High school students and their parents (especially in Junior year) often ask us if it makes sense to do SAT and ACT prep in November and December.
Common concerns from parents are “Is Fall too early to start serious test prep?” or “Will students forget all the material by test day?”
As a multiple-time perfect-scoring SAT and ACT tutor with 7 years of teaching experience, I am here to tell you: Fall is not too early, and in fact it’s the perfect time to start.
In this article, I want to point out a few reasons why parents and kids underestimate the need to start SAT and ACT prep early. Then I’ll explain why November and December are the perfect months to start studying. Finally, I’ll provide a brief action plan for any high school student, customized to the school year they are in now.
Families Underestimate SAT & ACT Time Commitment
First I want to explain three of the many reasons that parents and students don’t leave enough time for SAT and ACT prep.
Falling prey to any of these mistakes can cause a common regret that we hear every week: “I wish we’d started test prep sooner.”
There’s So Much Stuff to Study
One reason families start test prep too late is that parents are often unaware of the enormous amount of test content to study for either the SAT or ACT.
Parents: I know it seems like 4-6 weeks of studying would be enough for any test, but it’s not. In my experience, most students don’t truly hit their stride until they’ve worked with either the SAT or ACT for at least 3 months or more.
I am not exaggerating - simply observing - that elite high school students often spend 9 months or more preparing for the SAT or ACT test.
On a related note, I’ve noted that parents of more than one college-bound child usually start SAT and ACT prep much earlier with their second kid.
Parents Overestimate the SAT vs ACT Decision
Here’s another common mistake I witness: many parents place too much emphasis on the choice between the SAT or the ACT test.
Hoping to outstrategize the difficult testing experience, these overly optimistic parents believe that a better SAT or ACT score is simply the result of comparing and picking the test that fits their son or daughter best.
Choosing between the SAT and ACT is an important decision, to be sure. But even the benefit of picking the “right” test is trivial compared to the score improvement students can experience for themselves with a slow-and-steady study plan. This works best beginning in November or December of Junior Year, or even earlier.
Think about it like this: Picking the right test may help your score by 2-5%. Actually preparing and studying can utterly rearrange your SAT or ACT score to the tune of a 20% improvement or more, but it takes TIME.
Families Underestimate the Amount of Practice Testing Required
Finally, most parents and students underestimate how many practice SAT or ACT tests it requires to conquer testing anxieties and perform well on official test day. Mistakenly thinking that 2 or 3 practice tests is “a lot”, these families often regret not starting earlier. They run out of available weekends for mock practice SATs or ACTs.
The truth an experienced tutor knows is that “a lot” of practice tests is more like ten or twenty of them, not two or three. I personally took 8 practice SAT tests and 4 official SATs in high school before hitting my top-1% score of 1590 (almost 300 points higher than I started).
This process takes time, and there are no clever shortcuts.
Each practice test requires about 4 hours of undivided attention. Furthermore, going over a practice test and correcting your mistakes can easily take another 2 to 4 hours per test. These steps are essential if you want to see actual improvements to your SAT or ACT score.
As you can see, there’s a whole lot to do. Your scores matter with College Admissions and the ensuing impact on career and income opportunities. There is absolutely no benefit to waiting, but you have so much to gain by starting early.
Why November and December Are Perfect for SAT and ACT Prep
So, I’ve explained why so many families come to wish they had started their SAT or ACT prep in November or December, or even earlier. These are common regrets we witness every school year!
Now, here are a few reasons why I recommend November and December as the perfect time to focus on your SAT and ACT prep. These facts are true whether you’re a Junior, Senior, or Sophomore.
Winter Term is the Easiest and Least Stressful Semester.
Compared to Fall and Spring, Winter Semester is usually the easiest and least-stressful for both school and extracurricular activities.
In High School, Fall semester is when everything starts, and Spring semester is when everything ends. These are always the busiest and most stressful times of the school year. This naturally makes early Winter the best time to start SAT and ACT prep.
It’s not that Winter term is easy, it’s just usually not quite as hard as the other two. Start your SAT and ACT prep while school and activities are in a convenient lull - it won’t last for long!
You Can Always Take a Break, But You Can’t Make More Time Later.
Here’s another great thing about starting your SAT and ACT prep in November and December: at the very worst, you can take a break and start again later with more experience under your belt.
I mean, has any serious student ever exclaimed: “Wow, I’m really angry with myself for starting to study so darn EARLY for this test!”
Or, “Oh no, WHY did I ever prepare in advance for that massive and life-changing College Admissions exam?”
Or, “Dang, I really regret studying to get such high SAT and ACT scores! Getting into college is too easy now!!”
I didn’t think so!!
Starting Now Provides Time for Stress-Free Practice Testing.
Some parents are afraid that taking “too many” official SATs or ACTs will somehow hurt their children’s chances of college admission. Personally, I don’t believe it’s an issue for 99% of families.
But, it doesn’t matter anyway, since you should be using practice materials like official books and practice tests for realistic practice before the day of the official test.
Starting SAT and ACT prep in November and December gives plenty of time for low-stress practice testing that gets results.
We offer free practice testing to new students in Austin, Texas and include practice testing in all of our SAT / ACT Prep lesson packages.
But, you can also easily take a mock practice test at home. Set up a quiet space in your kitchen and act as the proctor for your son or daughter. It should only take about 4 hours to test and grade. Saturday morning at 8 AM is best, to replicate the feeling of the real test.
Action Plans by High School Year
Now that you know why it’s so important to use November and December for SAT and ACT Prep, let me give you some advice on what to do next.
Again, this is coming from a pro tutor with multiple perfect scores on both the SAT and ACT and 7 years of teaching hundreds of students across three continents - so listen closely. Here are some specific recommendations for high school students by the grade they’re currently in.
As always, please contact us directly with more personalized questions for a free consultation.
Many Seniors can test later than they think. The secret is, you may be able to get extra time by contacting individual College Admissions offices directly.
Get in for specialized private tutoring in your weak spots. Math, Reading, Grammar, and Essays are all possible targets. Don’t go with group classes or a laid-back approach. It’s time to hit the books - hard - with an experienced SAT or ACT tutor providing direct, personalized feedback for how you can improve.
Your next test dates will be in early November or December.
Juniors should use November and December to actively work on long-term challenges that will improve their score and can’t be crammed later. Prime examples are free-reading projects and vocabulary. Pick challenging but interesting novels from the 1800s for the perfect type of reading practice.
Also, get very familiar with every bit of the SAT or ACT test during Junior year. Hit the official books and start early. If you don’t know which test to take, check out this article.
Don’t worry about forgetting some of the material. It doesn’t matter if you learn it now, forget it, and have to review later. By that point you’ll know what you’re dealing with and it will seem much easier.
Your next test dates should be early December if you want a really early benchmark, and/or early March at the latest. Don’t think it’s far away - it’s much closer than you think.
Sophomores are in an interesting spot on the SAT / ACT Prep timeline. There’s no doubt you’re getting started relatively early. But, you’ll also notice that time passes more quickly than you would like.
The most important thing is to expose yourself to the material in the official books. See for yourself what you’re up against. Then you can make an educated decision about classes, tutoring, or studying on your own.
Side note, if you prep early enough, you’ll see a benefit on the PSAT. Given how few students qualify for National Merit recognition, a high PSAT test score is one way to really stand out to colleges.
Your next test dates will be any unofficial practice tests you choose to take, followed by the PSAT at the beginning of Junior year.
Hey, even a pro SAT and ACT tutor understands there’s such a thing as “too early.” If you’re a Freshman, it’s not the time to worry about your SAT and ACT scores. Right now you should just be focused on school, free reading, and vocabulary.
If you want to get ahead, put some extra study time into the English section of either the SAT or the ACT. The grammar and reading lessons will serve you well in all your classes, not just your test prep.
Your next test dates are at least a year away, but the time will go quickly. Be ready for the PSAT at the start of Sophomore or Junior year.
In Austin, TX? Let Our SAT & ACT Experience Help You!
If you’re in Austin, Texas and your family is making a plan for SAT and ACT testing, please contact us today - we can help at no cost with a free consultation.
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Our SAT and ACT prep tutors want to help you this Fall. We can advise your family for free based on the specifics of your personal situation at no charge and no obligation.
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