Juniors, if you haven’t already started, you need to begin preparing for the SAT and ACT. There are three basic questions you need to answer.
One. Which test should you take?
Every college will accept either the SAT or ACT. Chances are you have heard of both but everyone you know is taking the SAT. Or the ACT. So which do you take?
Start by taking a practice test of each of the tests. Most high school guidance offices will have copies of the practice tests for each kind of test. Otherwise you can go to College Board or the ACT to get practice tests. After you have taken the practice tests, see which test you did the best on and/or which one you find the most comfortable. Then focus your efforts on that test.
A recent study indicated that it might make sense to take both tests. If you are a natural test taker and always do well on every standardized test you take, then yes, take both tests. However, for the vast majority of students, you are much better off focusing on one of the tests. One great test is going to be much more impressive to every college than two mediocre tests.
Two. How do you prepare for the test?
Most students think that the only way to prepare for the SAT and ACT is to take a test prep class. And for some students a general test prep can be a great choice. But most students will score much higher by starting to prepare for the tests by themselves.
I recommend that after a student has decided which test they are going to take, that they buy the official test book for that test. For the ACT it is “The Real ACT Prep Guide.” For the SAT it is “The Official SAT Study Guide: 2nd Edition.” Both of these books are available in most bookstores as well as Amazon.
Then, read through the book to learn test taking strategies for that test. But, most importantly, take the practice tests in the book. After you have taken a practice test, review each of your wrong answers to try and understand the concept behind the question and why you got it wrong. While the questions are different in every test, the concepts stay the same. If you can figure out the concepts that are causing you problems, your scores should improve.
If you are struggling with the concepts then it might be time to hire a tutor to discuss those particular concepts. While good tutors are expensive, if they can focus in on teaching you specific concepts, the time spent will generally not be that great and the cost is often no greater than a general test prep course.
Three. When should you take the test?
Generally I recommend that students take the SAT or ACT twice between January and June of their junior year. For some students it may make sense to take a test in the fall of junior year but rarely do I recommend taking an official test before this time. Why? Because the more you learn in school the better you will typically do on one of these tests.
What is most important is that you try to finish all testing by the end of your junior year. If you have finished all testing by this time you can figure out your college list during the summer and start the application process as soon as the applications are available.
One thing to keep in mind if you are planning on taking the SAT and also will be taking SAT Subject tests. Subject tests and the SAT itself can not be taken on the same dates. This means that you have to plan out your test taking time table much more carefully to get all of these tests completed by the end of junior year.
So, there you have it. The three steps to taking the ACT or SAT and doing well. Next time I will be talking about some things you want to consider when visiting colleges.