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Parent’s Guide to Test Preparation

ACT – SAT – PSAT10 – PSAT/NMSQT – SAT Subject Tests – AP Tests
Nothing seems to give parents and children more heartburn than preparing for college entrance exams: the PSAT10, PSAT/NMSQT, ACT Aspire, SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, and AP Tests (wow, that is a mouthful). We will walk you through the process of finding the best test, explore the different preparation methods, special considerations for children with learning disabilities and for student athletes, and when to consider preparing for each test. It sounds like a lot, but with a plan in place your family can find success with a minimum of stress and effort.

Step 1 – Where to begin?

Let’s start off by talking a bit about what type of test taker we have.  Many of the families we talk to describe their son or daughter as a “terrible test taker.”   Below we have outlined what some of the most common student types that we see and, on average, some of the characteristics they display.  NOTE: Obviously, every student is different, but over the past 20 years, we have seen that most students fall into one of the categories below.  They are certainly helpful, but by no means absolute.

Anxious Test Takers

Anxious test takers usually exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Anxiety-ridden
  • Nervous/Suffer from a lack of confidence
  • Freeze on test day
  • May have a detected or undetected learning disability/challenge

Forgetful Test Takers

Forgetful test takers usually exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Study hard, but can’t remember the lesson/strategies
  • Trouble memorizing formulas
  • Perform well on homework, but not on tests/quizzes

Reluctant Test Takers

Reluctant test takers usually exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Don’t try
  • Hate school
  • Hate tests
  • Parents “are making them do it”
  • Bad grades/Bad scores

Hard-working Test Takers

Hard-working test takers usually exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Great grades in school
  • Low to average grades on tests
  • Good grades don’t come easily
  • Good with routine/structure
  • Self-motivated and independent

Step 2 – Picking the Right Test

PSAT (Practice SAT) & ACT Aspire (Practice ACT)

PSAT

The PSAT is offered in 10th and 11th grades at nearly every high school in the nation.  It is most often administered on the 2nd or 3rd Wednesday of October each year.  The PSAT is a good chance to practice what it is like to take the SAT.  In fact, there is only a 15-question difference between the PSAT and SAT.  Gone are the days when the PSAT was much shorter and easier than the full SAT.  With more and more students preparing for the the PSAT, in order to achieve National Merit Scholar status (11th grade only), the College Board has increased the level of difficulty.  10th grade students who take the PSAT “cold turkey” tend to score around 100 points lower than their 11th grade PSAT score.

10th Grade (PSAT 10) vs 11th Grade PSAT/NMSQT

The PSAT 10 is for 10th graders only.  The testing window for 2017 & 2018 begins in February and ends in April, so check with your school counselor.  The PSAT/NMSQT is for 11th graders only.  These are the same test, but have different score benchmarks to assess students’ college readiness against the students in their grade level (nationwide).  11th graders can expect scores to be released between December and January.

Who should take the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT?

Everyone.  This is great practice for all students…even if they don’t end up preparing for the test or if they are planning to take the ACT.  It is good for students to practice sitting at a desk for almost 3 hours and taking what might be their first standardized test.   The PSAT can also be helpful in detecting a learning disability.  If students are planning to take the ACT, and the Aspire test (see below) is not offered at their school, they should take the PSAT for the reasons listed above.

How National Merit Scholarships Work

NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  Roughly the top 50,000 scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT qualify and receive special recognition for their accomplishments.  Of those 50,000, only ~7,500 students receive some kind of monetary scholarship (most often $2,500).  There is a wealth of information on the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s website.

ACT Aspire Test

ACT used to offer a test, considered by many to be a “pre-ACT”, called the PLAN test.  The PLAN test has been replaced by a more comprehensive solution called ACT Aspire.  Aspire begins testing students’ college readiness beginning in 3rd grade all the way through early high school.  ACT Aspire is in its early stages and not widely available.  If your school uses ACT Aspire, your score can be a good indicator of how you might score on an ACT.  Most students who have brought us ACT Aspire scores have taken the test in 9th grade so keep that in mind when comparing 10th and 11th grade PSAT 10 / PSAT/NMSQT scores.

SAT & ACT FAQ

  • The ACT tests what students have studied in school and as such can be considered less “tricky”
  • The SAT tends to be more “analytical” in the types of questions they ask…especially in math
  • Neither the SAT nor ACT penalize students for leaving answers blank
  • Neither the SAT nor ACT penalize students for guessing incorrectly
  • Only the questions answered correctly affect the score
  • The ACT is a faster test (less time is given to finish) than the SAT

SAT vs ACT – Which Test is Best?

Let’s look at the SAT and ACT in terms of the personalities we described above…

Anxious Test Takers

Anxious Test Takers are likely to perform better on the ACT.  These students are dealing with a lack of confidence and the ACT is a more “straightforward” test than the SAT.  The ACT is an easier test at a faster pace, however students can get a better score on an ACT by answering 75% of the questions well (by taking their time).  They are likely to improve from low (16-21 ACT) to average (22-25 ACT) or from average to good (26-29 ACT).

NOTE: Sometimes anxiety can stem from the fact that a student is dealing with a learning disability.  There are many accommodations for the ACT, but the two most prevalent are:

  1. National Extended Time – Students receive time and one half to take the test, like they would on an SAT with accommodations.
  2. Special Testing (Multiple Day Testing) – Students can take the test over a 3 week period (not offered by the SAT).

For more detailed information about learning disabilities and accommodations, visit our LD page in the Learning Center.

Forgetful Test Takers

Forgetful Test Takers thrive on structure and routine.  They are lacking strategies for how best to retain information.  With the right strategies, they are likely to improve and can perform well taking either the SAT or ACT…it comes down to personal preference.  These students can often surprise teachers and parents with good scores at unexpected times.  We can expect that Forgetful Test Takers will improve from average (22-25 ACT / 1100-1230 SAT) to good (26-29 ACT / 1240-1380 SAT) or from good to great (30-32 ACT / 1390-1480 SAT).

Reluctant Test Takers

Reluctant Test Takers don’t want to accept that they have to take one of these tests and are constantly trying to get by with the minimum.  These are the most challenging students to help.  However, these students can go from low (16-21 ACT) to average (22-25) with minimal effort.  We don’t even want to discuss the SAT with Reluctant Test Takers.  Often Reluctant Test Takers have a range of learning disabilities (ADD, ADHD, audio processing disorder, dyslexia are common).  ACT provides accommodations to some students with learning disabilities:

  1. National Extended Time – Students receive time and one half to take the test, like they would on an SAT with accommodations.
  2. Special Testing (Multiple Day Testing) – Students can take the test over a 3 week period (not offered by the SAT).

Reluctant Test Takers can benefit from accommodations on the ACT much like Anxious Test Takers would.  However, more often they will perform better using Multiple Day Testing.  For more detailed information about learning disabilities and accommodations, visit our LD page in the Learning Center.

Hard-working Test Takers

Hard-working Test Takers tend to have great grades in school, but low to average grades on tests.  They strive for and usually achieve As in school, but good grades and scores do not come easy.  These students usually do hours of homework each night.  They typically perform well on either the SAT or ACT and it is a matter of personal preference which test to take.  With strategies and practice, Hard-working Test Takers can go from average (22-25 ACT / 1100-1230 SAT) to good (26-29 ACT / 1240-1380 SAT), good to great (30-32 ACT / 1390-1480 SAT), and some even from great to ivy (33-36 ACT / 1490-1600 SAT).

SAT Subject Tests

While many colleges used to require them, schools now consider them “optional” or “recommended.”  So, to answer the question of whether a student should take a subject test is dependent upon the student’s college list.  These tests are 60-minute, multiple choice tests administered on one of the College Board’s national test dates.  The subjects include Literature, Math Level 1 (Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2) & Level 2 (Pre-Calculus), US History, World History, Chemistry, Physics, Biology E/M (E = Ecological and M = Molecular. Students can choose up until test day whether the end of their test will consist of more Ecological or Molecular questions) , and many foreign languages (Spanish, Spanish with Listening, French, French with Listening, Chinese with Listening, Italian, German, German with Listening, Modern Hebrew, Latin, Japanese with Listening, Korean with Listening).  Students may take up to 3 SAT Subject Tests in one day.  The College Board does offer accommodations for SAT Subject Tests.

Why Take SAT Subject Tests?

Some colleges use them to place students out of entry level courses.  If students are very strong in a certain subject, they may want to consider taking a subject test to place out of college courses.  Some colleges require them and others require them for homeschooled applicants.  Other colleges consider high scores in their admissions process.

Do You Have to Send SAT Subject Test Scores?

Unless a school requires subject test scores, students can choose to send scores or not.  In other words, if students do well on one, two, or five subject tests, then send them (the good ones).  If not, don’t.

Official SAT Subject Test List

AP Tests

Advanced Placement (AP) tests are offered in May and administered at a student’s high school.  Depending on the subject, testing times range from 2 hours to 3 hours and 15 minutes.  The tests are comprised of multiple choice and free (written) response as well as portfolio samples for studio art.  Some high schools’ AP classes are taught “to” the AP tests while others are not.  Students tend to take these AP tests during May of 11th and 12th grades, but on some occasions, in May of 9th and 10th grades as well.  Tests cover the Arts, English, History, STEM, and World Languages (complete list of AP tests here).  The College Board offers accommodations for AP tests.

Why Take AP Tests?

Some high schools require students who take AP courses to take the corresponding AP test.   Some high schools exempt students from taking final exams in their AP classes if they take the corresponding AP test (see your counselor for details).  Some colleges place students out of entry-level college courses if they score high enough on an AP exam.

Do You Have to Send AP Test Scores?

No.  However, some high schools automatically put AP scores on the back of students’ transcripts.  So, be sure to check with your guidance counselor before committing to taking an AP exam if you are worried about the potential score.  Or, ask to have them taken off before your transcript is sent to colleges.  Again, be sure to check with your school guidance counselor first.

Step 3: When to Begin

Each of the 4 personality types outlined above has different needs when it comes to creating the best testing timeline. Regardless of whether we are talking about Anxious, Forgetful, Reluctant, Hard-working Test Takers, students with learning disabilities, or potential NCAA athletes, all will benefit from using the “Early Bird” or “Great” testing timetables below:

ATHLETES: College coaches typically need to be provided with students’ test scores (PSAT, SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests) by June of junior year. Visit our Learning Center for more about the special requirements recruited student-athletes face.

LEARNING DISABILITIES/CHALLENGES: If you think/know your student is working with a learning disability/challenge (ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Audio Processing Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, etc), then it is best to start the accommodations processes freshman year if you haven’t already.  PLEASE NOTE:  Testing accommodations made through College Board apply to all of their tests (PSAT10, PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and AP tests) for a student’s high school career.  ACT accommodations are separate and require a separate application process.  SAT accommodations are facilitated by most schools while ACT accommodations require parents to initiate the process.  

High School Testing Calendar

  • Early Bird:
    • 9th Grade – Take AP Exams (May), SAT Subject Tests (May or June)
    • 10th Grade – Take PSAT 10 (February-April), SAT Subject Tests (May or June), AP Exams (May), and ACT (June)
    • 11th Grade – Retake ACT (September-December), take the PSAT/NMSQT (October), SAT (November-December), SAT Subject Tests (May or June), and AP Exams (May)
    • 12th Grade – AP Exams (May)
  • Great:
    • 9th Grade – Take AP Exams (May), SAT Subject Tests (May or June)
    • 10th Grade – Take PSAT 10 (February-April), SAT Subject Tests (May or June), and AP Exams (May)
    • 11th Grade – Take ACT (September-December), PSAT/NMSQT (October), SAT (December-January), SAT Subject Tests (May or June), and AP Exams (May)
    • 12th Grade – AP Exams (May)
  • Good:
    • 9th Grade – No testing
    • 10th Grade – Take PSAT 10 (February-April), SAT Subject Tests (May or June), and AP Exams (May)
    • 11th Grade – Take PSAT/NMSQT (October), SAT (December-March), ACT (December-April), SAT Subject Tests (May or June), and AP Exams (May)
    • 12th Grade -Retake ACT (October-December), retake SAT (October-December), retake SAT Subject Tests (October-December), and take AP Exams (May)
  • Little Room for Error:
    • 9th Grade – No testing
    • 10th Grade – Take PSAT 10 (February-April)
    • 11th Grade – Take PSAT/NMSQT (October), ACT (February-June / February-July 2018+), SAT (January-August), probably not taking AP Exams or SAT Subject Tests
    • 12th Grade – Retake ACT (October-December), retake SAT (August-December), take SAT Subject Tests (October-December), and take AP Exams (May) 

High School Freshmen

SAT Subject Test Preparation Timeline

When to Take the Test

The best time to take an SAT Subject Test is at the end of the school year (May or June) in a subject a student is strong in or is finishing that year.

For most schools this means Biology E/M is a good one to take freshman year, while Chemistry could be a good choice after sophomore year.

How and When to Prepare

The best way to prepare for SAT Subject Tests is by taking at least two practice tests found in books written by College Board and/or Barron’s. When I work one-on-one with students I have them take a practice test cold turkey (with no preparation) to get a baseline score. Then students study their mistakes they made on the first practice tests and do a comprehensive review of the material found in study guides before taking their second practice tests (some students benefit from more than two practice exams). The amount of time required to prepare is dependent on a couple of factors: the motivation of the student to achieve a certain score and the amount work that student must put in to increase their score to their desired level. This can take anywhere from a few hours up to a few weeks. So, give your student at least a month to prepare.

When to Register

The deadline to register for an SAT Subject Test is typically one month prior to the test date with registration usually opening 4 to 5 months prior. Please note: waiting too long may prevent you from getting your preferred test center or date.

AP Test Preparation Timeline
When to Take the Test

IF your student is taking an AP course in 9th grade then he/she could be prepared to take the AP test in May of that year.

How and When to Prepare

Some high schools teach their AP courses to prepare students for the AP test. The only way to find out if they do is to ask the teacher. Students can prepare on their own by taking at least two practice exams using AP prep books or materials provided by their teachers. Speak to your student’s teacher for recommendations on materials or books. The benefit of taking an AP Test immediately following the course is that students are preparing themselves for the test without spending much time outside of school to prepare.

When to Register

Typically schools will register their AP students in September or October for the May AP tests. As always parents should confirm this ahead of time. Students may register to take AP exams without taking AP courses. If your student is home-schooled or attends a school that does not offer AP exams, you will need to contact AP Services at the College Board by March 1st and contact the AP coordinator of the location identified by March 15.

See the College Board’s AP Exam Registration page for complete information.

High School Sophomores

ACT Preparation Timeline

When to Take the Test

The earliest we recommend students start taking their first ACT is the 2nd Saturday of June right after sophomore year.

When to Prepare

Since the ACT math section consists of Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, students will need to complete all 3 courses before they will feel equipped to take the ACT. If your sophomore is just completing Geometry, the earliest you may want consider signing him/her up for the ACT will be December or February of junior year (so at least a half a year of Algebra 2 is under the belt). For those of you who are reading this and feel that junior year is too late to get started, it can be helpful to some students to start preparing for all of the other material (even though their math score may be slightly low at the beginning). Case in point is a family who feels its child benefits from more repetition and preparation over a longer period of time. For these students, starting in the spring (sophomore year) or summer prior to junior year can be beneficial. Starting early works well for: Anxious, Forgetful, and Hard-working Test Takers. Starting too early with Reluctant Test Takers can backfire.

When to Register

The deadline to register for an ACT is typically one month prior to the test date with registration usually opening 4 to 5 months prior. Please note: waiting too long may prevent you from getting your preferred test center or date.

SAT Preparation Timeline
I typically do not recommend high school sophomores take an SAT. In my opinion, most sophomores have not developed the critical thinking skills necessary to score well on the SAT. Obviously there are exceptions which are usually uncovered once we have their PSAT 10 results in hand.
PSAT 10 Preparation Timeline
I do not recommend preparing for the sophomore year PSAT (aka PSAT 10) since it is a good way for students to get a baseline score. As I mentioned above, the PSAT 10 has a testing window that begins in February and ends in April, so check with your school counselor to confirm your school’s test date. Many students like to prepare for the junior year PSAT/NMSQT so they can try to qualify for a Nation Merit Scholarship. If your student falls into this category then it is best to start preparing the summer prior to junior year.
ACT Aspire Preparation Timeline
If your school is using the new ACT Aspire tests, continue to take the test each year without any extra preparation. Your 9th or 10th grade scores can be used as a baseline for an ACT score.
SAT Subject Test Preparation Timeline
When to Take the Test

The best time to take an SAT Subject Test is at the end of the school year (May or June) in a subject a student is strong in or is finishing that year.

For most schools this means World History and Chemistry are good ones to take sophomore year, while US History, Literature, Physics, and Math 2 could be good choices after junior year. Some high schools offer Physics sophomore year…which would make it a good one to take sophomore year. For foreign languages, we don’t recommend SAT Subject tests until a student has completed at least 4 years of one language (ie: Spanish 4, French 4, etc). *Please note: most language Listening Tests are only offered in November so be sure to plan accordingly. The language tests in May or June do not include a listening portion.

How and When to Prepare

The best way to prepare for SAT Subject Tests is by taking at least two practice tests found in books written by College Board and/or Barron’s. When I work one-on-one with students I have them take a practice test cold turkey (with no preparation) to get a baseline score. Then students study their mistakes they made on the first practice tests and do a comprehensive review of the material found in study guides before taking their second practice tests (some students benefit from more than two practice exams). The amount of time required to prepare is dependent on a couple of factors: the motivation of the student to achieve a certain score and the amount work that student must put in to increase their score to their desired level. This can take anywhere from a few hours up to a few weeks. So, give your student at least a month to prepare.

When to Register

The deadline to register for an SAT Subject Test is typically one month prior to the test date with registration usually opening 4 to 5 months prior. Please note: waiting too long may prevent you from getting your preferred test center or date.

AP Test Preparation Timeline
When to Take the Test

IF your student is taking an AP course in 10th grade then he/she could be prepared to take the AP test in May of that year.

How and When to Prepare

Some high schools teach their AP courses to prepare students for the AP test. The only way to find out if they do is to ask the teacher. Students can prepare on their own by taking at least two practice exams using AP prep books or materials provided by their teachers. Speak to your student’s teacher for recommendations on materials or books.

When to Register

Typically schools will register their AP students in September or October for the May AP tests. As always parents should confirm this ahead of time. Students may register to take AP exams without taking AP courses. If your student is home-schooled or attends a school that does not offer AP exams, you will need to contact AP Services at the College Board by March 1st and contact the AP coordinator of the location identified by March 15.

See the College Board’s AP Exam Registration page for complete information.

High School Juniors

ACT Preparation Timeline

When to Take the Test

Since the ACT math section consists of Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, students will need to complete all 3 courses before they will feel equipped to take the ACT.  If your junior will be starting Algebra 2 junior year, then I recommend the earliest ACT will be December or February of junior year (so at least a half a year of Algebra 2 is under the belt).  While some juniors might be ready for the June ACT (right after finishing sophomore year), most prefer to prepare over the summer for the early fall ACT:  September or October ACT (NOTE:  There will be a July ACT option starting in 2018.  It would be beneficial for these students to take this test if possible and follow it up with the September or October test).

When to Prepare

Typically I want to get students through 4 to 5 practice tests prior to their first real test.  The average student I see takes about 4 hours to complete a full practice test.  Normally students need to spread a full practice test out over two weeks during the school year.  During the summer they can likely complete a full test in one week.

Starting early works well for: Anxious, Forgetful, and Hard-working Test Takers. Starting too early with Reluctant Test Takers can backfire.

When to Register

The deadline to register for an ACT is typically one month prior to the test date with registration usually opening 4 to 5 months prior. Please note: waiting too long may prevent you from getting your preferred test center or date.  *If your student is applying for test accommodations you will need to add 2 to 3 months to make sure that process is complete.

SAT Preparation Timeline
When to Take the Test

Since the SAT math section consists of Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, students will need to complete all 3 courses before they will feel equipped to take the PSAT/NMSQT and/or SAT.  If your junior has completed Algebra 2 then he/she will take the PSAT/NMSQT mid-October and will be ready for an SAT in November or December.  If your student is taking Algebra 2 junior year then it would be best to wait to take his/her first SAT until 2nd semester (January or March) after completing at least a semester of Algebra 2.

When to Prepare

Typically I want to get students through 3 to 4 practice tests prior to their first real SAT.  The average student I see takes about 4 hours to complete a full practice test.  Normally students need to spread a full practice test out over two weeks during the school year.  During the summer they can likely complete a full test in one week.

Starting early works well for: Anxious, Forgetful, and Hard-working Test Takers. Starting too early with Reluctant Test Takers can backfire.

When to Register

The deadline to register for an SAT is typically one month prior to the test date with registration usually opening 4 to 5 months prior. Please note: waiting too long may prevent you from getting your preferred test center or date.  *If your student is applying for test accommodations you will need to add 2 to 3 months to make sure that process is complete.

PSAT Preparation Timeline

When to Take the TestThe PSAT/NMSQT is offered in October of junior year.  That’s it!When to PrepareMost students like to prepare over the summer when they have more time, while some like to use August and September as their preparation months.  I recommend students use the College Board SAT book to prepare (yes, SAT) and the PSAT/NMSQT booklet sent home from school.  Students hoping to achieve National Merit status will need to complete multiple practice tests in the SAT book, which can take up to 4 hours per test.  Those who just want to familiarize themselves with the PSAT/SAT should at least complete the exercises in the PSAT booklet sent home.

When to Register

Most high schools will register their students by September, but be sure to confirm this with your child’s school.

SAT Subject Test Preparation Timeline
When to Take the Test

The best time to take an SAT Subject Test is at the end of the school year (May or June) in a subject a student is strong in or is finishing that year.

For most schools this means World History and Chemistry are good ones to take sophomore year, while US History, Literature, Physics, and Math 2 could be good choices after 11th grade. For foreign languages, we don’t recommend SAT Subject tests until a student has completed at least 4 years of one language (ie: Spanish 4, French 4, etc). *Please note: most language Listening Tests are only offered in November so be sure to plan accordingly. The language tests in May or June do not include a listening portion.

How and When to Prepare

The best way to prepare for SAT Subject Tests is by taking at least two practice tests found in books written by College Board and/or Barron’s. When I work one-on-one with students I have them take a practice test cold turkey (with no preparation) to get a baseline score. Then students study their mistakes they made on the first practice tests and do a comprehensive review of the material found in study guides before taking their second practice tests (some students benefit from more than two practice exams). The amount of time required to prepare is dependent on a couple of factors: the motivation of the student to achieve a certain score and the amount work that student must put in to increase their score to their desired level. This can take anywhere from a few hours up to a few weeks. So, give your student at least a month to prepare.

When to Register

The deadline to register for an SAT Subject Test is typically one month prior to the test date with registration usually opening 4 to 5 months prior. Please note: waiting too long may prevent you from getting your preferred test center or date.

AP Test Preparation Timeline

When to Take the Test

If your student is taking an AP course in 11th grade then he/she could be prepared to take the AP test in May of that year.

How and When to Prepare

Some high schools teach their AP courses to prepare students for the AP test. The only way to find out if they do is to ask the teacher. Students can prepare on their own by taking at least two practice exams using AP prep books or materials provided by their teachers. Speak to your student’s teacher for recommendations on materials or books.

When to Register

Typically schools will register their AP students in September or October for the May AP tests. As always parents should confirm this ahead of time. Students may register to take AP exams without taking AP courses. If your student is home-schooled or attends a school that does not offer AP exams, you will need to contact AP Services at the College Board by March 1st and contact the AP coordinator of the location identified by March 15.

See the College Board’s AP Exam Registration page for complete information.

High School Seniors

ACT Preparation Timeline

Taking the ACT for the First Time

While your student can technically take the ACT for the first time in the fall of senior year, I don’t recommend it.  You are leaving little margin for error.  However, life happens.  If you find yourselves in this situation, take the September, October, and/or December ACT tests.  If your student plans to apply early to colleges, only the September (and October for some colleges) will count.  If your student is applying regular admission, then December test scores will count as well.

Retaking the ACT

Ideally I like students to complete their testing process prior to senior year.  Some find they want to take one more test in the fall for a higher Composite score or section scores for superscoring purposes.  September is a nice time to retake a test since school has not become too difficult yet.

SAT Preparation Timeline
Taking the SAT for the First Time

As with the ACT, while seniors can technically take the SAT for the first time in the fall, I don’t recommend it.  If you are in this situation, you might be pleasantly surprised to hear that College Board now offers an August SAT as well as its October, November, and December tests.  So, if your student plans to apply early to colleges, the August and October tests will count (and November for some colleges).  If your student is applying for regular admission, December test scores will count as well.  NOTE:  Many student like to take SAT Subject Tests which are offered on the same test dates as the SATs.  Make sure you plan accordingly.

Retaking the SAT

Ideally I like students to complete their testing process prior to senior year.  Some find they want to take one more test in the fall for a higher total score or section scores for superscoring purposes.  August would be a good time to retake a test since school has not become too difficult yet.

SAT Subject Test Preparation Timeline
Taking SAT Subject Tests for the First Time

Because I recommend taking the SAT Subject test after completing a course, it is best to have taken these tests at the end (May & June) of junior year.  However, because November is the only month that College Board offers the Reading and Listening Foreign Language tests, some students who are still in a language class may benefit from taking one of these tests in November.  Please note, not all colleges will accept November tests dates under their Early Action policies.

Retaking SAT Subject Tests

Ideally I like students to complete their testing process prior to senior year.  Some find they want to retake a test in the fall for a higher score while others want to take a new SAT Subject test.  August would be a good time to retake a test or take a new test since school has not become too difficult yet.  October, November, and December test dates are options too, but some schools don’t accept them under their Early Action policies.  All would be acceptable for regular admission.

AP Test Preparation Timeline

Many seniors take AP courses and should take the AP test(s) in May.  While they won’t receive scores before applying to college, they can use good scores to exempt them from taking certain entry level college courses.

Step 4 – Test Prep Methods

I always say that when it comes to the ACT and SAT, “practice makes perfect.” However, students need the proper strategies in order to make their practice effective in raising their test scores. Let’s take a look at the test preparation industry and discuss the options available to help students prepare.

Go in Cold Turkey

Cost: $0

Some students like to get a baseline score without any preparation at all. The upside is that students may find out that they are a natural test taker (not likely) and parents don’t have to manage the process. A reminder: students don’t have to send colleges every test they take, so it may not be the end of the world if they “bomb” the test. The downside is students could realize how unprepared they were and develop test day anxiety that may not have existed with preparation.

Anxious Test Takers: Should not take a test cold turkey. They don’t need to add to their anxiety.

Forgetful Test Takers: Should not take a test cold turkey. They benefit most from a lot of repetition and will develop anxiety if they are unprepared.

Reluctant Test Takers: Should consider taking a test cold turkey. Typically, they don’t care about their scores, so getting a baseline can help parents and tutors understand strengths and weaknesses. Getting them to do anything can be a challenge, so if the student is up for it, why not?

Hard-working Test Takers: Should consider taking a test cold turkey. These students tend to perform well and may need a baseline to most effectively study for the next test. Some lucky ones may even score well enough that taking another test is not required. An example is a student who scored 33 on his first ACT going in cold turkey.

Take One/Two Practice Test(s)

Cost: $20-$35 (for textbook)

One to two practice tests (in the correct book) can, at least, familiarize students with the look and format of the test. Students can also become familiar with the timing and instructions for each section, which benefits all students.

Anxious Test Takers: Will benefit from taking at least one or two practice tests. Familiarity will build confidence. However, they would benefit even more by studying the proper strategies before taking these practice tests.

Forgetful Test Takers: Will benefit for the same reasons Anxious Test Takers will. Plus, they will be more inclined to remember strategies if they put them to use right after learning them.

Reluctant Test Takers: Are not likely to open a book and take practice tests on their own. They would likely benefit from learning strategies and taking one or two practice tests, but getting them to do so on their own can be a huge challenge for parents.

Hard-working Test Takers: Will benefit from taking one or two practice tests. Hard-working test takers can often teach themselves how to increase their score(s).

Take a Group Prep Class

Cost: ~$600+

Perhaps the most widely-known technique for preparation is to join a group class (ie: Princeton Review, Kaplan, Revolution Prep, etc). The upside of using a group class is threefold: 1) Students can attend a class in-person 2) The classes are widely available in most large cities 3) Cost is essentially fixed. The downsides can be significant for some students (Anxious, Forgetful, & Reluctant test takers) and less so for others (Hard-working test takers): 1) The pace of a class can be an issue (too fast / too slow) 2) The class time/location may not be convenient 3) Many classes do not provide scores which makes it difficult to monitor improvement 4) The class is not tailored to any particular student’s weaknesses 5) Students can be more reluctant to attend multiple classes per week.

Anxious Test Takers: While they may calm down slightly from gaining familiarity with the test, they will spend a lot of their time comparing themselves to the rest of the class. This can perpetuate their anxiety. Plus, having to take multiple classes each week can be overwhelming.

Forgetful Test Takers: A group class can be effective because of the repetition…if they remember to go!

Reluctant Test Takers: Would never want to do anything they don’t like three days a week…much less take test prep classes.

Hard-working Test Takers: Would benefit from a group preparation class because they will like the structure and routine. However, the pace may not be fast enough and they may become frustrated. On the other hand, if they find a class that is too fast paced for them, they may lose confidence by comparing themselves to the rest of the class.

Use a Private Tutor

Cost: $100-$600+/hr (Professional ACT/SAT Tutor)

Some private tutors come to your home or school, while others have offices. The upsides of using a private tutor are: 1) students will get individualized assessment 2) students work at their perfect pace and 3) build strengths more efficiently and effectively. The downsides are: 1) cost 2) it can be difficult to find a quality tutor who is a good fit for a particular student 3) you sign-up with a tutor with little availability (they over-sell their time).

ACT Preparation Timeline

After reading the first three steps above and you have determined that the ACT is the best test for your student, let’s determine the best way to prepare for the ACT.

ACT Preparation Options

One-on-One Tutoring

Private ACT tutoring with Danielle Bianchi Golod is available one-on-one in Austin, TX or online via Skype or Facetime.

Who is best suited to private tutoring?
  • Students who have difficulty focusing
  • Students who are not the best self-starters
  • Students who are looking to squeeze out a few more points on their ACT
  • Students with a learning challenge or disability like ADD, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, or Dyslexia.
How much does private tutoring cost?

The short answer: $250/hr

The long answer: Working one-on-one is typically the most expensive way to prepare for the ACT.  The flip side is that students typically get more from working one-on-one with Danielle in an hour than they would using another method to prepare.  Let’s take a look at a few different scenarios to see what your total cost to prepare for the ACT using private tutoring might look like:

  1. “Starting from Scratch”:  If your son or daughter is starting from scratch, they will typically spend 4 to 5 hours working one-on-one with Danielle to prepare for an ACT test.  Students will typically continue to work with her to take the test a second time using 2 to 3 more hours before the second ACT.  Typically you can expect to spend around $1,500 to $2,000 when starting from scratch.
  2.  “One Test Veteran””:  If your son or daughter has taken the ACT once before and/or has spent some time preparing for the ACT on their own, they may only need 2 to 4 hours working directly with Danielle to prepare for their next test.  Students in this scenario are also the type to do their homework and/or are motivated to increase their ACT score without prodding from their parents.  Typically, you can expect to spend $500 to $1,ooo if your son or daughter fits this scenario.
  3. “Self-Starter” / Motivated Students:  If you are lucky enough to have a motivated or self-starter on your hands, you are in luck.  These are students that typically have been looking into best practices to prepare for the ACT online and have taken freely available courses at school and elsewhere.  Many times I get calls from parents of very motivated kids who have already taken the ACT and/or have scored fairly well.   Many times these students are looking to get a perfect 36 or close to it.  I can help students in this situation in only 1 to 2 sessions as they are typically great listeners and learners.  Students in this scenario may only spend $250 to $500, but many times spend more to try and squeeze out every last point.

How to Get Started with Private ACT Tutoring:

Each year, Danielle works with a limited number of students privately. Reserve your space now: 512-765-6760 x102 or email.

Online ACT Prep

We are putting the final touches on our online ACT Review and ACT Test Preparation courses (estimated completion by mid-August 2018).  The classes are taught by Danielle Bianchi Golod and are offered live to students who would like to interact and ask questions and in our members area, available 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.

Here is some of what will be included:

ACT Strategies

  • Great for students who have never taken the ACT or for someone who has not learned the basic ACT strategies that help students determine things like:
    • Which questions should I answer first?
    • I hate math, what should I do?
    • I can’t focus very well during long tests…do you have any tips?
  • A perfect introduction course for all ACT test takers

ACT Prep for Students with Learning Challenges

  • Designed with students who struggle with long tests like the ACT
  • Divided up into easy to digest sections over 5 days so that students can stay focused on one subject at a time.
  • Strategies to help students with focus issues

ACT Crash Course

  • For the last minute test taker
  • While you can’t prepare for anything at the last second well, we show you some items you can use to help you score as well as possible…even with no time to practice

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The SAT

We are reworking this section, please excuse us for not having all of our new information updated.

SAT Preparation Options

One-on-One Tutoring

Private SAT tutoring with Danielle Bianchi Golod is available one-on-one in Austin, TX or online via Skype or Facetime.

 

Who is best suited to private tutoring?

 

  • Students who have difficulty focusing
  • Students who are not the best self-starters
  • Students who are looking to squeeze out a few more points on their ACT
  • Students with a learning challenge or disability like ADD, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, or Dyslexia.
How much does private tutoring cost?

The short answer: $250/hr

The long answer: Working one-on-one is typically the most expensive way to prepare for the ACT. The flip side is that students typically get more from working one-on-one with Danielle in an hour than they would using another method to prepare. Let’s take a look at a few different scenarios to see what your total cost to prepare for the ACT using private tutoring might look like:

  1. “Starting from Scratch”: If your son or daughter is starting from scratch, they will typically spend 4 to 5 hours working one-on-one with Danielle to prepare for an ACT test. Students will typically continue to work with her to take the test a second time using 2 to 3 more hours before the second ACT. Typically you can expect to spend around $1,500 to $2,000 when starting from scratch.
  2. “One Test Veteran””: If your son or daughter has taken the ACT once before and/or has spent some time preparing for the ACT on their own, they may only need 2 to 4 hours working directly with Danielle to prepare for their next test. Students in this scenario are also the type to do their homework and/or are motivated to increase their ACT score without prodding from their parents. Typically, you can expect to spend $500 to $1,ooo if your son or daughter fits this scenario.
  3. “Self-Starter” / Motivated Students: If you are lucky enough to have a motivated or self-starter on your hands, you are in luck. These are students that typically have been looking into best practices to prepare for the ACT online and have taken freely available courses at school and elsewhere. Many times I get calls from parents of very motivated kids who have already taken the ACT and/or have scored fairly well. Many times these students are looking to get a perfect 36 or close to it. I can help students in this situation in only 1 to 2 sessions as they are typically great listeners and learners. Students in this scenario may only spend $250 to $500, but many times spend more to try and squeeze out every last point.

 

How to Get Started with Private SAT Tutoring:

Each year, Danielle works with a limited number of students privately. Reserve your space now: 512-765-6760 x102 or email.

Live SAT Webinars

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SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subject Test Preparation Options

One-on-One Tutoring

Live Subject Test Webinars

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The PSAT

PSAT Preparation Options

One-on-One Tutoring

Live PSAT Webinars

Parents’ Guide to Test Preparation last edited by Jason Golod on