It’s no surprise that taking the ACT or SAT can be an incredibly stressful experience for a student. But planning and preparing for these exams can also be stressful for families because the time and cost involved can be astronomical if you aren’t strategic about your approach.
But, if you gather the facts, form a personalized testing plan that everyone agrees to, and then stick to that plan, testing doesn’t have to be a bank-draining, soul-sucking experience.
I love when parents and students reach out to me for guidance at the beginning of their testing journey because I love sharing the tips and tricks I’ve developed over the last decade as a test prep tutor to help save families time and money on the road to ACT & SAT success.
So I was thrilled to receive the email below this past week…
My daughter is a junior and we are just now finding out information about the ACT and SAT. She hasn’t taken either of them yet and is very much interested in going to college.
Can you please suggest what steps we should be taking to get her on the right path? Thank you for your time!
If you are in the same boat as this father, read on for a proven plan that will help your family get in and out of testing land fast! (Have a different testing question? Ask it here.)
Thank you so much for getting in touch! I can imagine how overwhelming all of this new information may be for you and your daughter. I would love to help you two come up with a great testing plan.
First things first: as a college bound junior, she can choose which test she wants to take.
Nearly every college will accept either the ACT or SAT with no stated preference. However, some more specific programs (engineering, nursing, etc.) may state a preference or requirement.
If she’s interested in enrolling in a specific program rather than general admission, she should research the programs she’s interested in to see if her testing options are limited. Otherwise, she should pick the test that seems like the best fit for her based on the guidelines in the video below.
For an overview of the exams, you can watch this short video: higherscorestestprep.com/act-vs-sat/
After deciding whether to take the ACT or SAT, it will be time to choose when to test.
You can take a look at my ACT and SAT test dates page to see what test dates might work for her in the spring.
Beyond choosing her best-fit test and deciding when to test, I also recommend the following best practices…
1. Pick and stick to one test.
While they test similar concepts, the ACT and SAT are actually quite different. I’d encourage your daughter to pick the test that is the best fit for her and then stick to that exam for at least 2 official tests.
If she’d like to take the other exam later, she certainly can, but don’t try to tackle both at once.
2. Prepare before taking an official exam.
At this stage, it’s really important that your daughter not take a test without preparation because students rarely surprise themselves in the positive with their “cold” scores.
She’ll also end up having to play a bit of a waiting game because, once the scores roll in, you’re often outside the registration window for the next exam. Taking the test cold actually can end up extending the testing season for the student — not fun!
As with most things in life, preparation is the key for success.
These are the only 2 exams students will take in high school that can pay out in thousands of dollars. Students should spend some time studying.
3. Take the official exam on back-to-back test dates.
This can be a little confusing but, essentially, testing on back-to-back test dates cuts down on the waiting game I mentioned above.
I encourage all of my students to sign up for 2 exams on back-to-back test dates.
For example, she could take the February ACT and then next-available April ACT. Or the March SAT and next-available May SAT.
Because she’ll have prepared before her first exam, this tip will help her use the lessons as close together as possible so she won’t have time to forget the tips and tricks she learned. She’ll also not fall into the waiting game for scores. If she’s prepared, she should have a pretty good sense of how she did when she walks out of the testing room and know what she needs to brush up on for the next exam.
This back-to-back test dates strategy helps cut down the student’s time stuck in testing land significantly, and that’s a big win for any student.
4. Avoid overbooking.
I recommend all juniors have scores they’re proud of by June of their junior year. She may take another exam over the summer or in the fall of her senior year, but it’s important to finalize her college list next summer with some official scores in hand.
As you plan, though, be sure to keep your daughter’s finals and any AP testing she may have in mind as you consider May and June test dates.
While test scores are important, spring semester’s grades will be the last full semester colleges will see when she applies next fall. It’s important to make sure her grades stay as strong as possible so try to avoid overlapping too much testing, if possible.
I know this is a lot of information but I hope you find it helpful. If you have any questions or would like to hop on a call to talk through a specific plan for her, please let me know! I’m here to help!
I L-O-V-E answering questions from parents and students on the road to college and sharing as many time-saving, stress-reducing tips as possible.
If you have a question about any advice in this article or a question specific to your family’s situation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I am more than happy to help you come up with a personalized plan for testing success!