How Early Should I Begin ACT/SAT Prep?

While it may be true that the early bird catches the worm, does prepping early for a standardized college entrance exam mean you’ll nab a higher score?

By Erica Cirino, Varsity Tutors' Contributor

July 01, 2015

How Early Should I Begin ACT/SAT Prep? How Early Should I Begin ACT/SAT Prep?

While it may be true that the early bird catches the worm, does prepping early for a standardized college entrance exam mean you’ll nab a higher score?

In short, maybe: It all depends on when – and how – you study.

Students who have already taken one or both tests and did moderately (or very) well may only require four to eight weeks to prep for their second attempt.

Conversely, students who have already taken one or both tests and are unhappy with their performance may benefit from studying for four to six months in order to get a better grasp of the exam materials before their second attempt.

However, for the novice ACT or SAT test-taker, three months of prep is often sufficient.

For high school sophomores planning to take the ACT or SAT in the fall, you should begin studying around midsummer.

For juniors scheduled to take either test in the spring, you should start to study some time during the winter.

Three months is a significant period of time. The good news is that this amount of time should allow you to cover all necessary study material at a comfortable pace.

The not-so-good news is that, with so much time, it’s possible to lose focus, hurting the quality of your test preparation – and, ultimately, your test performance.

Also, start studying too early and you risk forgetting important material come test day.

Successful ACT and SAT study requires you to set a study schedule and to stick to it. Some test topics – typically those requiring repeated practice – are best studied for earlier rather than later. Plan on covering those topics first and then working your way to those topics that require less practice.

One topic good to study early is reading comprehension. The ability to read, understand and analyze a written passage comes with practice. One of the best ways to practice for the ACT or SAT reading comprehension sections is to do reading comprehension exercises straight from either exam.

It’s also a good idea to keep reading: whether it’s books or magazines or newspapers that you prefer, establishing an everyday reading habit may expand your vocabulary and enhance your understanding of the English language. Besides improving your reading comprehension skills, such practice can also boost your performance on the written portions of the ACT and SAT.

Another topic you can prepare for early on in your test prep is basic math. In the first few weeks of your exam prep, focus on the topics of basic arithmetic, algebra, and fractions. These subjects provide you with the foundation for more complex mathematical concepts – such as geometry – that appear on both exams.

Again, with the math section on the ACT and SAT, one of the best ways to study is to complete practice test questions.

Keeping track of the questions you are most successful in answering – and those you are not – can help you determine in which areas you should put most of your study efforts. Yet, even if you feel comfortable with a specific topic, you should still practice it so that it stays fresh in your mind.



Erica Cirino is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a technology platform for private academic tutoring and test prep designed to help students at all levels of education achieve academic excellence.

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