When Should You Start Studying for the SAT and the ACT?

Hi guys! My name is Anushka Madhuvarshi and I am a rising sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in the Business Honors Program and in Finance. I’m writing a SAT and ACT prep and college readiness series for Prepify’s blog. I prepared diligently for the SAT all throughout high school and this definitely helped me earn a perfect score of 2400 when I took the test in 2015 (note that as of 2016, the new SAT is out of a base score of 1600). I was lucky enough to gain exposure to the test very early on as my high school required its students to take the PSAT every year from 9th to 11th grade. Then, I took the SAT twice during my junior year. In retrospect, I know which of my studying methods worked the most effectively and I wanted to share those methods as well as other tips, tricks, resources, and techniques with you.

When it comes to preparing for the SAT or the ACT, one of the biggest questions for students is “When should I start studying?” The answer is simple – as early as possible. Now, starting as early as possible doesn’t really mean you should start memorizing mathematics formulas in your freshman year. It just means familiarizing yourself with the test early on and knowing what you need to work on. I, personally, started actually studying up for the SAT during the Fall semester of my sophomore year but I had been familiar with the content of the test since before my freshman year of high school. Here is an effective breakdown of soft deadlines every high schooler planning on taking either the SAT or the ACT should keep in mind:

By the end of freshman year:

  • Be very familiar with the structure of the test
  • Know what kinds of questions are asked on the test
  • Should have taken at least one full-length PSAT and one full-length SAT in testing conditions
  • Or, should have taken at least two full-length ACTs in testing conditions*

By the end of the fall semester of sophomore year:

  • Gauge strengths and weaknesses by taking at least 2 more practice tests
  • Start studying for the weakest sections

By the end of the spring semester of sophomore year:

  • Covered all the material on the SAT/ACT at least once
  • Taken about 3-5 more practice tests to monitor progress

By the end of the summer before junior year:

  • Should have taken a full-length practice test in testing conditions once a week for the whole summer

By the end of the fall semester of junior year:

  • Given the SAT/ACT at least once

By the end of the spring semester of junior year:

  • Given the SAT/ACT a second time if dissatisfied with score

While these soft deadlines are a great way to monitor progress, another trick that really helps with SAT/ACT prep is making a schedule and sticking to it. This schedule should be made after you have taken the 2 full-length practice tests in testing conditions during the fall semester of sophomore year. Then, you should rank your performance on the subsections in both the Math and the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections for the SAT and English, Math, Reading, and Science for the ACT. For example, within the SAT Math section, you should rank your performance among subjects like Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry. For SAT Reading and Writing, you can rank your performance among types of questions like Vocabulary and Evidence-based comprehension. For ACT Science, you can rank reasoning, research summaries, and interpretation. Now, you can start creating a schedule. You should start by working on the sections on which you had the most trouble first. You should first study and understand the material and then start working on practice sections. Remember, even when you move on to study other concepts, keep practicing the sections you already learned! 

All in all, when it comes to preparing for the SAT and the ACT, not only is it important to start early, it is imperative to create a study schedule and to stick with it! Consistent practice is the best method and will lead to great results. Best of luck!

*Testing conditions means accurate and strict timing, no phones, no interruptions, and no checking answers until the test has been taken in its entirety.


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