We often hear from parents (and sometimes even students) wondering what can be done ahead of time to prepare for the SAT & ACT. In these cases, “ahead of time” is measured not in months but in years. Since preparation and planning go hand in hand, such early ambition deserves praise along with prudent advice. But can a young high-schooler or even a late middle-schooler prepare for the SAT & ACT years in advance? Moreover, should he?
You’ll never catch me advising against prep, or at least the right kind of prep. The best preparation for good work tomorrow, as writer Elbert Hubbard advises, is to do good work today. If you are a 14-year old, effective test prep mainly involves doing your best at school, which includes taking the highest level courses you can handle. An advanced math track makes a huge difference in test readiness; if you can finish Algebra 2/Trig in sophomore year, you’ll be ready to test as early in junior year as makes sense based on your schedule… even in August.
But apart from diligence in school. your best preparation for the SAT, ACT, college, and life depends on one little activity that should become a consistent habit and hopefully a source of enduring pleasure: READ.
The best test scores usually go to the best readers, meaning those students who have mastered the skill of understanding what they read quickly and efficiently. Passage-based reading is a cornerstone of all the major undergraduate and graduate admissions tests, because effective reading skills support academic success.
What should you be reading? Really, you can read anything you enjoy. Prioritize nonfiction written at a college or professional level, since most test passages fit that description, but feel free to indulge in good fiction as well. Just make sure you understand what you read; otherwise, you’re just looking at words, which doesn’t help anyone!
Students just finishing middle school or entering high school still have a lot of time before college admissions tests come calling. Why worry, when the best way to lock in a superior test score is to become the kind of student who naturally–with a little help, of course–earns superior test scores. Work hard in school, learn to love learning, and read every single day. Not only will you become happier, calmer, and more eloquent, but you’ll also be super prepared for real test prep when the time is right.