Preparing for College

Test Prep Timing for Juniors

Parents, there are many milestones during the college admissions process. One of the more important ones is the high school junior year, or "11th grade," as we used to call it back in my day. Although some sophomores ("10th graders") take the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test), the majority of high schoolers take it in the fall of their junior year, mainly in October.

Of course there are other standardized tests to consider prepping for: the SAT, Subject Tests, and the ACT. As the test prepper Mark Greenstein of Ivy Bound Test Prep explains, "Why winter of Junior year is often TOO LATE to start SAT Prep!" That may run counter to the popular conventional wisdom out there about gearing up for your son's or daughter's best shot at some of these critical admission qualifiers.

Let's see what else Mark has to say to Moms and Dads about this important period for high school juniors.

"This [advice] is for those who are new to the modern college admissions process (and a few who didn't learn from an early mistake). Most parents with older children recognize they should have started the process earlier. Parents whose last student started college four or more years ago might not even realize that the time-table for advantageous admissions has moved earlier.

"Since 11th grade is typically more crowded than the 10th grade, and since the transcript for 11th grade classes carries more weight than 9th and 10th grade classes, we STRONGLY urge students to relieve 11th grade pressure by carving out time for SAT study before school work gets heavy.

"Four to six weeks of tutoring in August and September means the student needs minimal SAT prep in October, November, and December. Students who did not do a chunk of their prep in June and July (our truly favorite months for ACT/SAT prep) should enlist with a tutor as soon as their summer activities subside. Starting before summer ends means students can target December for the first SAT and use January or March for the second. (For ACT takers, December should still be the target ACT, with February as the second date.)

"For students who need to build a much larger vocabulary, it is wise to get a daily word-absorption regimen before school burdens extract your time. Whether reading for pleasure, for an assignment, or for the sake of building words, almost no student is as equipped for word mastery once school gets heavy. Plus those who need a better vocabulary for the sake of doing better in their ENGLISH classes can start the year already-empowered*.

"Annotated books students give students a combination of SAT vocabulary and familiarity with classic novels. Consider buying "Breakthrough books" to begin the junior year. (This is a reduced cost option when enlisting for Ivy Bound's SAT or ACT prep).

"A second semester start (Jan or Feb) to SAT/ACT prep is rarely opportune. Those students will target the May and June SATs (or April and June ACTs). But spring is the worst time to take SATs, especially if a student needs to take SAT Subject Tests. Remember, spring is typically crowded with: APs, finals, banquets, and proms. It might be compounded by: athletics, clubs, college visits, driver ed, and “spring fever." A spring SAT means that if things don't go well, the student waits a whole summer to try to rectify it (the next SAT will not be until October).

". . . we have on many occasions heard from parents 'we started the process too late.' We have NEVER heard a parent say 'we started too early.' "


Sound advice from someone in the know about test prep timing. So, tell your prospective college students to sharpen both their wits and their #2 pencils!


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