During junior year, your student is likely taking their most difficult classes, and (in most years) is highly engaged in extracurricular activities.
On top of that, they’re in the thick of the college process, which includes preparing for the SAT or ACT. While test prep is one of the less exciting pieces of applying to college, it’s still an important factor that can affect your student’s future.
First, let’s clear up a few details about the SAT and ACT:
SAT: The SAT covers basic reading, writing, and math skills that students are expected to acquire in high school. It is interchangeable with the ACT (see below) and is scored out of 1600.
ACT: The ACT covers reading, writing, and math. It is interchangeable with the SAT, since it also tests the skills that students are expected to learn in high school. The ACT is scored out of 36.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges have shifted to a test-optional model, which means that SAT/ACT scores are no longer a required piece of the application.
However, test-optional technically means that if a student submits scores, a college will consider them. Strong test scores could boost a student’s chances for admission.
That’s why we recommend that most students take the SAT/ACT and prepare thoroughly. Test prep takes some effort, but it could give your student a leg up at their dream school. And that’s worth a little extra studying.
Here’s what that testing process should look like:
Junior Year Testing Process
The testing process involves key testing milestones, which range from choosing an exam to scheduling test dates:
Choose which exam to take. We recommend students do diagnostic testing by taking a practice version of the SAT and ACT, and then focusing on just ONE of those tests. Your student can take a free practice test right here.
Set a goal score. As a rule of thumb, students can expect to improve their diagnostic test scores by 100-200 points for the SAT and 1-3 points for the ACT. Anything more will require significant effort and coaching, although it is possible. If your student’s college list includes highly selective schools, a test prep tutor can help them make greater score gains.
Start studying! All students should be dedicating time to test prep on a weekly basis. Studying should continue through their first testing date. A few extra tips on smart studying:
- Take practice exams in conditions that mimic a test setting as closely as possible.
- Use the free materials provided by the test makers (SAT and ACT) as primary resources (third-party resources, like Barron’s and Princeton Review, may be useful if your student needs additional information).
- Review practice problems to identify challenging concepts, then carve out specific study time to focus on revisiting those concepts.
Schedule test dates. Students should plan to take the exam of their choice (SAT or ACT) twice. Most students do better on their second sitting, and taking a test two or three times has no effect on how colleges perceive students.
Take the tests. We encourage students to schedule their first test date in late fall/early spring, and the second sitting in mid-late spring.
Reevaluate after the first scores come in. A student’s score on the first exam will determine how much study time they need to put in before the second exam date.
When Does a Student Need Outside Help?
Not every student needs to work with a tutor to have a strong test prep game. However, when it’s the right fit, outside help may not only improve your student’s scores, but it can also avoid unnecessary stress and tension in your family.
It might be time to call us if your student:
- resists discussing standardized testing and test prep
- is overwhelmed by putting together a test prep plan
- can’t make time to study consistently
- feels aimless or unproductive during study sessions
- has low diagnostic scores or is struggling in one or more specific areas