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Prepare for the ACT/SAT Before You Even Start Test Prep

Many juniors plan on taking their standardized tests for college admissions in the spring. It’s a popular plan (depending on what math class you are in) because it lets you develop your academic skills in the 11th grade while still leaving time in the summer or fall of senior year to retake the test if needed. Although starting to study a couple of months before the test is enough to put you ahead of most students in terms of preparation, is there anything you can be doing now, in the middle of the school year?

Anything you can do now to lessen a spring workload that may include AP exams and SAT subject tests will make your future self very grateful. Here are some things you can do to prepare for the ACT or SAT before you actually start studying for it.

First of all, read everything from school. Don’t use plot summaries as a substitute for reading a novel for English class. Your science teacher may do such a good job lecturing that you can get away without reading the textbook. Read it anyway. The reading section for the ACT/SAT tests (and to a lesser extent, the ACT science section) tests your ability to extract information from dense blocks of text. In the two cases above, someone else did that for you, so you are not getting practice in that skill. If possible, expand your reading outside of school with newspapers, novels, and articles.

Reading often will also improve your reading speed. On the test, being able to read quickly will free up more time for you to think about the questions. Most people read about as fast as they talk. If you practice reading without sounding out each word in your head, it is possible to read significantly faster. Try placing the fingers of your dominant hand together and right under the text you are reading. Then move your hand across the page as you read, which helps your eyes focus on the text. Continuously moving your hand prevents your eyes from fixating on certain words and forces your brain to read at the desired pace.

You may find that your grammar skills will indirectly improve as you expose yourself to lots of professionally written content. Developing an “ear” for what sounds grammatically correct and being familiar with idiomatic phrases are crucial for the ACT English and SAT Writing and Language sections. The best way to do this is to read a lot. Remember, you don’t have to explain why a sentence is incorrect; you just have to detect whether it is and find the best alternative.

Finally, you should compare the scope of the math section to the syllabus for your math class to see if there are any content gaps. Most students take pre-calculus in 11th grade, but the content for these classes can vary greatly. Pre-calculus will usually cover trigonometry and conic sections, but may not include miscellaneous topics such as vectors, matrices, polar coordinates, complex numbers, sequences, and statistics that can pop up on the test. Talk to your teacher or academic mentor about covering the basics of these topics. Any test questions on these topics tend to be very basic, so make sure you are not giving up those easy points just because you’ve never seen the material before.

As you can see, a little planning and extra work now can go a long way to making your test prep experience a lot smoother. The best part is knowing that you are improving your ACT or SAT score without feeling like you are studying for it.