Are you a high school sophomore or junior? Are all your friends studying for the SAT or ACT this summer? Has everyone around you been talking about college entrance exams but you are too overwhelmed to start your prep? Here are 5 questions you should answer to jumpstart your test prep and make sure you can hit the ground running.
1. What’s my target score?
Take a couple of days to research the schools you want to get into and figure out what their target scores are. Then look at the test dates. I would recommend allowing for at least 3 official test sittings, so cross reference your school calendar with the testing schedule and find the best times for you to take the test.
2. How much time do I have?
Be sure to look into what tests are required from your dream schools and whether or not you need to take SAT Subject Tests. You will want to factor in at least two possible sittings for those tests. Budget at least 6 months to sit for the official test at least 2 times. Plan to study 3 to 4 months before your first sitting and allow for 2 to 3 months of test prep between each subsequent sitting for the official test.
3. Have I taken a full-length test?
Even if you feel unsure or unprepared, sit for a diagnostic test sometime this week. Try to find the most realistic test setting to take this diagnostic. Have a family member, friend, or teacher proctor the test for you so you can see how you will feel on the day of an official test.
4. What are my content strengths and weaknesses?
The day after taking the diagnostic, spend at least an hour to review all your answers – both the ones you got right AND the ones you got wrong. Spend some time categorizing the types of questions you miss and look for clusters in a specific content area. Are you seeing huge gaps in your grammar knowledge? Do you know need to brush up on science passages for the ACT? Have you forgotten all the geometry you took freshman year? Use this information to set a study plan.
5. What’s my study type and what do I need to succeed?
If there is a specific content area you need to brush up on, focus on those sections first. Some people work best in short sprints and do passages throughout the day. Some appreciate a classroom setting and sign up for test prep courses. Others need one-on-one coaching for the areas they struggle with most. Whatever your study style is, make sure to include a copious amount of practice problems. (I highly recommend UWorld for the quality of questions and answer explanations.)
Remember, these standardized tests are NOT a measure of your intelligence. The key to a good score is a solid understanding of the test and a good grasp of the format. As long as you set aside time to practice AND to learn from your mistakes, you should be well on your way to your target score.
Contributor Bio: Lianne hails from the Harlingen, Texas – a town on the U.S.-Mexico border. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in Economics, she went to New York City where she taught high school math in the South Bronx and tutored students in Manhattan. She is back in Texas getting a dual MBA/Ed.D degree at TCU. This summer, she is working as a market research intern at UWorld. Lianne is passionate about education and wants to share her personal tips and experiences to make everyone more comfortable with high-stakes testing.