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August SAT and ACT checklist for high school juniors

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Until very recently, students did not start their college planning until spring of junior year. Now, with competition for top colleges and the costs of higher education at record highs, parents and students are focussing more intently on the process, and August of junior year is not at all early to start. By now, in fact, many juniors have already taken a summer SAT or ACT course and started to think about their long-term test strategy. Here is an August checklist for proactive college planning and test prep.

- For students with strong aural skills in French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese or Korean, register now for November SAT Subject Tests in that Language with Listening exam. These tests are only offered once a year and if your language skills are already strong, now is a great time to take that test. It doesn't hurt to take one or two other tests at the same test administration for practice; most colleges allow Score Choice, so you can retake the exams without penalty.

- Put the October PSAT on your calendar. Top students should prep for this test, as it could mean prestigious honor status or scholarship money. For everyone else, it's a wake-up call to prep for the spring SATs.

- For students aiming for the top colleges and universities which require SAT Subject Tests, now is the time to buy a copy of the College Board's Official Guide for all SAT Subject Tests. Browse the test choices and see which tests you will be best qualified to excel in this June and/or in November senior year. Not sure if your chemistry course will prepare you for the exam? Ask your teacher. As a rule of thumb, if you are doing "A" work in an Honors or AP-level course, you are probably a strong candidate for the SAT Subject Test. Take a practice test; it's only one hour long. If you can score around 600 by midterm of your course and without prep, you should be able to ace it by exam day after focussed preparation.

- Start a formal program to build your vocabulary now, especially if you plan to take the SAT, which rewards word mavens more than the ACT does. Five to ten minutes twice a day in vocab-building will yield big results over the course of the next year before your final SAT. Take advantage of Word of the Day email services and online flashcard tools such as Quizlet.com. Focus on learning words with common roots which will help you remember those words – and enable you to make smart guesses about the meaning of other words which share those roots, too. Use the dictionary function on your eReader of phone, or read any of the Kaplan SAT vocab-building novels: SAT-caliber words highlighted in the text on the right page are conveniently defined on the facing page.

- Get in the habit of perusing The New York Times for a few minutes every day. You'll build vocabulary and familiarity with current events and real issues that most test-centric school curricula are forced to leave out. A wider world-view and knowledge base is invaluable as a foundation to your SAT and ACT essays, and even more so for your eventual college application essays. Plus, you'll pick up many new words that you need on your tests which you might not otherwise encounter. Make it a point to look up at least three words you don't know each time you read. Add them to your Quizlet.com list or pocket flashcards – and study them.

- Download the free SAT and ACT prep app Play2Prep for your iphone or ipad and do five timed problems every day. Get your friends to play with you to make it fun!

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About the author: Karen Berlin Ishii, a graduate of Brown University, has 25+ years of experience as a teacher and test prep tutor. Karen teaches students in New York and internationally via Skype for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, IELTS, TOEFL and GRE, and also offers tutoring in reading, writing and math. Learn more about Karen at karenberlinishii.com.

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