What Rising Juniors and Rising Seniors Can Do To Best Maximize Their Summers

What Rising Juniors and Rising Seniors Can Do To Best Maximize Their Summers

Summer is just around the corner and rising seniors have a lot on their plates! Effectively scheduling your time is imperative to success. Here is our guide to help you squeeze the most out of summer!

Charly Kuecks
May 21, 2024

As we discussed in our last post, test prep is an essential tool in your toolbox for preparing to apply to college. But what should incoming Juniors and Seniors do to optimize their summers for test preparation? And what’s this “rising” business, anyway?

Rising Seniors simply means the cohort who will be in their senior year of high school in the fall (and the verbiage is analogous for Rising Juniors). So whether you’re just getting your driver’s license or eying living away from home before you know it, this guide will help you make the most of the summer months.

Understanding the Tests

SAT and ACT are only some of the tests you might have to take during these years – there are also Advanced Placement (A.P.) exams administered in May.

Work with your school’s counselor or advisor to make sure your schedule includes any AP courses your school offers that you want to take as a Junior or Senior. Not only can getting a score of 3 or above get you college credit and save you money on 100-level courses at many colleges, it also shows you’re committed to a rigorous schedule in high school. 

The SAT and the ACT, by contrast, are not subject matter tests, but rather tests of mathematical and verbal reasoning. You don’t have to be enrolled in any particular courses in high school in order to succeed on these exams, but it’s good to know overall what’s on each exam, and when you might like to take the exams.

The SAT is newly digital (taken on a computer), and has two adaptive sections:

It's offered on a weekend day seven times yearly, in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December.

The ACT is, in almost all cases, still a pencil-and-paper exam, and has four sections:

Most U.S. states offer the ACT seven times a year in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.

So if you’re a rising Junior who has not yet taken the exam, we suggest working with a test prep tutor to identify the best time of year to take it. This author took both exams in the spring of her Junior year for the first time — but if you anticipate needing more time to get to your goal score, it might be better to schedule a late summer or early fall sitting. Mostly, don’t procrastinate.

If you’re a rising Senior, you are deep in the weeds of selecting colleges and have limited time to get a score to send confidently to colleges — with early decision becoming increasingly popular, you want to lock in a score this summer. Reach out to one of our experts to see how you can accelerate your prep time before the final deadlines this winter.

Setting Goals and Creating a Plan

It’s far better to have a goal that you will achieve than a vague hand-waving notion that you “want a good score.” Let’s think of it in terms of SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

So let’s say your dream school is Duke University. According to their website, “The median SAT score for the middle 50% of students accepted to Duke University's Class of 2026 was 1510–1570.” So, you decide with your tutor that your specific goal score is 1540 for the SAT.

Now it’s time to measure that score. Are you maxing out your verbal subsection and need to drill math more, or the reverse? Let’s say you consistently get 770 on Verbal: that means you’ll need to match that with a 770 on Math for your goal.

Is it achievable? That’s up to you and the work you put in. If you’re consistently improving on your mocks and your tutor sees a path to success, then you’ve made a motivating goal. If you’re stuck at a 1000 composite score, it might be time to revisit both strategy and what’s going on.

Is it relevant? Maybe you get a full-ride scholarship for lacrosse to a small liberal arts college in Ohio. Upon visiting it, you love it and can see yourself thriving there. If your coach tells you that this college has a different median SAT, that’s something you can tell your tutor so there’s a clearer picture on your test prep goals.

And time-bound is built into this system. From the summer before your Junior year to the late fall of your senior year is when test prep is relevant. Once you get into college, you’ll decide whether you want to apply to any graduate programs and need to prepare for THOSE tests — a process our students often tell us doing SAT/ACT prep makes them better at!

Resources for Test Prep

Of course, at Mindspire, we believe the data: one-on-one tutoring is the best way to get the best test score. Just like getting a coach for gymnastics or having a dedicated viola instructor, if you’re in a position where you can get dedicated help, take it.

But once you are assigned a tutor, what might he or she assign you to prepare? 

Some of the most common modalities of practice include:

The best way to learn anything is by doing it, and unlike AP exams, which mimic a year-long introductory college course, these are multiple-choice exams with only one right answer. Your goal is to get to that answer in the most efficient way possible.

Everyone’s summer is different — whether you’re partying in the Mediterranean or helping your family with bills by working as a lifeguard, your tutor will understand and work with you on a schedule that is realistic and will show results. But just like you wouldn’t expect your golf game to improve if you never stepped foot on the course, you do have to put the time in.

Special Considerations for Juniors

Depending on your school district, most students take the PSAT during the school day. This can be either during your Sophomore or Junior year. If you have already taken the PSAT when you start preparing for the SAT, it can be a good window into your strengths and weaknesses. If you hit it out of the park, you can also be eligible for a National Merit Scholarship.

Junior year is often an infamously busy year for students — not only are most teens gaining more independence from their families, with the possibility of a first job, a first car, or a first relationship on the table (depending on each student’s circumstances, of course), the coursework is often more demanding than any other year of high school — and of course, you’ll be compiling a list of where you want to go to college. Academically, this is the clutch year, so it’s important to balance test prep with life – one of the most important executive functions you can develop for success in college.

This is the most common age group SAT/ACT tutors work with, and it’s always a delight!

Considerations for Rising Seniors

A ton of Hollywood films are set during Senior year, and it’s easy to see why. Rarely are there so many rituals in American life — from Homecoming to Prom, it’s a year that is both ripe with possibility and a sometimes-bittersweet farewell to childhood, as the vast majority of American seniors turn 18 sometime during their senior year and reach legal adulthood. 

Because of this, some seniors coast and some double down on a pristine academic record. Some join the military, some plan a gap year of travel, some graduate early, and some unlucky few don’t graduate at all. But let’s assume that you’re planning on matriculating in a four year college the fall after high school graduation — how can you optimize your last summer?

Plan to retake the SAT or ACT if you need to raise your score — ⅔ of test takers improve their score simply by retaking, and that proportion is even higher for those who have dedicated tutoring. Make sure you are working with your family and college counselor to get your paperwork in order — the essays, the financial forms, the codes to send from the College Board to the colleges, the scholarship deadlines. This is maybe your first taste of a big adult decision, and while test prep experts are there to guide you in the content of the test, it’s important to take ownership of your entire college experience.

Conclusion: Avoiding Burnout through Strategy

Lots of op-eds and books have been written about the stress put on contemporary students. Some of this comes down to a generation born with a cell phone practically in their hands, and the social and mental effects of this shakeup in teen culture.

But the truth is, the transition from childhood to adulthood has always been challenging — that’s not a sign that anything is wrong, but that it’s a vital part of development. The stakes of the SAT or ACT can feel high, because the stakes of LIFE are high, especially if you’re a high achiever. High school for most students is largely about adults telling you what to do, where to be, and what curfew to be home by. 

College is a taste of much more independence — setting your own schedule, navigating a different, more amorphous social scene, and of course, a sometimes-costly investment in Future You. The summer when you are 16 or 17 is a great time to jumpstart that process, by learning to prepare for not only a standardized test, but for the rest of your life.

Read more blogs