When to Prep for the SAT?

August 23, 2020

Most students don't know when to prep for the SAT and wait until they are seniors, or late in the junior year, before they start thinking about the SAT. After all, graduation and college are still a school year away. Usually, this is a BIG mistake! The SAT is far too important to put it off until later in high school. The longer students wait to start preparing, the less time they have to improve. Scoring high on this test could mean both acceptance into the perfect college and the scholarships to pay for it.

The Truth About the SAT

  • The SAT is a critical thinking exam, not a fact-based, content-intensive test. 
  • It does not require students to regurgitate what they learned in school, but rather use basic logical principles to solve various types of problems. 
  • When students attempt to tackle the SAT like a normal test, they often fail.
  • Even really smart students with high GPAs who take AP and honors classes bomb tests such as the SAT or ACT. 
  • Test-makers design these tests to trick the “Average Joe” and reward the student who has a critical eye.

Why are college entrance exams important to colleges and universities?

Colleges need a fair way to compare all students since each high school weighs and calculates their scores differently. A standardized test like an SAT levels the playing field; this makes college entrance and scholarship money accessible for any student regardless of education or socio-economic background. Since critical thinking is a necessary component for college readiness, a logic test such as the SAT measures how well students can answer questions under pressure in a short amount of time.

How long does it take to prep for the SAT?

It generally takes twenty focused hours to learn the basics of most new skills and then it takes a lot of practice to self-correct any mistakes. Test-taking is no different. Learning the recurring patterns and trick answer choices is the key to acing the test. Students get approximately one minute per question, but most of them often run out of time by approaching the test the wrong way. This results in burning up the clock. These tests can be mastered with strategies and logical shortcuts. Test-taking techniques can bring test proficiency, and practicing correctly brings mastery. Accuracy before speed because there is no instant success!

How should students start prepping for college entrance exams?

Students should start test prep by learning the standardized patterns and rules that are universally effective on every test. This can be done by learning the ins and outs of the test through discovering the mindset of the test-makers. To accomplish this, students should

  • Enroll in a prep class that emphasizes strategy over content; the program needs to teach the logic behind the questions since they are purposely misleading with appealing wrong answers. 
  • After learning the correct approach, the key for the students is to PRACTICE using real test questions. It’s one thing to have a toolbox and another to know how to use the tools. 
  • As students continue to make practicing a priority, they will be able to answer questions faster and solve problems more accurately.

When should students start to prep for the SAT?

ALL students, no later than the 9th grade, should learn how to take the SAT, mainly because of the PSAT/NMSQT. The PSAT qualifies students for scholarships during their junior year. The two tests are almost identical, so as students study for the PSAT/NMSQT, in turn they will be preparing for the SAT. Ideally, 7th graders should already have test prep on their radar, especially if they qualify for one of the talent searches such as the Duke TIP letter. The younger students tend to raise their scores the highest, receive the most money and go to the college of their choice. Starting early helps students gain test maturity and lessen the anxiety that they often encounter.

Why do students score low on the SAT?

Timing is the killer of opportunities and generally students get busier as they enter high school. Their schedules tend to fill up with more homework, sports, clubs, activities, a part-time job...and squeezing in test prep is often out of the question. This can result in low test scores and college debt since 85% of colleges admit and give money simply based on test scores; this is due to national college rankings that tie test scores directly to scholarships.

Proper practice and prep will compensate for subject skill weaknesses on the SAT.

Don’t worry if your student doesn’t have “all” the math down as a freshman. As students learn the strategies, the math will eventually come. In the meantime, they can be working on the other sections: Reading, Writing and The Essay.

It is like a marathon – no one starts out running 26 miles the first day. Runners start out slow and build up to the entire distance. In the same manner, younger students need only to spend about 30 minutes to an hour a week on these tests. Eventually they will build up to more hours and then full-length tests.

Any coach or music teacher will tell you that concentrated energy and numerous hours of practice is the only way to improve at a sport or an instrument. The same approach applies to the SAT and ACT; both are accepted by all colleges and are extremely similar in formatting, so strategies for one work on the other because of the crossover of information. Incorporating quality study patterns on a daily basis can give students the skills they need to succeed.

In conclusion...

By making the SAT a priority in middle school or early in high school, students can avoid cramming at the last minute on a test that has very little to do with the content they will learn. There’s no need to wait for a full grasp of the high school curriculum. Students can put time on their side by putting test prep on their radar sooner rather than later. It could mean the difference in their college choice and future financial debt. Reality Check: You can’t get time back.

If you’re worried about the legacy of college debt, then I invite you to watch our Free College Webinar Series. I taught my kids how to do this, and since then I have helped literally tens of thousands of students create a better future for themselves. I would love to help you!

Thank you so much!

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CPG Founder | Author

Jean Burk is the author of the award-winning College Prep Genius program and has written numerous articles about the SAT and PSAT tests, high school prep, college prep, and how to get free college. She is a Fox News Contributor and has been featured as an SAT and Educational expert on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, TXA21, CW33, WE, Forbes, UShop TV and The Homeschool Channel.

She currently travels and speaks about the importance of college preparation at conventions, book fairs, schools, libraries, etc. She has taught her revolutionary, award-winning “Master the SAT” Prep Class all over the United States, mainland China, India, Hong Kong and Thailand. Her program is now also online at www.collegeprepgenius.com . 

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