Once high school hits, there is one thing on a lot of parents’ minds: test prep. Between academics and extracurriculars, it can often be confusing to know when to start your student on an SAT/ACT Prep track. To help, we’ve compiled 4 factors to consider when determining the appropriate time to begin.
1 – What is their grade in high school?
Building and tuning core academic skills
This seems like an obvious question, but it’s helpful to elaborate on some details that can be overlooked. For example, if the student goes to a private school, they will probably take a PSAT or PACT in the fall or spring of their Sophomore year. Some private schools may offer the test to students in a “practice mode” during their freshman year. Early testing in either Freshman or Sophomore year can point to a serious need for mastery in either Reading, English or Math. If that is the case, working on these skills early can make a lot of sense. After this, the student’s SAT prep will fine-tune these skills that are already assumed to be in reasonably good shape.
Learning and perfecting test taking skills
Due to student workloads, the summer between Sophomore and Junior year is an effective period over which to build up their ACT or SAT test skills. That’s because there are less distractions over the summer from an academic perspective; no classes to attend translates into more opportunity to complete SAT/ACT homework between sessions.
The only caveat is starting too early. If a student starts too early and is not committed to the program, even just a little bit, it can become a demotivating experience. The key is for the student to understand and agree that it will be helpful to get started as early as possible.
2 - What is their target test date?
Students should always work backwards from their test date. This strategy helps to gauge whether there is enough time to prepare for their test. If not, they should target a later test date. Equally important is whether there is a big gap between their prep time availability and the actual test. Students should always be sure that there is prep time of at least 2 to 3 weeks before their actual test date.
How many test dates should be planned for?
As much as parents and students would like a “one and done” testing situation, the test prep statistics show that most students take the test about 2.5 times on average.
What is the scheduling between SAT and ACT tests?
For most of the year, there is just one or two months between test dates. The next test date after the early December (12/7/19) SAT test is March (3/14/2020), over three months between test dates.
Therefore, if the student is going to take the test twice, there should be enough test prep sessions before the first or second test. Otherwise, the student will likely get the same score again. So, pacing out the sessions over the likely test dates becomes important.
3 – What is their academic workload?
Although the test dates may seem to make sense, the student should take into account their academic workload. Students and parents should take the time to map out coursework as much in advance as possible in order to make this determination.
Riskiest time of the year
The most significant workload factor occurs for top students who take AP courses with tests in May. For other schools and students, the time period just before finals in June tends to be busy and needs to be factored in.
4 – What is their extracurricular schedule?
Like academic load, understanding the peaks and valleys of extracurricular seasons is extremely important.
Is there enough time available for the student to take full practice tests?
Students should take full practice tests so that they are able to experience the stamina needed on the actual test day.
Are they playing a physically grueling sport like football or dance that may drain their overall energy?
I have noticed that football players have a very difficult time focusing on SAT/ACT prep during the football season.
Do they have enough time to do their homework between sessions?
Consider the various seasons and how they will impact the student. A student in theater will have bursts of time, but theater hell week is not the time to take an SAT.
Any single factor will not alone determine the best course of action for test prep. Even if some of these factors may not apply, it is still helpful to consider each and every one of them.
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