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4 Reasons Why You Need to Start Your Test Prep Early

By Priyam, IvyWise Master Tutor

The spring semester is a popular testing time for college-bound students and is often the first time that high school juniors crack open an SAT or ACT prep book. What’s important for younger students to realize, however, is that starting test prep early – even in 9th or 10th grade – can help students have the best chance of reaching their goal scores and mitigate the stress caused by too much testing at once.

In reality, when to start test prep depends on a lot of factors. It varies from students to student, and is based on personal test goals, high school planning, college admissions goals, academic priorities and extracurricular commitments, to name a few. Every student is different, but it is good for students to get started on their test prep early – even if it’s just becoming more familiar with the tests through a diagnostic or taking an SAT Subject Test that aligns with current coursework. There are a lot of benefits to starting test prep early. Here are a few reasons why college bound students need to start their test prep as early as possible.

You Can Get A Lot of Testing Out of the Way Before Junior Year
Typically, students plan to take the SAT or ACT during junior year of high school, as they will have most likely covered all or a majority of the concepts that are tested on the exams. However, junior year also happens to be the most challenging and academically rigorous school year for most students thus far. This is why it’s crucial to think about testing earlier when the demands of your regular academic schedule are fewer. For high school sophomores planning to take the ACT or SAT in the fall of junior year, you should begin prepping now by taking a diagnostic and determining which test is the best-fit for you. While freshman year of high school is a bit early for SAT or ACT prep, younger students can still prepare for SAT Subject Tests that align with their current course work. This can help get some testing out of the way, alleviating some pressure and freeing up more time for SAT or ACT prep.

Starting Early Allows for Better Planning
There’s a lot of planning that goes into preparing for and taking the SAT or ACT. Starting early allows for ample time to determine your best-fit test, evaluate areas of improvement, choose a testing date, and to plan a prep schedule accordingly. Again, students should start by taking a diagnostic of both the SAT and ACT. This is a good starting point to determine your personal strengths and weaknesses and to help forecast how much test prep time may be required. The key is to not lose focus and stick to a study schedule. Often starting with the sections that you are weak in or which will require the most practice is a good place to begin prep work. Reading comprehension is a good starting point given that the ability to read, understand, and analyze a written passage often comes with practice. If reading comprehension is easy for you, it may make more sense to start with basic math including arithmetic, algebra, and fractions to create a foundation for more complex mathematical concepts. A similar suggestion can also be made for the science section on the ACT if critical thinking is a weakness, in which it may make sense to start prepping for the science section first.

As for the amount of prep time students need to plan for, three to six months of prep may be a good amount of time in order to be test-ready for the novice ACT, SAT, or SAT Subject Test-taker. If you have already taken the test(s) before and did well, then you may only require one to two months to prep for the second attempt in order to outperform. If you already took the SAT or ACT and performed very poorly, then you may benefit from studying as a novice for about three to six months for the second attempt in order to outperform.

You’ll Have Time to Test Multiple Times (If Needed)
It’s not uncommon for students to sit for the SAT or ACT two, or even three, times. Taking the test multiple times should not be seen as a negative, and in fact is often the best strategy to achieve the best possible score in each section given that many colleges super-score the ACT or SAT. By planning ahead and not rushing to get your testing done in two or three months before your applications are due, you’re giving yourself plenty of time to retake the exams if needed (and get ample test prep in between sittings!) in order to reach your goal score. However, keep in mind that if a college doesn’t honor Score Choice, that school will still see all your scores from every sitting, so don’t sit the SAT or ACT unless you’re confident and prepared. It is a good rule of thumb to sit for no more than three tests as scores tend to level off, especially after the third attempt. While this may be difficult for some to grasp, it is also important to keep in mind that SAT or ACT scores are not the end all be all to getting into your desired college. Excessive test prep should not get in the way of regular coursework, activities, and other school commitments. If you’ve taken the SAT or ACT multiple times and find yourself not improving, it may be time to consider schools with test-optional admissions policies.

It Will Take Pressure Off Your Other College Prep Tasks
The college prep process can be very stressful, especially when managing test prep with other tasks like researching and visiting schools, building a college list, making an impact in extracurricular activities, and, most importantly, doing well in regular coursework. The college prep process only becomes more intense as students move into junior and senior year of high school, so starting some of your test prep and testing earlier in your high school career can actually take a lot of the pressure off your other college prep priorities. If students can complete SAT Subject Testing in 9th or 10th grade and take their first SAT or ACT in the fall of junior year, they’re getting a lot of the intense prep out of the way early – leaving room for maybe one or two more retakes depending on their performance. Starting early and planning properly can go a long way toward helping students spend more time improving their applicant profile, and less time stressing about college entrance exams.

Competitive SAT or ACT scores are an extremely important part of the college admissions process, and it often takes a lot of time and preparation to reach students’ goal scores. By starting early, students are putting themselves in the best position to plan, prep, retest, and put more emphasis on the other pieces of the college application puzzle that matter just as much as test scores. At IvyWise, our team of expert tutors works with students to help them identify their areas of weakness, develop a plan to improve, and provide the best SAT and ACT test prep available. Contact us today for more information on our test prep services for high school students.

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