There is clear evidence that preparing for the SAT or ACT can lead to great score increases and a higher chance of getting into colleges. So the question is not whether to prepare, but more so how long the preparation will take. Generally, the more time and effort students dedicate, the higher their test scores will be. The exact timeline varies from person to person and depends on a few factors. Here’s a roadmap for anticipating your own study time-frame.
Your Baseline Score. To determine your baseline score, which will also reveal your strengths and weaknesses, take a timed, full-length practice SAT/ACT test.
Your Score Goal. This baseline score won't mean much if you don't establish a score goal. Start by doing some research about the average test scores of students admitted to colleges you want to apply to. If you plan to apply for scholarships, find out if they have test score requirements. Then, ideally with a college counselor, assess your application strengths as a whole to arrive at a score goal.
Your Learning Style. Some people absorb and encode information or pick up new skills almost instantaneously, while others learn steadily over a longer stretch of time. Remember that we all have different strengths, (if we all had the same ones, the world would cease to function!) so try not to get down on yourself for going at your own pace. The gratifying end result will depend on your dedication, not your speed.
Assess. Look at the difference between your baseline and your goal, and then take into consideration your general learning pace.
Quantify. To help get a concrete sense your time goals, here is a general guideline for how much practice you can expect based on your initial score:
If you scored >1400s (SAT) or >30 (ACT), you will probably want to spend at least one month preparing, assuming you’ll spend at least 5-10 hours per week.
If you scored
As a general rule, studying somewhere between one and six months will probably be enough to produce significant results. That said, the skills needed for the SAT/ACT can be continually refined. The more time you spend familiarizing yourself with the test, the closer you'll get to a perfect score. For some, this can mean practicing over the span of a couple years even.
Schedule. Take a look at your schedule and note how much time you plan to devote to academics and extracurricular activities. Where in your week can you block off a chunk of time or two to devote to SAT/ACT prep? Consider whether multiple shorter sessions or one longer session is best for you. Do you get bored and distracted after an hour or do you like to study for a few hours and get into a groove?
Establishing a consistent schedule, same times and days each week, will not only help you remember when to study but also increase your chances of following through.
So let’s say you’re doing great, sticking to your weekly practice, how will you know when you are done studying? The key is to take practice tests. Not only will they build your mental endurance and familiarity with the test format, but they will show you when you’ve reached your target test score. When you have, you’re ready for the real thing!
When it comes to writing college admissions essays, some students know exactly what they…