Allowing yourself enough time to prepare for the SAT or ACT is very important to ensure a good score. If you start in good time, you will have the chance to take several tests before you get to your desired score. Here are some of the advantages to this approach.
Taking a test soon after starting prep will teach you how you react under real examination conditions. Even if you take mock practice tests, nothing replicates the experience of a real test as much as a real test. Sometimes, a student who feels comfortable and in control during a practice test might actually find it difficult to focus on a real test. The sooner you realize this, the better you can prepare. John Neville, our in-house mindfulness expert, can support with test anxiety and show you some techniques which make a real difference when practiced regularly. Take a test soon to ensure you have enough time to internalise mindfulness and breathing techniques if you need to.
Especially if you have not taken long tests before (lasting more than 3 hours), it will be useful to see how your energy levels vary during the test. Is there a drop in focus half-way through? Do you find it hard to concentrate in the beginning but then “get in the zone”? This will give you a better idea of the test section during which you need to regroup your forces and when to make good use of a snack and refocus exercises.
During a real test, you might find that many of the techniques learned during prep simply don’t come to you naturally. Or perhaps you misjudge how much time you have left. Once again, this is different from a practice test since on test day you are likely running on adrenaline, which can cloud your judgment. By taking an early test, you will get a real appreciation for how important it is to work through each technique and make it second nature. It will also encourage you to notice your timing during homework and pace yourself strategically.
There are many unexpected things that can happen on the day—the room might be too cold or too hot, you might be expected to take the test with a mask on, the environment might be noisy, the computers (for international ACT test-takers) might seem unfamiliar and off-putting. If you allow yourself to get familiar with this environment, you will feel more in control the second time around.
If you are taking an international ACT without accommodations, you will use a computer. While there are mock tests you can take online in advance, it can help to familiarise yourself with the computer at your test centre. The screen size, the type of mouse, the location of the timer in the top right corner, and the use of digital tools under pressure are all things that can throw you off when the stakes are high. Debriefing with your mentor after the experience will help you prep in a more targeted way after.
It is a real possibility that your first score will be on the lower side, but that is not a reason for concern. Many colleges require you to only submit your best score or superscore. For those colleges which require you to submit all scores, demonstrating real progress between tests is actually a plus—it shows commitment, hard work, and capacity to learn.