Test Prep

Check These Test Prep Strategies If You've Been out of HS for a While


Not every student heads to college directly after high school -- some people work or take a gap year before deciding it's time to begin the journey toward a bachelor's degree. For many aspiring collegians, that means taking (or in some cases, retaking) the SAT or ACT. If you're feeling like your skills could use a tune-up, consider the following tips.

1. Be Sure You Need to Take the Test

If you took the SAT or ACT in high school, it's possible that colleges will accept those scores, but you'll want to check with your goal schools before deciding. Your scores are technically valid for at least five years, but some universities may require newer scores.

In addition, certain colleges waive testing entirely for older students, preferring to see what you've been up to in the past few years rather than relying on standardized tests to evaluate you.

Maria Laskaris, a senior private counselor at Top Tier Admissions and former dean of admissions at Dartmouth, points out that a student who goes into the military right after high school and then decides to apply to college after four years will have "more pertinent information in the form of letters of recommendation from commanding officers and certificates from any on-the-job training they undertook. These things will be important aspects of their candidacy today – much more than the SAT or ACT from high school four years ago."

2. Register Early

Aim to take the SAT or ACT at least by August or September to have your scores in before the early application deadline. If you are applying under regular decision, you can also take the test in October, November or December. Signing up for a date that's far in advance of college application deadlines is a smart idea for several reasons:

  • Gives you more time to take practice tests and focus your study strategy accordingly;
  • Offers a better chance of securing the test center of your choice;
  • Allows you time to retake the test once more if necessary.

3. Jump Right in

Start with a free practice test to reassess your strengths and weaknesses. Or you could also analyze the score report of your best results from the last time you took the SAT or ACT in high school. If your budget allows, work with a test prep tutor or sign up for a test prep class to help you focus on those areas of weakness. Because math skills are a big part of the SAT and ACT, you may also need a refresher on math concepts that you haven't used in a few years.

4. Think Big Picture

It might not be easy to feel motivated about studying for a test that has concepts you learned several years ago. That's why it's important to keep the big picture in mind. "Think about the bigger goals: Why do you want to go to college? What kind of college do you hope to attend? Look at published mean and median SAT and ACT scores for the schools on your list. You need to be realistic. A student with scores well below a school's published means and medians has very little chance of admission," Laskaris says.

5. Consider Study Buddies

If you're working a full time job, you already know that your only free time to study is either after work or on weekends. If you don't have any energy left to study after a day on the job, dedicate your weekends to test prep.

In case you have any friends in similar circumstances who are also prepping to apply to college, join forces and motivate each other with scheduled study sessions. If you're on your own, do your studying in a local college library or in the study area of a community library so you can surround yourself with others who are also concentrated on getting some real work done.

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