If you’re a junior and haven’t started test prep yet, jump in ASAP—but make sure to start at the beginning of the timeline regardless of when you begin, as the first steps are crucial for success.
Junior Year Timeline
Fall of Junior Year
- Choose which exam to take. We recommend taking diagnostic tests to determine whether you prefer the SAT or ACT, and then focusing on just ONE of those tests throughout your preparation. Signet offers diagnostic testing services, so please contact us if you’re interested in learning more.
- Set a target score. It’s easier to reach any goal if you know what you are working toward. Set a target score before beginning real test preparation. You can determine this score based on your general college aspirations (most schools make the average test scores of their students available) as well as your starting score from the diagnostic.
Note: You can do the above two steps during the summer after sophomore year as well.
- Schedule test dates. In general, we recommend students plan to sit twice for the exam of their choice. Most students do better on their second sitting, and colleges don’t mind seeing the same test taken two or three times. We encourage students to schedule their first test date in late fall or winter, and the second sitting in mid-to-late spring.
- Set up a study schedule and test prep in earnest. Some students may have started prep the summer before junior year, but by junior fall, all students should be prepping in a disciplined, regular, and consistent manner. This should continue through your first testing date. Your score on the first exam will determine your study schedule for the second date.
Late Fall to Late Spring of Junior Year
Sit for exams twice. When possible, we like to see students wrap up their testing by late spring to leave enough time and energy to study for finals, AP exams, and SAT Subject Tests, and to end junior year with a final score that helps them continue to narrow down their college search.
Summer Before Senior Year/Fall of Senior Year
Additional test sittings if needed. We know that sometimes life takes an unexpected turn, so we’ve built a healthy cushion into our test prep process. If you missed a test sitting, or you’re still struggling to reach your goal score, you can consider an additional test date after junior year. Please note that if you have already taken the exam twice and are still struggling, you may be facing challenges in your preparation that need to be addressed. Contact us or your school’s counselor for some outside help.
Compare this timeline to where you are right now in terms of your preparation. Are you ahead, behind, or right on time? Maybe you’ve started the process but aren’t practicing with consistency. This is the moment when students need to engage and make progress with this material, and consistency is key. Devoting even a small amount of effort to exam prep every week leads to far better results than trying to cram preparation in at the last minute.
How exactly should I be studying for the exam?
You will need to prepare in a systematic way, and, at strategic points throughout the preparation, take full-length practice tests to assess your progress.
Begin by learning content you aren’t already familiar with, then use that content in drills and practice problems, eventually graduating to taking fully timed sections of practice tests. Continuously review any areas that challenge you during the test prep process. Reviewing is the key to efficiency; just doing practice problems won’t improve scores nearly as much as practicing and then reviewing your work.
You may benefit from dividing studying into conceptual review vs. practice review. For any concepts that are still confusing after several attempts, focus on learning rather than on practice problems. This is especially important for students with lower test scores. Students with higher scores should still review any confusing concepts, but they will benefit more from putting significant effort toward preparing for the exam itself (exam structure, types of questions, etc.).
Why is routine practice so important?
Remember that taking the SAT/ACT (or any lengthy, timed test) is a performance of a type, just like an athletic or musical performance. Regular practice leading up to the performance (test date) is essential. If you don’t practice, you will get rusty, regardless of how good your previous test scores were. If you score fairly well on the first exam but plan to take a second test, it’s okay to take a short break after the first test date, but plan on preparing for at least four weeks before the second sitting.
How do I know what my goal score should be?
While it’s not a perfect formula, the best way is to look at the average scores of admitted students at the colleges you are interested in attending. Because other factors are at play in college admissions besides standardized testing, students should aim to be on the higher end of the range of current students’ scores as much as possible. A student who has academic weaknesses can try to balance them with a much higher standardized testing score. That said, colleges generally place the most emphasis on grades and performance in schools, so a great test score is unlikely to totally offset a weak academic record.
Your goal score should also take your diagnostic score into consideration: there’s a limit to how much you can realistically expect to increase your score, even with disciplined preparation. This limit is roughly 100-200 points on the SAT and 1-4 points on the ACT. Students who want to increase their scores more than these amounts will need to put considerable additional effort into their test prep.
As always, parents and students should be aware that the above are guidelines and generalities, not laws that apply to every student.
If I meet my goal score on my first sitting, what should I do?
It’s not a foregone conclusion that all students should take their second scheduled exam. If you met your goal score on the first test sitting, ask yourself whether this score feels sufficient for your current college goals. If you knew you could score higher, are there schools you would add to your college list? If not, and if your score more than meets the requirements for schools on your college list, consider stopping test prep and doing something fun and enriching with that extra time!
Are tutoring or classes necessary for improvement?
In short, not always. Students who prepare in a smart way (i.e. follow our great advice!) and put in consistent time and effort can certainly improve their scores without a tutor. However, students who have extremely aggressive score goals or who have very low starting scores may benefit significantly from instruction. While you may have the best of intentions about preparation, and may be fully capable of studying on your own, the accountability that comes from hiring a tutor can make it much easier for you to follow through on your test prep plan. You and your parents may decide it’s a worthwhile investment to keep your test prep focused and on track.