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SAT and ACT Prep: When Should You Start?

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Preparing for the SAT and ACT

The SAT and ACT have somehow earned monster status in the minds of most high school students. Need proof?

“My daughter is a great student - but she’s not a very good tester.”

How often have you heard that? The implication is that studying for the SAT and studying for tests at school are two completely different types of tasks. How else to explain that Eliza gets A-pluses on all of her Latin and math tests, but is only in the 40th percentile on her PSATs?

In reality, the fundamental natures of the SAT/ACT and tests at school are exactly the same. Just like anything else, these tests can easily be conquered with the right strategy, diligent study, and enough time. But there’s a horrible cycle in place that keeps many students and parents from realizing this fact:

  1. Students think these tests are different from tests at school because “you just can’t study for these tests.”

  2. Students don’t spend nearly enough time studying for them because they think that doing so would be futile.

  3. Students get subpar scores, thus reinforcing the idea that “you just can’t study for these tests.”

Recently, I had a conversation with a parent that went something like this:

Parent: “I don’t understand why my daughter has such great grades in school, but such poor PSAT scores.”

Me: “Well, how long does she spend on homework each night?”

Parent: “Anywhere from three to five hours.”

Me: “And how long did she spend studying for the PSAT?”

Parent: “She didn’t study for the PSAT….”

There’s an undeniable fact that every parent and student needs to know if they’re going to do well on their SATs and ACTs:

When you put time into something, you get better at it. When you don’t put time in, you don’t.

To take things a step further:

If you put more time into learning something, you’ll do much better than if you spend less time learning it.

This seems like an obvious lesson but it’s almost never observed when it comes to SAT and ACT prep. Students put less time into their SATs than they put into their science-fair projects, then get disappointed when they don’t get amazing results.

Fortunately for you, this is fantastic news. Most students simply don’t put in the time necessary to get great scores. If you do, you’ll be way ahead of the pack!

There are only three things you need to know if you want to get the highest SAT and ACT scores possible:

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1. Consistency beats bulk effort every time.

Slow and steady wins the race. This is one of the fundamental learnings of neuroscience. Cramming is horrible for retention. If you want to learn something effectively, you need to study it consistently, over a long period of time. If you can put in just 30 minutes a day for an extended period of time, you’ll see your scores improve by entire college tiers. You can even break that up into smaller chunks: 15 minutes in the morning, 15 at night. Anyone can find the time for this. This leads right into No. 2:

2. The longer you give yourself to study, the better you’ll do.

Most students don’t want to study for a long period of time because they imagine a horrific daily slog. It’s tough to imagine dedicating three to six months to test prep when you think you’ll be studying for four hours a day. But if you do test prep right, you don’t need to have it interfere with your life. Can you carve out 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the afternoon? If so, you have all the time you need to get great scores. Commit to this process for a few months and you’ll attain mastery almost painlessly.

3. Students should start immediately after freshman year.

The sooner you begin this process, the more time you’ll have to achieve mastery with a light daily schedule, the more backup opportunities you’ll have, the less stressful it will be, and the sooner you’ll have it out of the way.

By the time most students finish ninth grade, they know about 95 percent of the material tested by the SAT and the ACT. The stuff they don’t know can be learned in a few hours of independent study. It does not require waiting an entire year just to take the subject in school!

Furthermore, much of the material tested by these exams is actually taught far earlier - in Grades 3 through 7. Each day you wait is another day in which much of the relevant material can slip! The sooner you begin, the more easily you’ll be able to pick up all the relevant information, retain the old information, and allow your studying to help you with your schoolwork as well.

The time to start is NOW!

Any student past ninth grade has more than enough mental maturity to master these exams. All he or she needs to do is make the commitment, find the right program, and settle into a light, consistent study habit.

Studying for these tests works - but you need light, consistent, and long-term prep. If you commit to this process, it doesn’t need to be tough. In fact, if you split up your study sessions and take it easy, it’ll be one of the simplest parts of your entire high school journey.

[Now that you're feeling ready to rock the SAT, check out these 6 tips on writing the college essay.]

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