For most high school students, junior year is a crucial juncture. It’s during the eleventh grade that most students will experience their most challenging schedule and coursework to date. What’s more, kicking off the second half of high school means beginning the march into the college admissions process.
Or at least that’s how it should be.
Too often, juniors see college as an abstraction, lying somewhere in the future and not an immediate concern. But in treating college goals as something to consider tomorrow, students set themselves up to experience undue pressure and stress during the admissions process.
One way to stave off anxiety and the admissions crunch is to put together what we call a Standardized Test Taking Timeline. This is exactly what it sounds like: a schedule that details which standardized test(s) students plan to take (SAT? ACT? SAT Subject Tests?), the dates on which they plan to take them, and their prep timelines leading up to the chosen exams.
Creating your Standardized Test Taking Timeline should take no more than 15-30 minutes. To do so, sit down with a calendar and follow these steps, and you’ll be much better prepared to jump a major hurdle in the college admissions process.
1. Pick a test and a goal testing date. If you’re not sure which test is better for you, you should first take a series of diagnostic exams to gauge your strengths and weakness, and then consult with an experienced professional who can help you interpret your results and direct you toward the SAT or ACT. Free, official exams are available online at their respective test maker’s websites. You can also take diagnostic exams through a prep organization. Once you know which test you’ll take, consult the appropriate test date calendar––available online at the College Board (SAT) or ACT (ACT) website––and select your desired first test date. Keep in mind that putting the SAT or ACT off to the end of the school year will create a possible collision with finals, AP/IB exams, SAT Subject tests, end-of-year athletic playoffs, and more.
2. Establish an appropriate prep timeline. Many factors contribute to the definition of “appropriate” here. What’s your realistic goal score? How much improvement over your diagnostic score does that represent? How much work do you estimate you’ll need to do to achieve that increase? While there are many questions, a good point of reference is that your test prep––whether through self-study, in-person or online courses, or tutoring––should begin around three months before your first exam. At Method Test Prep, we find that for most students, this leaves ample time for both broad and focused test prep. Work your way backwards from your test date and determine the date to start prepping. In addition, you should plan to take at least a few full-length practice exams to sharpen your skills and develop stamina. Finally, pick at least one test date for a second try. Most students fare better their second time, so unless you hit your goal score on your first try, plan to take the SAT or ACT at least once more.
3. Designate specific, consistent times for prep. The struggle against procrastination is real––most students have many other things they’d rather be doing than test prep. This is why it’s important to carve out a block (or blocks) of time every week that you know will be dedicated to SAT or ACT prep. Schedules change and priorities get shuffled, but if you’re serious about improving your scores, make sure to choose time for prep and do your best to stick with it.
Students’ SAT or ACT scores constitute one of several key facets within their college application profiles. While the tests’ importance will always imbue them with a certain level of consternation, minimizing extra stress is as easy as a little forethought. Juniors: get planning today, and your journey to college admissions will run much more smoothly.
Evan Wessler –– Vice President, Education –– Method Test Prep