Test Prep

Q&A: I Can't Balance School, Test Prep -- Should I Skip the Retake?

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Your senior year of high school is here, and it already seems like there's not enough time to study, fit in extracurriculars AND prepare for ACT/SAT retakes. How do you squeeze in test prep with everything else you have to do? And what if you can't? Should you just use your SAT or ACT scores from junior year, regardless of what they were? To get some insight into this tricky issue, we spoke with Mimi Doe, co-founder of TopTierAdmissions.com.


College Confidential: ​If a senior feels there's truly no time for test prep, is it okay to simply submit test scores from 11th grade and not retake the SAT or ACT in hopes of a better score? 

Mimi Doe: It depends on the scores. All of our students are done with testing by August before senior year so they can leverage a strategy where their odds to receive Early Decision go way up. But there is no harm in taking a test again as often the prep "sinks in," even if you did the prep a few months prior. Familiarity with the test often helps.

CC: What advice do you have for a high school senior who believes he/she can't balance schoolwork and test prep? 

MD: Depends on the timing, meaning if this is a high school senior, then there was probably plenty of time to prep all summer for the September ACT or the October SAT. It also depends on which tests we are talking about. Is this senior prepping for October SAT Subject Tests? These are one-hour multiple choice tests, and there are plenty of practice tests available for each subject. A student typically takes these the spring after they have taken the appropriate class in school – for example, US History, World History or Physics.

If the student is in a younger grade, I would urge him/her to prep all year for spring AP and SAT Subject Tests, putting aside time each week to review right along with classwork. And, for a sophomore, I would say start NOW to think about which is your stronger test, the ACT or SAT, and prep the summer before junior year for that test. If you organize yourself well in advance of any standardized test, there is time in a typical high school student's schedule to prep for tests, and do well in your coursework.

CC: What are three or four ways to find that balance?

MD: I wrote a book years ago called Busy but Balanced, and while it's for parents, much of it is appropriate for high school students. Balance means focusing on what matters and then building structure around that. So, for instance, having a super organized way to approach school work with a planner (paper is still my favorite) and then scheduling out for extras that matter. A student who is taking four AP classes, plays a sport, plus runs a history club at school, and volunteers at a local museum will need to block out her responsibilities – perhaps every Sunday night she can sit down and fine tune her schedule. Balance might mean setting aside a half hour a day to do reading for the fun of it, or to check Instagram and favorite tweets. Craziness comes when, in the middle of studying for a US History quiz, you check Instagram or decide write an email about a physics conference you hope to attend. Do what you are doing fully, then give yourself a mini break. To sum up, the top few things to find balance in high school would be:

  • Organize and keep a clear daily/weekly/monthly planner
  • Focus fully on one thing at a time, instead of multi-tasking
  • Identify what relaxes you and is a fun, joyful thing in your life, and schedule that into your week