SAT/ACT prep for Rising Seniors: It’s Crunch Time!


The summer before senior year is usually packed with activities – camps, jobs, pool parties and test prep.  OK, maybe the last one doesn’t make everyone’s priority list, but for rising seniors the fall provides the last opportunities to achieve your goal score.  In a perfect world, you finished all of your standardized testing by the end of your junior year, but that perfect scenario rarely happens.  Most students wait too long to try the SAT or ACT for the first time, making senior year testing a necessity.  If you plan to apply to college early decision, the October tests could be your last chance.  Make it count.

Start prepping for the October SAT or September/October ACT now.  Summer prep works to your advantage.  I know some of you have been devoting a few hours a week since June.  I also know some of you dumped your SAT book in the corner of your room after the June test and it’s now buried under a damp beach towel.  Don’t underestimate how busy you’ll be senior year.  You’ll be glad you committed some of your summer to test prep when Friday night football doesn’t have to take a back seat to studying.

If you haven’t already, make a short list of possible colleges.  Check the websites of your target schools for average SAT/ACT scores.  Set a realistic score goal for yourself.  Improving your SAT score from a 1000 to a 2400 isn’t realistic, but jumping from a 1000 to a 1300 certainly is.

Next, develop a plan.  The easiest approach is to sign up for a prep class that fits into your schedule and your budget.  Unfortunately, a class won’t help much if you already took a class in the spring and didn’t reach your target score.  You’ve already learned how to take the test; now you need fine tuning and practice.  Some students have enough insight/motivation/self-awareness to identify their weak spots on their own.  If this describes you, grab The Official SAT Study Guide or The Real ACT Prep Guide and work through as many practice problems as you can before test day.  (Caution: Use ONLY official SAT or ACT practice materials.  All other practice questions are notoriously inaccurate.)  After you finish a practice section, go back and review all of your answers, even the ones you got right, to make sure you fully understand the questions and your answer.

However, most of you will need outside help to stay on track.  Consider hiring a tutor.  Many students rule out tutors before investigating the possibilities.  I commonly hear that tutors are too expensive.  But, you’ll get a lot more bang for your test prep dollar with a tutor than you will with a class.  Students can do the majority of the work outside of sessions, keeping costs down, but still get personalized attention.  A quality tutor can quickly identify weak areas and help you bolster your skills.  Classes typically focus on test strategy.  If you’ve always struggled with geometry, classes won’t correct that problem.  Ask around for names of great tutors, check out tutor referral websites or look for skilled tutors who work online with students around the country.  On a tight budget?  Try asking a tutor to develop a personalized self-prep plan.  Get great guidance without breaking the bank!

If you’re planning for the October SAT, spend at least three hours a week on test prep until school starts, then about two hours per week until test day (if you’re aiming for the September ACT bump it up to at least four hours per week during the summer).  Remember, this is an average.  Some weeks you’ll take full-length timed practice tests to gauge your progress, too.  You can’t do too much so if you’re feeling motivated, go for more!

I hope I’ve convinced you to get started on test prep this summer.  No matter how you feel about standardized tests, they’re a necessity.  The good news is that your hard work now can lead to more acceptances and more scholarships later.  Keep your goals in mind as you crack open the books.  Now get to work!

Jenn Cohen is the owner of Jenn Cohen Tutoring. She has 15 years of experience as an SAT/ACT tutor, specializing in ADHD students. 

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