The Best Test Prep Timeline is Customized for the Student
Spring of junior year is a great time to begin test prep. Here’s our advice for creating a college test preparation plan that works for you.
Decide When to Take the Tests
There is no single best testing prep timeline, but there is a plan that will work best for your specific needs: one that puts the student’s well-being front and center, prioritizes school work, and doesn’t give the tests more life than they deserve.
Some factors might influence when you decide to take your tests: academic readiness, your school and extracurricular schedule, and your availability to prepare for the tests. Here are some things to consider:
- Statistically, students score best late in junior year and fall of senior year. We generally dissuade students from starting testing too early although there are exceptions. Recruited athletes and strong test takers might start this process earlier.
- We recommend taking the test twice in the latter half of junior year, usually between December and June. The experience of the first test will build confidence for the second. Moreover, knowing you have a second chance alleviates some of the pressure from the first sitting.
- Assume a third test in the summer before senior year or fall of senior year. Ideally, you’ll be finished after junior year, but students will often test again in the summer before senior year or the fall of senior year. Remember, the further along in age and school, the better students do.
How and When to Prepare for the Tests
Whether you prepare with one-on-one tutoring, classroom programs, or independent study, test prep programs can be found to accommodate any need. Cost, scheduling flexibility, and level of motivation are some of the factors to consider when deciding how to prepare.
Timeline for Preparing for the SAT and ACT
- Typical preparation begins 6-15 weeks before the test and leads up to the exam. Your preparation should target a particular test date, ideally your first official test. The preparation you do for that first exam will carry over to any subsequent exams.
- Don’t prepare for both the SAT and ACT simultaneously. If you do end up taking both tests, your preparation for one test will give you a good head start on the other test.
- Practice tests are a core part of preparation. Good preparation consists of shoring up knowledge, learning test-taking strategy, and taking full-length, timed practice tests. Much like a scrimmage or a dress rehearsal, taking practice tests under real conditions builds familiarity and confidence.
We strongly recommend that students take 2-4 proctored practice tests during the course of a test prep program.
Why Re-Take the SAT/ACT in a Test-Optional World?
One thing students might be thinking: “Most colleges and universities are still test-optional, right? So do I really need to test again?”
In the current admissions environment, college applicants have everything to win and nothing to lose by aiming for their best test score. Dismissing standardized tests out of hand now could present students with a missed opportunity to showcase their academic abilities and to earn merit scholarships. In our experience, most students end up with strong scores that represent them well.
Another thing to keep in mind is that test-optional does not mean test-blind. Many applicants in the most recent college admission cycle submitted their test scores regardless of a school’s test-optional policies, especially for those applying to the more selective schools.
Having the confidence and peace of mind from having a test score in your pocket is powerful. If some schools on your list require scores, you’ll be ready to submit those scores. If others are test-optional, you’ll then have the choice to submit if you feel those scores will represent you well.
Feel free to reach out with any questions you have, or if you’d like assistance in creating your student’s testing plan. Standardized testing for college admissions can be confusing and overwhelming at times. We’re always happy to be a resource to families and counselors. Contact us at 1-800-MY-TUTOR or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drew graduated cum laude from Duke University with degrees in Biology and Elementary Education. He then completed his PhD in Immunology from Tufts Medical School. After completing his postdoctoral fellowship, Drew began tutoring for Summit where his passion as an educator quickly made him one of Summit’s most requested tutors. Outside of Summit, Drew is busy with his two girls both under the age of two, his two cats, and talking shop with his wife, Carol, who is also a Summit tutor.