The college admissions process is complex, and one of its most challenging components is ACT and SAT testing. These tests may seem like an overwhelming hurdle, but with a well thought out plan and an early start, you can achieve test success. Here’s how to craft a fool-proof strategy!
Establish a Timeline
1. Work backwards
Keeping the end goal in mind, the first thing you need to do is find out when your college applications are due. Once you know application deadlines, you can work backward from there to create a timeline.
Many college applications for fall admission are due around January 1st, but be sure to check the deadlines for all of the schools you’re applying to.
You definitely don’t want to procrastinate on something as important as your college applications, so plan to be done with your applications three to four weeks before the deadline.
This means you’ll also want to take the ACT and SAT with plenty of time to spare. Keep in mind that it typically takes about two weeks after your test date to receive your scores. If you’ve taken the test more than once, it’s important to have enough time to review your scores before sending them to schools so that you can send the best ones.
2. Plan to take the test more than once
It’s important to plan to take the test more than once. First-time jitters can interfere with your testing experience, and having a second shot will help alleviate some of the stress that accompanies test taking.
If your last test date is in October or November, then plan to take the test once before then, either in the spring of 11th grade or the summer after 11th grade, or even in the early part of 12th grade.
Now that you’ve created a timeline, what do you do before the test? Prepare, of course!
Make a Test Prep Plan
The first step to test prep is to take a full-length practice test. It’s best to take this test as early as possible, but it is never too late. After this initial diagnostic test, do an in-depth review of your results and consider the following questions:
What areas do you need to work on the most?
Look at overall trends. Which sections went well, and in which sections would you like to improve? Start with the section that needs the most improvement.
What test-taking strategies and skills do you need to improve?
One of the most important test-taking skills is time management. Analyze how you allocated your time on each section to determine if you managed your time effectively. Did you run out of time to answer all of the questions, or did you rush through the section?
What target scores are you aiming for?
Conduct some research about the colleges you are interested in to find out what scores they generally accept. You can look up target ACT and SAT score ranges on the CollegeBoard's database of colleges and universities here.
How much time will you spend preparing each week?
Create a study schedule based on how much time you have before the official test and how much you need to prepare before test day, based on your target scores. Establish a consistent study schedule that you can stick to. It’s more effective to do prep in several smaller chunks of time, rather than cram it all into one long study session.
Remain Diligent and Build Confidence
Preparing for the ACT and SAT test takes time, dedication, and perseverance. It’s important to start early, establish a clear timeline, do targeted prep, and stick to your plan. Practice will help reduce test stress and help you feel confident. With diligent preparation and confidence under your belt, you’re sure to rock test day.
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