When should I start preparing for the SAT?
Many parents and students wonder when they should start preparing for the SAT or ACT, but the real fact of the matter is that while there is no such thing as a one-size-fits all answer to this question, making substantive progress will always take at least some time to learn the content and practice strategies. The majority of students I work with start preparing at the beginning of their Junior years, while some particularly motivated students start working on the test 2 years in advance. I do also work with some students who don’t begin even thinking about the test until the beginning of their senior year, and while we can certainly help those students out, we don’t see as much progress as we would if they had started earlier.
To be a little more specific, most of our students work on the SAT or ACT for at least 24 weeks, but many work substantially longer, depending on where they are starting, how comfortable they are with the material, and which sections of the SAT/ACT are their particular strengths and weaknesses. In general, you should start preparing as early as possible, but even if you aren’t specifically preparing for the SAT/ACT, there are plenty of things you can do that will help you do well on the tests. If you are wondering when you should start preparing for the SAT or ACT, here are a few tips on how to start.
Do you even read, bro?
This is an easy one. If you don’t read, start. If you do read, read more. Read EVERYTHING you can. I’d suggest that every student reads 20 books per year at an absolute minimum, depending on the books. There is nothing wrong with reading purely entertaining fiction (I personally am a total science fiction junky) but most of the books you are reading should be challenging either linguistically or thematically (think classics and nonfiction). If you are looking for some suggestions, try 10 Modern and Classic Novels You’ll Actually Enjoy Reading. Reading fluency and comprehension are the very top issues that students have with the SAT and ACT, so start reading now.
How’s your vocab?
Vocab is no longer explicitly tested on the SAT, and it was never tested on the ACT. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need to know what words mean! Start working on vocab now. Like, seriously, stop reading and download a vocab app. There is a fun vocabulary test HERE which takes around 4 minutes and will tell you approximately what percentage of the English language it thinks you know. Unless you score 100%, you can improve your vocabulary! Use Vocab Videos, flashcards, other apps, or just a dictionary!
Do you know the math?
If you have not yet taken Algebra II, there might be a little bit of math on the SAT and ACT that you do not yet know. Never fear! The majority of the math required on both tests is basic algebra and pre-algebra, with a little smattering of geometry, more advanced algebra, and trig. The problems that most students have with the test is not with the more advanced math, but with closely reading each question and always obeying the rules of basic algebra and arithmetic: correctly distributing, manipulating positive and negative numbers in equations and inequalities, performing operations correctly, etc. Look at practice problems and focus on being accurate.
How dependent are you on your calculator?
If the answer is “VERY!” you might want to bone up on basic arithmetic. If you have ANY trouble with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and/or division of integers, fractions, or translating between fractions, decimals, percents, etc., start reviewing now. The SAT requires that you do a portion of the test without a calculator, and although you can use a calculator on the entire ACT math test, using a calculator on every basic manipulation will slow you down enough to have a big impact on your score.
How do you feel about science?
There is good news and bad news about ACT Science. The good news: there is very little actual scientific knowledge that you need for the test. If you have not yet taken chemistry or physics, for example, that is very unlikely to significantly affect your score potential. However, if you are uncomfortable with scientific language and reasoning, the test will be much more challenging. Pay close attention in your science classes and read as much scientific language as possible! For inspiration, please refer to 10 Nonfiction Books You’ll Actually Enjoy Reading.
This blog post was written by A-List Educational Consultant, Dory Schultz.