Preparing for the ACT and SAT

Whether you intend to take the SAT, the ACT – or both – you should prepare. These tests are supposed to test students’ accumulated academic knowledge in order to establish their readiness for college. To get into any reach schools on your college list, you’ll need to do well on these exams. And that requires preparation. 

To avoid wasting valuable time and effort while conducting standardized test prep,  it’s important to be thoughtful in your approach. Before diving in, focus on when, how often, and what to prep. 

Let’s go over everything you should know about preparing for standardized tests as a high school student, so that on the day of the test you’ll be ready to go – confident and secure in your knowledge. 

When to Begin 

The SAT and ACT are long, difficult tests. Cramming for them the night or even week before is not going to go over well. There is a reason why some students prepare for these tests for months and even years in advance. It’s because you want to be 100% familiar with the exam’s format and content on test day. 

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At HelloCollege, we generally encourage students to begin prepping for the tests the summer before your junior year to ensure that they are ready to take their first official test in the fall of junior year. Beginning prep during summer has many advantages. During the school year, because of your regular course load and homework, you’ll likely have less free time and energy to study for test preparation. Attempting to cram test prep on top of schoolwork can lead to burnout, diminished comprehension, and reduced drive to continue prepping. Now, the last thing any student wants during summer is more schoolwork. But, preparing for the SAT or  ACT is an investment in your future. It will ensure you have a better chance of success on the tests, which can in turn improve your chances for college admissions. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, go on vacations, or spend time with friends just that you’ll need to find space for test prep during your downtime

How to Stay Motivated

The key to staying on track is to build healthy studying habits and follow a few simple tips. Here are a few things that our team at HelloCollege has compiled to keep you in the groove all summer long:

Build it into Your Routine. 

Motivation comes and goes. It’s an unreliable way to keep your test prep progressing at a steady pace. So, you need to develop healthy study habits and build a test prep routine, just as you do for brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or going to the gym. Use your calendar to schedule test preparation into your daily schedule until it becomes habitual. 

For many students, the best way to do this is by setting aside some prep time each morning, before the day gets too busy. Though full-length, multi-hour practice tests should be an occasional part of your routine you don’t always need huge blocks of time. You can just go over a few test questions or read some prep material while eating breakfast. You don’t need to set aside hours each day to begin prepping. 

If you don’t have time to study every single day, you can still set aside time for a weekly or bi-weekly preparation session. Simply set aside a few hours each week to go to a library or lock up in your room, and study as much as possible. This may be a more suitable option for those who don’t wish to make SAT or ACT prep a daily occurrence. However, it should still be treated like a routine. Set the dates for the study sessions in your calendar, and don’t put them off.  If you skip once, it will only be easier to skip in the future!

Take Time to Review

Often, the best way to get ready for these standardized tests is by reviewing your course work from the previous year. Because these tests are designed to assess what you’ve learned over the course of your high school career, you should go through your notes and coursework, and review everything you’ve learned over the past few semesters. This technique joined with a quality prep book, like one published by the College Board or ACT Corporation, or a digital learning system like Methodize should lead to success. 

If you feel like you already have a basic understanding of the relevant material but want to refresh some less-essential content knowledge, another way to review can be by tutoring others. You may be surprised, but teaching others what you know can strengthen your knowledge and provide you with practice so that your skills stay sharp. Tutoring a peer will also help you recognize areas where you are weakest, such as math or English for example. Offering tutoring sessions to younger or struggling students can be a great way to force yourself to review your previous year’s course load. 

You can also take time to read as much as possible during your summer break. The SAT and ACT both place emphasis on reading comprehension and skills. The more you read – especially books that you find challenging – the better your comprehension will become. So, reviewing and reading over the summer can be a great form of test prep!

Create Test Prep Groups

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, or confused if you’re approaching test preparation alone. There’s no shame in needing help, or simply wanting to have some study buddies to work on test prep with you. 

So ask some friends of yours to come over once a week to do test prep together. This will help keep you to your routine, and will also break the monotony of working in your own headspace. Group test prep can help everyone improve and become more prepared for the tests to come. 

Get a Tutor

Incorporating practice tests into your study routine is a surefire way to improve your performance. If you notice that your scores are not improving after using the study techniques that we’ve provided above it may be time to hire an ACT or SAT tutor. In addition to diagnosing and working on a student’s academic weaknesses, a good tutor will also take a holistic approach to help the student become a better learner.

 Preparing for your SAT or ACT tests can be challenging. These tests can affect the course of a college and, in turn,  professional career. At HelloCollege, we believe in taking the time to do things right. That’s why we advise students to start test prep the summer before your junior year and study as much as possible. That way, when the big test day comes, you’ll be ready for it! Please check out our other blog articles about standardized tests for more information.

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The Hello College Team

HelloCollege CEO Andrea Emmons has spent the last 15 years guiding students and families across the country on their path to college. Andrea knows the profound impact proactive college planning has on the lives of students and is passionate about mentoring families through the process.
Kevin Krebs - Founder of HelloCollege

About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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