Saying hello to the spring semester doesn’t just mean back-to-school festivities and the start of a new semester. Usually, high schools all around the country are encouraging their students to start applying for upcoming SAT and ACT test dates. This may seem intimidating at first, but with proper planning and an organized test prep schedule, nothing can stand in your way.
Here is a breakdown of how you can build your test prep schedule over the course of the spring semester in order to help you prepare for both of these tests.
Scheduling for the SAT
The SAT is a subject-focused test, and the best way to start studying is by focusing on one subject at a time. In short, there are three major portions on the SAT. (More details about the specific sections on the newly updated SAT and what each subject entails can be found here.)
Since you have about 2-3 months to study for the SAT from the start of the normal spring semester, it may help to focus on establishing a study schedule spanning 9-12 weeks.
For the first three weeks, focus on polishing your skills for the Reading & Writing portion. Whether you are using test prep books or online resources, practice reading various passages, and find comfort in easily noting important information while reading. For the second set of three weeks, focus on Mathematics. Practice your math skills and polish your knowledge of various formulas and mathematical concepts that are covered on the SAT. Remember to always think practical and to brush up on your knowledge when you are both right and wrong.
After studying hard, don’t be afraid to give yourself a week or so to take a much needed brain break. With anywhere from 2-5 weeks left, focus on preparing for the essay portion and spend the last few weeks reinforcing your most important skills and knowledge. Following this schedule will be sure to leave you on the path to success.
Scheduling for the ACT
Unlike the SAT, the ACT consists of five major testing sections. This leaves room for even more block scheduling and can limit your time spent studying if not planned right. But have no fear, this schedule will have you prepping like an ACT Prep ace in no time!
With about 9-12 weeks to study for the big test day, spending two weeks on each portion will help you study the best. Do keep in mind that the writing section is optional! Your writing skills are also something you can practice throughout the duration of your total study time. By doing this, you can add two weeks to your schedule and have anywhere from 1-4 weeks to review for the other test sections before test day.
Two-for-one: taking the SAT and ACT
Are you a test-taking mogul about to attack both tests in the same semester?! If so, no worries! If planned right, you can study for both tests at the same time. Don’t expect that it will be easy, but also don’t fret. Luckily for you, both tests do cover some similar material. On the ACT, there is an added Science and English Grammar section that can be easily covered by following this schedule.
For the first two weeks, study for the ACT Science Section. For the second two weeks, focus on the ACT Grammar section. By doing this, you have covered the two sections exclusive to the ACT.
After studying for these sections, you can then spend three weeks each on Mathematics and Reading/Language. If you want to make sure you are preparing for each of the tests properly, break these three-week study sessions into two week-and-a-half sessions in order to spend some time studying the same material by each tests’ standards.
By doing all of this, you are covering all your bases in 10 weeks time. If you can manage, spend the last week or so polishing your writing skills and you are good to go.
What’s next? Well now that you’ve planned your test time, you can now plan your prep time. Here’s a simple guide to doing just that:
Step 1: count how many weeks you have
Let’s say today is January 22, and pretend that I’m going to take the ACT or SAT on April 8. I’m also going to pretend I’m lazy and pop these dates into a handy online date calculator. The calculator tells me I’ve got 76 days, which I’ll divide by 7 to get the number of weeks: 76 divided by 7 is 10.857, so I’ll round up. Okay, that means I’ve got 11 weeks to prep.
Step 2: count how many hours you’ll prep per week
Let’s say that during the week, I’m busy with school and homework and band practice and stuff, so I can only spare one hour a day, three days a week. Some people choose to take Saturdays or Sundays off to catch up on TV shows or spend time with friends. Just try not to take off both days as you’ll miss out on valuable time you don’t get during the week.
My personal off day is Saturday, and I prep two hours on Sunday. So that’s 3 + 2 = 5 hours per week of prep. It might not seem like a lot, but consistency really adds up over time and will allow your brain to adequately process the information.
Step 3: check whether you have enough time
First, multiply the numbers you got in Steps 1 and 2. I’ve got 11 weeks to study and 5 hours per week, so my total will be 11 × 5 = 55 hours of prep. How do I decide if that’s enough?
One quick method is to count how many practice tests you want to take. Each test takes about 3 hours to take (if you skip the essay) and about 6 hours to review. Remember, you should review every problem, right or wrong, that you ever take. You learn nothing by doing questions; you learn by reinforcing your correct behaviors and by finding and fixing your mistakes. That happens in review, which is why it takes twice as long to properly review a question as it does to answer it in the first place.
So now we’re looking at 9 hours per practice test (3 + 6). If I want to take five practice tests before my ACT or SAT, I’ll need 9 × 5 = 45 hours just to take the tests. Hmm, that leaves me only 55 – 45 = 10 hours for all my other prep, which seems awfully light.
If you’re happy with your total prep time, move on to Step 4. If not, make an adjustment right here. Either cut back on your prep time (not advised!), push back your test date, or commit to more prep time per week. In this imaginary scenario, I might decide to add an hour of ACT or SAT prep on Saturdays. That one extra hour a week yields an extra 11 prep hours over my 11 weeks, putting me at 21 additional prep hours above my testing time—much better!
Notice how important planning is. If I hadn’t counted my time, I would have sold my ACT or SAT test prep short. And notice, too, how it easy it was to course-correct because I did plan my prep.
Step 4: make a calendar and treat your prep like class
In my made-up example, I’m going to prep 1 hour each on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and 2 hours on Sunday. I’ll put that in my calendar for the next 11 weeks. That’s the easy part.
The hard part is committing once the prep is in your calendar, and that requires you to treat your test preparation just like you would treat a class, an important social event, or a school extracurricular activity you’re committed to. It may be tempting to skip test prep if a cool new show pops up on Netflix or your friends invite you out.
Just ask yourself: would you skip English class to play a video game? Would you skip basketball practice to go to a movie? Imagine that your prep is no different than any other scheduled activity, and you’ll have a much easier time committing to it as the weeks go by.
Step 5: prepare to see the fruits of your prep
Prep like a boss, and get an awesome test score. If you’re not testing soon, bookmark this page and come back to it when you do begin to prep. A teeny bit of arithmetic and planning up front can help you feel a lot less stressed about your upcoming prep time.
To get a head start before your test prep course starts, check out our free SAT and ACT resources, events, and practice tests.
Summer break is a great (and fun) way to build the experience section on your resume. College admissions officers want to see “meaningful” activities which demonstrate leadership abilities, community service, and/or practical experience in your chosen area of study.
By following the three tips below, you’ll set yourself up for success while still enjoying your summer:
Explore future careers
Use the extra time you have this summer to explore things that you may pursue in college and beyond. Admissions committees have growing interests in each applicants’ full profile, not just their test scores. Pursuing extracurriculars relevant to your future major or career rounds out your application. Even more, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what you want to study and why.
For example, if you’re pre-med, you can volunteer at a hospital or shadow local physicians. Pre-vet students can pick up summer jobs at a local zoo. If you’re undecided on a major or career path, check out summer reading programs at the local library—you’ll rack up volunteer hours and be exposed to many different paths. Be creative!
Follow personal interests
Don’t limit yourself to pre-professional activities. College admissions officers also want to see well-rounded individuals who pursue excellence in their hobbies. For example, if you’re passionate about a specific cause, try volunteering with a local branch, or even organize your own fundraiser. Take time to practice your favorite sport or instrument. Focus on the quality, not the quantity, of activities. It’s better to do a few things well than many things at a lower proficiency.
Don’t forget to have fun!
It’s easy for the stress of upcoming college applications put a damper on your summer. When you’re doing things that you genuinely enjoy, developing yourself doesn’t feel like work. While it probably feels like your to-do list is a mile long, you have plenty of time to reach your goals.
Remember, a little every day goes a long way. Make memories, take trips, and enjoy your summer. Any time you invest in the present is an investment in the future.