Planning to take the SAT or ACT is one of the most important decisions you will make as a high school student. Scores will be a linchpin of your college applications and good scores can sometimes help compensate for less than stellar grades. The tests are challenging and proper preparation takes time. Students should not wait until their senior year to start thinking about testing. Just as with most things, starting early and working at a steady pace will produce the best results.
The first step is to determine which test you wish to take and the best way to do this is to take a mock/practice test of both the SAT and ACT. Because the tests approach content in different ways, many students will naturally perform better on one test than the other. Take these mock tests early – the summer before your Junior year is a good time.
Once you know which test is best for you, plan your target test dates. You will want to carefully consider your schedule. Some students have predictable disruptions to their schedule that can easily be avoided. If you are an athlete, your spring schedule may be particularly busy. If you are taking multiple AP classes you may wish to avoid the May/June test dates as you will not have much time to study until after the AP exams. If these situations apply to you, you may wish to aim for winter and/or summer tests.
If your schedule is more stable throughout the year, then the May/June test dates may be ideal. You could begin preparing in January/February for that test and then still have the summer to work on raising your superscore if needed. Most schools superscore and even for those that do not, having multiple scores to choose from is to your advantage. Only a small handful of schools require you to submit every test score – most permit you to pick and choose which scores you submit.
Choose your target test dates and then work backwards to determine how early you should start preparing for the test. This will depend in great part on your mock test scores. Think about which schools interest you and research their average admitted SAT/ACT scores. This will typically be presented as a range (i.e. 1150-1300 or 29-33). Aiming for at least the mid range of these published scores will greatly increase your chances of admission. If you wish to increase your overall composite score by 100pts (SAT) or 3pts (ACT) then you should plan for 3-4 months of preparation. Closer to 6 months is best if your goal is to increase your score by 6pts (ACT) or more than 180pts (SAT).
Take advantage of the resources available to you. There are practice tests available online which can be helpful but they will often not give you detailed information about what types of content are most challenging to you. Mindspire offers diagnostic testing and score report analysis for free and we are happy to help you choose the right test and make a study plan that will help you achieve your best possible score.