What is the best time to start preparing for SAT/ACT and essays?

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    Lisa Buchwalter
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Lisa Buchwalter Answered a year ago

We usually suggest that SAT/ACT prep begin at the beginning of the junior year. There are tests available to determine whether the SAT or ACT is the best test for you, and if one is clearly preferred, then you will not have to split your time between the two tests. You can maximize your results by first determining which test is best for you, and then concentrating on that one test. Test scores generally get stronger the older you get, and so there is no reason to begin to test too early. Consider taking your first test in the spring of your junior year, and then you will have many chances to retest if necessary. We do not suggest testing more than 4 times, as scores rarely go up after that many attempts. So prepare well and take your practice tests before sitting for your first test.


Check carefully whether your colleges require the writing portion of the ACT and SAT. We recommend that you take it just in case. Also check whether or not your colleges require the SAT Subject Tests. There are practice tests available online on the College Board site. It’s a good idea to figure out first of all which ones you need to take, and then look carefully for when they are offered. Foreign language Subject Tests, for example, are only given once a year.


You should start your essays after the end of your junior year, in the summer. The essay prompts for the Common App have not changed this year, and can be found on the Common Application site at www.commonapp.org. In addition to your main common app essay, which is a maximum of 650 words, you may need to answer supplementary questions for each college. These supplemental questions appear at different times during the summer and throughout the fall.


Make sure you leave enough time to write, revise and proof all of your essays, not just your main essay. The supplements are just as important as your common app essay.

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