Test Prep

Plan out Your Test Prep Timeline With These Tips

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Now that you've registered for the SAT or ACT, it's time to figure out your study plan. One important factor is to determine the timeline that will ensure you're ready for test day.

To get some insight into putting together a test prep timeline, we talked to Dr. Dave Bergman, Director of Content for College Transitions and co-author of The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.


College Confidential: What materials, study guides or online resources do you recommend for self-directed test prep?

Dr. Dave Bergman: First, invest in a test prep book that includes multiple full-length exams and thorough analysis of each question and answer choice as a reference. Take practice tests and then review them extremely carefully, primarily focusing on the questions you got wrong. Always take the test with a timer and, if possible, in one sitting to keep the experience realistic. This will get you ready to more fully take advantage of the excellent free resources now available from both test-makers. Assess where your weaknesses were on the practice tests, and then get on the exam makers’ own study platforms.  

CC: How much time do you ideally need to prepare? What is the minimum amount of time you recommend?

DB: At minimum, a student should put in enough time to take two to three full practice tests, and then engage in at least 20 hours of study ... The main factor for determining how much time you need is accurately assessing the gap between where you are and where you want to be in order to be in the SAT/ACT median range at your prospective colleges.

 CC: How can you fit this study time into your schedule during the school year, when you have homework and other activities to plan around?

DB: The time crunch during the school year is very real, and you don’t want to let test prep get in the way of maintaining excellent grades, participating in meaningful extracurricular activities and taking a moment to breathe and relax now and again. Carving out a half-hour block on Saturday and Sunday mornings during the school year can be an excellent time to engage in more focused study. This can be supplemented by more intensive study periods (which you’ll need to take practice tests) during winter, spring and summer breaks. It’s not wise to attempt an excessive amount of study during the school week unless it is a part of a school-run SAT prep class. Again, the total amount of time studying could be in the range of 30 to 40 hours, but that can be spread out over a year or more. Whatever breakdown minimizes stress and maximizes concentration for an individual student is the one to pursue.

CC: Is it better to study over the summer when you have no school obligations, especially if you're registered for a late summer or early fall test date?

DB: Yes, absolutely, but it’s important to take the test during junior year so you can zero in on your areas of relative weakness over the summer. We advise students to first register for the March, May or June administration of the SAT or the April or June testing dates for the ACT. Taking the exam as a junior allows students to engage in targeted, in-depth study over the summer prior to retaking the test in the fall of your senior year.

CC: Could it be helpful to study together with a friend or group of friends?

DB: There is actually research out there to support the idea of group study for standardized tests, but it really depends on your personality. If you are someone who needs your friends to hold you accountable to stick to your study routine, then it may be a good idea. Otherwise, we recommend primarily approaching this solo, except when you need to seek out a peer’s help on a specific topic, like math content, for example. In the past, a group study session that involved quizzing each other on the obscure vocabulary needed to master the analogies might have made sense. But today’s test requires deep reading comprehension ability that isn’t as conducive to group work.