Virtually everyone plans far in advance for family vacations, but not as many families understand the importance of implementing a test-taking plan that optimizes test scores and helps remove the stress usually associated with the process. The truth is that in today’s more competitive academic environment, establishing a test-taking plan of action is no longer optional—it is essential. The rewards of test planning are numerous: less stress, higher test scores, higher superscores, additional admission data points, improved college options, higher merit-based scholarships, and improved admission index for athletes and artists. Use the following five steps to establish your test-taking plan.
Step One: Identify Your Best Tests and Set Personal Target Scores
Every college in America accepts either the ACT or SAT without preference. Further, both tests now offer optional score reporting, which means that you have complete control over which scores are sent to colleges. Traditionally, SAT has been more popular on the coasts and overseas, while ACT has been more popular in the central states. However, a shift in thinking within college admission offices now leaves you with two very viable options.
Option one is to take both the ACT and SAT. Taking and acing both the ACT and SAT can give you a significant competitive advantage in admission by providing colleges with more data points on your application. This is only recommended if you are applying to the most competitive colleges.
Option two is to determine which of the two tests, SAT or ACT, best aligns with your test-taking skills, and focus on that one. In general, ACT favors faster readers and literal thinkers, while SAT favors process-oriented analytical thinkers. Students who read slowly or who have a low tolerance for science might want to avoid the ACT. Please note that these are merely generalizations and should not substitute for a more objective determination of test aptitude.
On a regular basis, The Chyten Center, located in Newton, Massachusetts, offers the Official ACT vs. SAT Comparison Test to help you identify the test most closely aligned with your natural skill set (see schedule above). Either way, plan your test-taking schedule well in advance, allowing ample time to determine which tests you will take, when you will take them, and how you will prepare. Plan to take either test three times. You are allowed to take tests as often as you want, but three times is sufficient for most students. As for a target score, highly competitive colleges expect ACT scores over 30 and SAT scores over 1400. For the most competitive colleges, scores should be even higher. It is possible to boost your scores significantly with practice and assistance from a skillful and highly knowledgeable tutor who can provide regular strategic guidance along the way.
Step Two: Identify Key Dates to Take Tests and “Actual Conditions” Practice Tests. (See schedule above)
Step Three: Prepare “Strategically” for Tests
Both the ACT and SAT are strategically conceived and designed exams that require a deep understanding of both test design and problem solving. Unfortunately, most independent tutors do not provide strategic preparation methods, relying instead on repetitive “drill-and-kill” sessions. Done correctly, preparation for the ACT or SAT takes anywhere from two to six months. Depending on your goals, as few as 12 weekly sessions may be sufficient. For those seeking greater gains 4+ points on ACT and 150+ points on SAT), 24-36 hours of test prep is recommended. For those who need additional instruction or remediation in English, grammar, math, or reading, more time may be required. Also consider taking SAT Subject Tests as they can help tip the admission scales in your favor. Preparation for each SAT Subject Test takes between 8 and 12 tutoring hours.
Step Four: Adjust Your Test-Taking Plan
Once you retrieve your SAT or ACT scores, decide whether or not you will take the test again. If you decide to do so, identify the next logical date and register on time. It is not unusual for students to take an exam three times, or in some cases, four. This will not reflect negatively on you in any way. You control which scores colleges can see. Consider getting additional test preparation help between tests, as you may experience a drop off in your score if you do not. Preparation should focus on the sections on which you scored lowest.
For SAT, your goal is to build the highest superscore. Your superscore is the composite of the highest SAT math and SAT writing/language scores over all exams taken. This combined score is what is considered in admission for the vast majority of US colleges. This is one of the major reasons that you should take tests early and often. As for ACT, your goal is to have the highest single-day sitting. Some colleges do superscore the ACT as well, so check each college’s website, or call Chyten at 800-428-8378 (TEST) for more information.
Step Five: Plan Summer Activities
Summer is an important time to boost your college admission index; you should plan summer activities accordingly. For example, you should be visiting colleges, getting involved with your community, becoming involved with charities, boosting your skills in a particular area (camps for athletes, artists, math competitions, etc.) or engaging in other sorts of activities that will be included in the activities section of your college applications. Above all else, you should be preparing for standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests. 2017 marks first time ever that there will be an SAT given in the summer. The SAT test date is August 26. This is the best possible time for you to take the SAT, as it allows for methodical preparation over the summer months, when there is far less pressure on you to complete homework assignments.
By starting early and planning out your test-taking strategy, you will feel far less pressure and are far more likely to have test scores that represent your best work.