with the testing environment and the feeling of taking a test in a classroom with other people. You might have a bad day – maybe you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, or a student behind you is coughing or tapping their pencil the whole time. If you wait too long to prep, you lose out on additional testing opportunities. Taking multiple tests can allow you to review problems you missed on prior tests (if the exams are released by the ACT or SAT, as I indicated above). And perhaps most importantly, almost every college and university will now “superscore” your exams, taking the highest score from each section and creating a new, more favorable composite score. The ACT even provides superscore information on its score reports. Taking multiple tests will give you the chance to improve on sections that might not have gone as well as others. (For example, if you get a low math score on your first test, you can work more on math in preparation for your next exam in hopes of raising your superscore). In rare instances, students who do not improve as much as they hoped may even switch exams (ACT to SAT or SAT to ACT), which is fine! But you have to give yourself enough time to do so.

Conflicts during prep or on test day may arise

People get sick. (Tutors, too!) Sports and activity schedules get complicated. So while we always do our best to meet at least once per week, we sometimes have to postpone and reschedule lessons. Starting early gives us flexibility and helps us to avoid cramming as your planned test date draws near. Additionally, you might not be available for every single test date offered. Family vacations, sports and extracurriculars, and even homecoming or prom can present conflicts. Or you may want to avoid generally stressful times of the year, such as when you’re taking AP exams or finals. If you start your prep too late, you may run out of time to take more tests simply because you’re unavailable.

Data say so

We recently reviewed our internal data for the past school year, and one item we investigated was the ACT performance of students who started their prep early compared to those who did not. We defined “starting early” as students who began with extra weeks to spare, so that they only had to meet about once a week rather than doubling up on sessions. These two groups of students started with similar average ACT scores, but students who started early showed more growth on the ACT than did students who did not. In fact, students who started early exceeded our average growth, while students who had to cram fell a bit short. 

Overall, starting your prep early can be as important as the content and strategies we teach. It provides you with manageable lesson pacing, flexibility, and opportunities for improvement. Even though I noted that it’s best to start prep late in your sophomore year, If you’re a current junior, it’s definitely not too late to sign up, as there are several exams in the spring. You would still be starting early enough!