The College Board administers the SAT in October, November, December, March, May, June, and August. ACT, Inc. follows suit by offering the ACT in September, October, December, February (everywhere but New York), April, and June. So if students can only take the SAT or ACT during the school year, why should they prep during the 2.5-month summer span when they can’t?
The answer is obvious: because there’s no school!
Today’s college-bound high school students are busier than ever before. No, that’s not a cliche. As admissions standards spiral ever higher (along with tuition), students strive to differentiate themselves through advanced classes, sports, clubs, jobs, and every other activity they can fit into each overscheduled week. This frenzy of activity reaches its peak in junior year, from the beginning of fall sports until the end of finals. Considering how many important commitments students are asked to juggle, why not try to lighten the load by prepping when school is out?
The traditional test-taking paradigm has students taking their first SAT or ACT in spring of junior year with contingent expectations of more tests in the fall of senior year. But this approach makes little sense considering the crush of activity–finals, APs, prom, spring sports championships, SAT Subject Tests, and, of course, summeritis–students have to navigate in May and June. Long experience has borne out the conclusion that most students fail to score their best in late spring. As a result, they have little choice but to prep over the summer.
But what about those students heading into junior year, already knowing what activities they’d like to participate in and which classes they hope to take? These lucky students can use those lazy days of summer to lay the foundation for success in September, October, or whenever they’ll take their first official SAT or ACT. Prepping during the summer is not only easy, it’s also fun. Actually, test prep may not be anybody’s idea of fun, but prepping once a week or during one block of vacation time feels like much less of a burden than doing the same on top of everything else during the school year.
Imagine prepping in a relaxed but effective fashion over the summer, taking the SAT in late August and ACT in late September, then walking into the PSAT in mid-October already knowing that you hit your targets and are FINISHED with these tests. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
We see students live this dream every fall and share their joy at knowing that, while their friends are still wondering what to do, these paragons of prep have already moved one important piece of the college admissions process into the “DONE AND DONE RIGHT” column. They’re free to focus on all those other commitments and are bound to be more successful with the tests off the table.
Many parents ask why their teen should go into the tests without the benefit of that extra year in the classroom. The sad truth is that students don’t learn that much in junior year that will impact their scores. Consider the facts:
- Most schools don’t teach grammar on the high school level.
- Most students don’t materially improve their vocabulary or reading skills in 11th grade without dedicated effort
- Students contending for high Math scores usually take Algebra II/Trigonometry or even Precalculus in 10th grade. Students who save that class for 11th grade have still learned more than 90% of the math the SAT and ACT test.
Students who need help in any of these essential areas will develop core competency much more quickly through dedicated test preparation than they will through the average high school curriculum.
The bottom line is that every student (except a very fortunate few) who wants to earn his or her best scores on the SAT or ACT must prepare in advance. Once you accept this fact, the only questions are how to prep and when to prep. I, as you might imagine, have very strong thoughts about the former question. The answer to the latter is clear: if possible, students should prep for the SAT and ACT in the summer before 11th grade.