Tutor Shares When Best Times to Take SAT and ACT
One of the most common questions that I’m asked as a test prep coach and tutor is, “When should my child take the SAT?” (The other is, “Should my child take the SAT or the ACT?” I’ll address that dilemma next time.) Baby Boomer and GenX parents may remember taking the SAT once or twice in the spring of their junior year. However, it’s becoming increasingly common for students to take the SAT or ACT at the beginning of their junior year.
Reasons to Prepare “Early”
There are lots of great reasons for rising and first-semester juniors to prepare for the SAT. If the prepping occurs during the summer after sophomore year, the student likely has fewer academic stressors than during the upcoming school year. She can fully devote her intellectual energies to SAT prep – even if she’s working at a camp or taking a course for part of the summer.
If the preparation occurs during the fall or winter of the junior year, it won’t interfere with the studying for AP (Advanced Placement) exams that often begins around March. In short, getting test prep out of the way before spring of the junior year allows the eleventh grader to more fully dedicate herself to her coursework and extracurriculars.
Reasons to PREPARE “Later”
On the other hand, some conditions make it prudent to wait until spring of the junior year to begin preparing for the SAT or ACT. First, if your child has not yet taken a full year of algebra and of geometry, wait until he’s done so. The majority of the mathematics content on both exams comes from these two disciplines.
Second, if your child plays a sport or participates in any extracurricular in the fall but not in the spring, it may make sense to wait until he has more time to study. (You still might consider prepping during the summer and taking the August exam in this case, though.)
Lastly, if the student’s struggling in any way – emotionally, physically, socially – during summer or fall, it’s important to get help first. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with waiting until spring of the junior year to begin test prep – especially if that means your child is better equipped to handle that pressure.
How Long to Study?
Whenever you decide is the right general time to begin preparing for the SAT or ACT, how exactly do you figure out the exact time to do so? Students and parents in my Study Skills and Time Management class know that “counting backwards” from an assignment’s due date is part of my method for planning out long-term work. Likewise, I recommend to families who wonder when their junior should begin studying for the SAT (or ACT) to first identify which date their child wants to take the exam and count backwards roughly ten weeks from then. If your child has enough time to devote approximately 30 minutes per day during those ten weeks, it’s a great time to prepare for the exam.
If they’re getting a late start, and can devote 45-60 minutes per day to studying, it’s feasible to begin preparing just five weeks before the test. However, I don’t recommend trying to sit for either exam with less prep than five weeks. It’s unlikely that cram sessions will yield huge increases in scores from the PACT and PSAT.
Conversely, studying for more than ten weeks (unless the student needs remediation of fundamental math or grammar content) is unlikely to result in higher scores. Test prep fatigue sets in around this point. If your child’s unhappy with her scores and she’s afraid that she’ll forget the testing strategies that she’s learned, she could register for the next administration of the exam.
But I recommend taking a break after the second try – and not taking any more than three of the same test. Studies show that score gains begin to diminish after a student’s second attempt and become negligible after the third.
A Note about Tutors
Finally, if you’re switching prep methods in between tests – for example, going from one tutoring center to another, or from self-study to a tutor – it’s important to keep in mind that a new tutor will need about one month of consistent (i.e.,weekly) sessions with your child before your child shows much progress. Give the tutor a chance to get to know how your child learns. But, don’t wait months and months before making a change if practice tests show little improvement. Not every tutor is right for every child. Sticking with the wrong tutor for too long isn’t only a waste of money: it’s potentially damaging to your child’s self-esteem.
If you're interested in discussing SAT or ACT tutoring for your child, drop me a line to set up a complimentary 15-minute conversation. Also, check out our two offers below, both good for SAT or ACT prep.
Next month, I’ll address the pros and cons of the SAT and ACT. In the meanwhile, I hope that you enjoy the rest of the first marking period! We hope that your child’s report card is filled with lots of “treats,” but we’re here if any “tricks” pop up!