April 23, 2019

When Should I Start Studying for the ACT/SAT?

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How long does it take to study for the ACT or SAT?  It's an important question, as studying too long before the test will make it hard for you to remember important information you haven't recently reviewed, while studying too little before the test won't give you time to work on important skills that will impact your score.

There really is no "one size fits all" answer to the question because some students need or want more study time than others.  Read on to learn how to make a good study plan that will enable you to master the information and skills needed to earn a high score on the test of your choice.

Is It the First Time?

You can take the SAT or ACT more than once and then combine your best subscores together to create a "superscore" that will increase your chances of getting into your preferred college or university.  If you've previously taken the ACT or SAT and are fairly happy with your score, but still think there is room for improvement, then studying for a month or two before taking the test again should be sufficient.  However, students who’ve gotten low scores after taking the ACT or SAT the first time may want to spend up to six months studying before taking the test again.

Most students taking the ACT or SAT for the very first time should start studying about three months in advance.  However, you may need more study time if you have difficulty with reading comprehension or advanced math.  Bear in mind that this study time is time spent studying specifically for the test of your choice.  Ideally, you should start focusing on the fundamental skills needed to pass the ACT or SAT about two years before you take either one of these tests.  These fundamental skills include reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, geometry, algebra, and trigonometry. 

How Are You Breaking It Down?

The truly important question is not how many months you study before taking the test but how much time you study each day before taking the test. 

Fortunately, most experts note that you don't need to study for long hours every day in order to earn a good score on either test. In fact, studying for small amounts of time each and every day is usually the best option.  A half-hour of study each day is usually sufficient and, if you like, you can break this into two separate sessions. 

Choose a study time or times that work well with your schedule and stick to them.  Set yourself up for success by having all the items you need for your study time prepared in advance so that you don't waste time looking for pencils, paper, a calculator, or other supplies.  Turn off your phone, get rid of distractions, and focus solely on your studies. 

Getting Started

Make your study time count by knowing how and what to study.  Naturally, your first step should be filling out a few ACT or SAT practice tests so that you can clearly see what your strong and weak areas are.  Don't pay much attention to your strengths, but do pay ample attention to any weak areas you see in yourself.  Review information you need to learn, study subjects you don't understand so well, and practice using a timer to ensure that you aren't spending too long answering the test questions.  It's also wise to buy the calculator you'll use for the test ahead of time and use it when doing ACT or SAT practice questions.  Doing so can help you answer math questions faster on the big day.

In Summary

Generally speaking, most first-time ACT and SAT test-takers should start studying for these exams about three months before the big day.  However, students who have a hard time grasping certain skills and/or weren't previously able to earn a good score should study up to six months in advance. 

All students should set aside a little quality time each and every day to study important skills.  Start by taking a few practice exams to identify weak areas you need to work on.  Next, get to work reviewing information that you need to know in order to earn a good score.  There are a number of effective ways to study for the ACT or SAT, so try a few methods to see which ones work best for you.  With time, hard work, and perseverance, you can reach your test score goals and use them to make your educational dreams come true.


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