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How to develop a study timeline for the SAT/ACT


After sitting for a standardized test, certain students wish they had studied more. Others feel as though they studied too much and placed unnecessary stress upon themselves. How, then, do you – the test-taker – decide upon the most efficient balance?

Identify application deadlines
Many colleges and universities utilize hard deadlines, but some schools offer rolling admissions. These institutions begin screening applications on a select date and continue until all seats in the incoming class are full. Typically, competition increases as time passes, and it is thus best to submit your package as soon as possible.

Allow one to two months to complete application materials other than your standardized exam (admissions essay, letters of recommendation, resume, etc.).

Consider when test scores are distributed
This information is available on each standardized test’s website. Ensure your exam date enables your scores to reach each college before its deadline.

Determine how many times you wish to complete the test
With both the ACT and SAT, it is possible to complete the exam multiple times. Certain schools will thus consider your best score only, while others may combine sections from more than one test. Typically, most students take the ACT and the SAT once during their junior year and once during their senior year. Research the dates available for each exam.

Finish a full-length practice exam
This step will inform the length of your prep plan. Should you need to significantly improve your score, consider the following arrangement:

Months one and two
Research test-specific questions and strategies. Work through a guidebook or an online resource, completing practice problems as you do. Once you feel more comfortable with the exam content, complete a second practice test.

Month three
If your improvement was marginal, consider seeking professional help with a tutor. Explain your difficulties thus far, as well as your target score, and pursue a personalized study plan.

Focus on your weakest areas and be as specific as possible. It is not sufficient to simply review math; instead, address percentage or statistics questions. Flag problematic questions as you encounter them – even if you answered them correctly.

Month four and on
Sit for a third full-length practice exam. Continue to master your weak areas, but note that it is important to review all question types to refine your overall skills. By now, you should be familiar with test content. Devote the majority of your study time to practicing individual questions.

Discover what works for you
Everyone learns differently – and at a unique speed. Always adjust your review to reflect your needs and preferences.

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