This post is part of a series focusing on Time Management for Teens, Students, and High Schoolers. Get the complete online course here or order the book here!

SAT and ACT Test Prep in High School

Ok, so now let’s talk about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: SAT and ACT test prep.

So as you may know by now, I happen to know a TON about SAT / ACT prep - like, WAY more than any human should probably know.

The tests have changed a lot over time, but my test prep company, Love the SAT Test Prep, and I have always stayed on top of them.

Why I Know So Much About SAT and ACT Test Prep

To hit a few of the highlights, I got a 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT in high school - and since then, I’ve gotten a perfect score on the official SAT more than once.

I’ve taught SAT prep full-time for over five years, started one company and two blogs around test prep, made a video course on SAT vocabulary, written 5 textbooks on SAT prep (this one and this one are my favorites) and produced over 250 related articles in the past five years.

Now, this matters to you because hypothetically as a motivated high schooler you are interested in getting into college or winning college scholarships or making your career a success or whatever else you want to achieve.

Your SAT and ACT Test Scores Will Matter A Lot

And for MOST of those types of students, like I was, your test scores are going to matter…

Probably they are going to matter a LOT - influencing everything from who your friends are to what you do for your first job.

Now I try to keep perspective - even as a pro SAT tutor, it’s not like your test scores DEFINE you as a person or CONTROL your very life and death –

BUT, test scores are very important to 99% of high-achieving high schoolers.

There’s no way around it because of how LARGE the educational system is; there has to be some “quick” way of sorting students by academic performance, even if it’s imperfect like SAT / ACT testing.

So if you agree that your test scores are important and you think you can trust me to give some HONEST and WELL-QUALIFIED advice on the subject that I think will help you, then listen up:

The First Rule of SAT and ACT Test Prep

First rule - when it comes to SAT and ACT test prep, starting earlier is always better - no exceptions.

The SAT and ACT tests are HUGE - comprehensive, intense, and high-stress.

Even a *single* practice SAT or ACT test will require upwards of six to ten hours or more to take, grade, and go over for mistakes and corrections.

You can never make new time, AND it’s easier to REVIEW than to LEARN.

When To Start Your SAT and ACT Test Prep

An ideal time for most students to start SAT and ACT test prep is in summer before Junior year begins.

At this point, there is literally NO stress with regards to test prep, and if you make a weekly effort to improve with a tutor or on your own, you are virtually guaranteed a MUCH higher SAT or ACT score by the time you’re a senior.

The next-best time to start your SAT and ACT test prep is winter break of Junior year - beginning your test prep after you finish your winter finals or after the New Year when you’re back from Christmas vacation.

Starting then will still give plenty of time to prepare, but you will need to be vigilant about your practice because you will find final SAT and ACT test dates approaching faster than you expect.

The third best time to start your SAT and ACT test prep is in the early spring of Junior year - ideally, before Spring Break, so that you can use some of your vacation time for intensive study.

If you work hard each week, and use the coming summer months, you will still be in EXCELLENT shape to perform your best.

End Of Junior Year Is A Late Start on SAT & ACT Prep

After Spring of Junior year, it’s getting late in the game to start your SAT and ACT test prep (not that you shouldn’t start!)

For example, here’s something you might not have considered:

It’s hard to make a serious effort on test prep during the final semester of Junior year, when major projects and final exams or other activities typically eat your entire schedule as the year comes to a close.

Studying SAT and ACT Test Prep In Senior Year Is Tough

Summer before Senior year offers a LOT of time to study, but only IF you aren’t taking part in summer camps, jobs, and hanging out with your friends ever day.

And, you should be doing a ton of work on your college apps and scholarship apps during this summer.

Furthermore, it is much, much better to be REVIEWING your SAT / ACT prep in the summer before Senior year begins - not learning the material for the first time.

Finally, by Fall of Senior year, you’re back in the middle of school, and this is typically a very busy high school semester.

You don’t want the pressure of also HAVING to study test prep hardcore during back-to-school season.

Be Smart and Plan SAT and ACT Test Prep In Advance

Be SMART about your test prep and plan in ADVANCE.

Please don’t be one of those families who comes to me in a panic asking what they can do with their 4 weeks to prepare for the SAT and “they have to get 200 points” to get into their favorite college.

That’s dangerous. Don’t be that student - plan it out on your calendar, thinking about the BUSY and the SLOW seasons of high school and how to use them to your advantage to accomplish your test prep.

How To Start Your SAT and ACT Test Prep

Now, what exactly do I mean when I say “start your SAT / ACT prep”?

First and foremost, I mean to make a plan and hopefully talk to an expert about your situation.

Contact us by email ([email protected])  for FREE advice about what you need to do next for your SAT and ACT scores.

Studying SAT and ACT Prep On Your Own

There’s also a lot you can do for SAT and ACT prep on your own!

Get the books and learn the basics of the tests including which one you’ll be taking (or both), the differences, the test dates, and the basics of the curriculum.

Work regularly on your college-level verbal skills starting now. Learn to love your free reading and vocab building.

Find SAT and ACT Prep Group Classes

Also, investigate group-class options in your area for SAT / ACT prep (we offer group classes in Austin, TX! Contact us to learn more.)

Group classes are great as introductory and intermediate-level ways to get to know the SAT and ACT tests - as long as the instructor and the book are high-quality.

Groups obviously aren’t as personalized as 1-on-1 SAT/ACT tutoring (by the way we also offer 1-on-1 Online Tutoring for SAT and ACT prep… contact us today to learn more!)

But groups can offer an excellent value if you’re able to speak up and ask your questions in class without being shy.

Make sure to do all the assigned homework, and everything you can to get the MOST out of your investment in SAT/ACT group class.

Otherwise you might unfortunately end up with generic information or info that’s not relevant to you. So be sure to HELP your SAT/ACT test prep instructor by TELLING them what you need extra help on.

Look Into 1-on-1 Tutoring for SAT and ACT Test Prep

Go deeper and look into private tutoring options around you (we are located in Austin, TX so contact us if you live nearby!), or online SAT/ACT prep tutoring, which is something we also offer at Love the SAT.

SAT / ACT tutoring is one of the best ways to get expert help and a good test prep tutor will save you time and energy while also improving your score.

And luckily, the financial investment of tutoring can usually be recovered in a short time through better college acceptances and scholarship prospects.

Whether you’re in a group class, tutoring, or on your own, it’s also incredibly important to work through practice sections of the SAT or ACT.

Take Full-Length Practice SAT and ACT Tests

Taking it up a notch from short practice sections of the tests, you’ll also want to include full-length, timed-and-graded practice SAT and ACT tests that you take on Saturday mornings like the real thing.

Adding an element of timed pressure makes your practice more authentic and the length of the practice tests helps you build endurance.

Furthermore, your missed questions will provide a valuable source of additional practice and study for your NEXT attempt at a high score.

You can even keep a “test prep journal” to chronicle your efforts and your successes that will also help you self-identify your strong and weak points through reflection and documentation.

Take your practice tests starting EARLY on Saturday morning to replicate the conditions of the official test as precisely as you can from your home.

Tutoring and testing companies near you, like ours at Love the SAT, should also be able to help with practice testing as part of their services or lesson packages.

Official SAT and ACT Tests Are The True Measure

Of course, the ULTIMATE measure of your readiness is official SAT or ACT testing.

You want to feel prepared (not anxious) BEFORE you try to take an official SAT or ACT, although the very first time might be more of an experiment than a serious attempt at your highest score.

Ideally you want to go through MULTIPLE rounds of this entire process - planning, practice, and testing.

I recommend taking three official tests if possible: Halfway through Junior year, at the end of Junior year, and at the beginning of Senior year.

Although the time commitment is significant, so are the rewards.

The Value Of Higher SAT and ACT Test Scores

Higher SAT and ACT test scores are SO competitive precisely BECAUSE of how big a difference they can make to college and scholarship apps - they have VALUE.

If you believe in the VALUE of higher SAT and ACT test scores, you have to be WILLING to invest TIME and even MONEY into personal studies, prep materials, and possible tutoring or group classes.

But, one of the most critical “secret weapons” in test prep is just to start early and BE CONSISTENT - this is a guaranteed recipe for better test scores.

The more time you can invest to your test prep, the better your final results will generally be.

It’s pretty common sense, but for some reason families always need me to point it out - the MORE you study, the better your SAT and ACT test scores.

Again, one of those simple and common-sense things that sometimes gets obscured by all the mythology and hype surrounding SAT and ACT scores.

If you’re late, just start TODAY by getting your hands on some good books and a good tutor or class.

It’s not ideal to get a late start, but what matters most is how much time you can commit with the days you have left.

Consider what activities, entertainment or social time can be dropped temporarily while you invest that energy into studying.

Other Ways To Improve Your SAT and ACT Scores

There are also some supplemental things you can do that are free or low-cost to boost your SAT and ACT test scores.

The following ideas can all help round out the studies you do with tutoring and and practice testing.

How To Find Time For SAT and ACT Test Prep

So, how are you even supposed to find TIME to do all this work? You’re already busy with school and activities!

Test prep requires you to carve out time in your schedule. Stop making excuses for why you’re too busy!

WEEKENDS are great for dedicated, full-length practice tests. Or, take large chunks of tests to work on your endurance and test-taking.

TUTORING SESSIONS on a regular, weekly basis after school provide a “due date” for your test prep homework. They also offer a second chance to learn from your weekend work.

AFTER SCHOOL but before you do other homework is generally the best time for 10 minutes of vocab flashcards. Do vocab before you’ve done all your other homework. Otherwise you’ll get sleepy and go to bed without building your vocabulary.

And, after homework is done, but before bed,is ideal for twenty to thirty minutes of extra free reading. Do this to put yourself above and beyond your peers.

Other ideal times for free reading are carpools, bus rides, commutes (with your parents driving) and vacations. Make use of the slow and boring parts of travel, like sitting in the airport.

SAT and ACT Test Prep May Require Sacrifices

You MAY have to drop another, more fun activity temporarily while you take test prep classes or tutoring.

Good private test prep is usually not cheap. You need to focus 110% on your teacher and your homework.

You must VALUE a higher score. Understand how it fits into your overall plan for your life and goals.

If you still don’t believe you’ll have the time or energy for SAT and ACT test prep, please refer back to the LAWS of time management article.

If you know what you want out of life, then you’ll start to see how the pieces fit together. That’s when you’ll gain the energy and focus to do the hard stuff in your free time - like SAT and ACT prep.

Good SAT and ACT Scores Take Time

The bottom line is that good SAT and ACT scores are a matter of motivation, preparation and practice.

A good tutor helps. But the most important factor is your own purpose in life, mixed with your focus and invested time and effort.

I’m speaking from grim personal experience when I say that it’s easy to blow this off and leave it for later. But top students simply find a way to study for the SAT and ACT tests.

I consistently see top students purposefully starting test prep early. They continuously carve out time in their week to prepare - regardless of more fun activities they’d rather be doing.

Copy their example. You DO have enough time to study. You just have to USE it.

For more SAT and ACT info, read more articles in our test prep blog.

Don’t forget to check out our online video courses and bookstore!

Now, Ask Me Your Questions About SAT and ACT Prep

Do you have any questions about SAT and ACT test prep? Now’s a great time to ask them in the comments section before going on to the next article.

Let me just remind you that I’m literally one of the world’s top pros in the field of SAT and ACT test prep. That’s not bragging, it’s just a fact.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to ask a pro SAT and ACT tutor something, now’s the time!

I enjoy tough questions, so ask anything you’re wondering.

Leave your questions about SAT and ACT test prep in the comments, and I’ll see you in the next article!

Make this year your most productive year ever! Get the complete Time Management for Teens Online Course or order the book on Amazon today.

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