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De-Stress Testing (just a little) with a Smart Test Prep Plan

When should test prep begin? There's no answer that serves every student. All students, however, would do well to take a diagnostic test at least a few months before beginning to prep. The PSAT and Pre-ACT for 10th graders can gauge test success, but taking a full-length SAT and ACT diagnostic reveals more about how a student will fare on the real test. Not sure which test to take? How much prep is needed to improve scores in one (or all) areas? Diagnostic tests help answer these questions and guide the way to a plan.

While some juniors begin test prep in the summer or early fall and are ready to take the test in the fall of junior year, more students benefit from mastering their junior year coursework, along with test prep, and testing in the winter, spring, or later. But how long should test prep take?

If there are learning gaps in test content, a student may require a several months of prep to absorb new concepts. A month of prep may be ample for high performing test takers who need to increase speed or add points in a few areas. Most students' prep needs fall somewhere in between. Practice tests are crucial for all. In addition to helping boost scores and efficiency (especially important for the ACT), repeated practice testing decreases test anxiety by allowing students to grow more comfortable and familiar with standardized test taking.

Fortunately, both the SAT and ACT are offered more times than ever before, including summer dates. Generally, students should assume they will take the test more than once. Look over the dates and register at times that do not conflict with a busy sports schedule, finals, and other commitments. Also consider if and when a student will be studying for and taking AP tests and SAT Subject tests (the latter are offered at limited times and cannot be taken the same day as the SAT). September and October of senior year test dates should not be overlooked-scores are released quickly enough for ED and EA, as well as RD, applicants. These fall and the bonus summer dates allow families to rethink a testing schedule if necessary.

There's no way to take all the anxiety out of test-taking, but most families can decrease stress by considering a test prep and testing schedule prior to, or in the early part of, junior year. Specific questions? Contact me at

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