Recently I gave a workshop for 9th and 10th grade families titled, “Demystifying Standardized Tests.” We discussed the different testing options (ACT, SAT, and Subject Tests), which tests to take, and how colleges evaluate the scores.
But the biggest discussion point centered on when students should start preparing for these tests. I was glad to hear from parents who were careful not to pile one more thing at the wrong time for their kids. When a student starts studying for these tests is just as important as when they take the tests.
The best time to start test prep? Summer.
Most college bound students will take the official ACT or SAT for the first time during junior year of high school. To prepare for that first test, students can devote time during the summer between sophomore and junior year to do test prep. This is purely an introduction to the test as most students take these tests at least twice.
Classes are offered for a relatively low cost through local organizations, schools, or community outreach programs. Established or national test prep companies will also offer summer classes. While the test prep companies will charge more, there is often a score guarantee associated with it which makes it an attractive option.
Classes can meet intensively every day for several weeks or on a weekly basis in the summer. The students who get the most out of these classes not only attend the class, but do all of the homework assigned and take practice tests frequently. This can amount to five to ten hours a week or more, and this is why summer is the best time to get started.
One-on-one tutoring is another option for the summer. Test prep tutors generally charge by the hour, and students will be expected to put in the same amount of time as students taking a group class. The difference being that the student will get personalized instruction with one-on-one tutoring and this can sometimes yield better results.
One of the most important things to keep in mind about test prep is that it rarely ends after that first summer of work especially if the junior plans to take the ACT or SAT for the first time in early winter when they are better prepared. In order not to lose everything they learned over the summer, most students will do some self-directed prep on their own leading up to the test.
Self-prep can include:
- Completing problem sets
- Doing practice sections
- Taking full-length practice exams on a regular basis
Once a student takes the test for the first time, they can readjust their test prep for the next time they take it. While getting started with test prep is hard to do during the school year, test prep maintenance is a lot more manageable. Once the student gets their scores back after the first test, they can refocus their prep work on what they need to improve on.
Students who take these tests once or twice during junior year can leave the door open to take them a final time in early fall of senior year. Many students cringe at the thought of spending any part of their summer between junior and senior year studying once again for a standardized test. But the fact is that this tends to translate into the best results.
"#Summer isn't only for fun—it's the perfect time to start prepping for #StandardizedTests" TWEET THIS
A dedicated effort of test prep over the summer right before senior year sets a student up to take the September ACT or the October SAT/Subject Tests. If the student committed themselves over the summer, they tend to see the best results on standardized tests just as they start their senior year of high school.
The first introduction to test prep is crucial to the student’s success. Timing sets the tone for the entire experience. If a student starts preparing for standardized tests in the middle of the school year amidst the grind of nightly homework and school commitments, they will have little time to devote to this extra endeavor. Summer gives students a wide open chunk of time to set a strong foundation of preparation which will carry them through one of the most daunting parts of the college admissions process.