You’ve probably heard the solid advice that you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to prepare for college admissions tests. But when is the right time to prep for the SAT or ACT? Here are some thoughts to consider:
- Most students on a college-prep track have learned the academic content of the tests by the end of sophomore year. The SAT and ACT both include a lot of Algebra and Geometry, so it’s essential students have completed both those classes when they sit down to take the test. They also now include a few Algebra II and Trigonometry questions, so it’s helpful (but not crucial) to have completed Algebra II. Neither test includes Pre-Calculus, Calculus, or AP Statistics. As for the Language and Reading requirements, these skills should continue to build throughout high school, but most students who take challenging courses are ready by the end of sophomore year. Prepping for the test alongside assigned school work can reinforce language arts learning.
- It’s more effective to prep a little each week over a long time than to cram it in over a short time. Starting test prep early can help ensure lasting learning and give students flexibility if they need to skip a busy week.
- The PSAT for National Merit Scholar consideration is given during mid-October and early November of junior year. Students with high scoring potential may want to do their prep before the PSAT so they can aim for National Merit Scholar. Since the tests are similar, the skills and strategies they practice will easily translate to the SAT, and the PSAT score report can provide valuable information about which areas the student still needs work.
- College applications and essays can take a lot of time senior year. Ideally, a senior will have completed his or her college admissions test already and be able to focus on applications at the beginning of senior year.
- It’s ideal to allow enough time to prepare for a complete retake. While many students simply retake a test hoping to get “lucky” and do better, retaking it without additional preparation may result in a lower score than before. It’s a good idea to allow not only time to register and take the test again, but also to address weaknesses and get additional practice before the retake.
Given these considerations, the short answer for the best time to start preparing for a college admissions test is probably, “the summer after sophomore year.” The other short answer, however, is “whatever time is right for you.” Each student is unique, and time and motivation are the most important factors in the decision. A student who has an especially busy summer, or who really needs a break from academics, might want to wait until the beginning of junior year to prepare. A less motivated student might not take test prep seriously until later on during junior year, with college application deadlines looming. That said, waiting until the beginning of senior year to prepare is definitely not ideal, as it doesn’t allow enough time for practice.
Whatever the timeline, practice and preparation are key when it comes to college admissions testing. In the end, the best time to prepare is the time that you’ll take test prep seriously!