A lot of moms and dads are e-mailing and asking us: when is the optimal time to start preparing for the SAT? Do early birds really get the worm, or is there more to be said for intense preparation and cramming in one or two months leading up to the test?

The answer lies somewhere in between. We’ll look at two types of SAT prep strategies and then consider the benefits of both as we recommend a happy medium!


Early Birds: How to Build the Right Foundation

At Love the SAT!, we’ve worked with kids as young as 12 on getting ready for the test. Perhaps they’ve done—or are preparing for—the Duke University Talent Search and want to gain an early edge or improve their performance on the SAT. Some students take SAT prep courses and, with the help of a solid foundation, see improvements right away. While taking intense SAT prep courses may not be right for every 7th grader, every 7th grader can (and should!) be preparing for the SAT in ways that are less obvious than you might think! Here’s what all of them can do:

  • Reading, reading, reading! As parents, we need to take active roles in encouraging our kids to read and engage with books!
  • Vocabulary building! We can teach our children to always look up the meanings of new words. Technology has made this easier than ever, so there’s no excuse. We should also encourage books that are slightly more advanced than their current reading level.
  • Writing (above and beyond!) We can encourage writing for pleasure! We should always ask about writing assignments at school, and make ourselves available for discussion.
  • Mastering math basics and taking appropriately challenging math courses. Much SAT math draws on concepts which can be introduced and mastered early on!

Of course, SAT prep lessons always help. But cultivating this kind of foundation with verbal and quantitative reasoning can maximize the impact that those lessons make in high school!

(By the way, a lot of these lessons also hold true when it comes time to win college scholarships, so you want to get the wheels turning as soon as possible.)


The Risk of Waiting until the Last Minute

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a large portion of our students are nearing the end of their junior year or beginning their senior year. They’re hoping to work hard for a short amount of time and enjoy a large score improvement. While it’s true that they’ll likely see a notable improvement, it’s also true that that improvement won’t be nearly as much as it would have been if they had been preparing earlier! Why gain 100 points when you can gain 300 to 500?

If you’re the parent of a junior or senior that’s late in preparing for the SAT, don’t give up. SAT prep courses can, with diligence and perseverance on the part of the student, make a huge impact.


Build the Foundation Early, then Intensify

What’s the ideal prep schedule look like, then?

Every student is different, of course. But for the most part, I recommend laying a solid foundation of reading and vocabulary, writing and grammar rules, and critical thinking in junior high, then beginning to practice SAT concepts as a freshman, increasing the preparation during the sophomore year (getting ready for the PSAT), and reaching a peak during the junior year of high school.

If their target scores are reached by the end of the junior year, the student’s saved themselves some precious stress during their senior year. If they still hope to improve, summer classes before the senior year can be a lifesaver. We get seniors hoping to prepare as well, and we welcome them!

To sum it up: build the foundation in junior high, take prep lessons in high school, and have those lessons peak during the junior year! Don’t forget summer (and winter) prep!

And finally? Don’t stress! Remember that no matter your child’s age or situation, it’s always possible to improve.


Want to know more about when to start SAT prep?

We thought this topic was so interesting that we wrote about it twice! The two articles go very nicely together and we suggest following up with part two!

Click here to read the followup article offering even more information you can act on!

(Don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list before you go!)

Additional Resources:
Conquer SAT Vocabulary Video Course
SAT Grammar Crammer: Top 12 Rules of SAT Writing
“Winning College Scholarships for High Schoolers” Video Course

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