When you attend a live concert (assuming of course that you could get tickets – hello, Swifties); or even when you watch someone give a motivational Ted Talk on YouTube, you can bet those presenters probably had a ‘realistic’ rehearsal with a sound check. You know: “Testing, testing,1, 2, 3. Am I coming in loud and clear?”
Doing so helps them prepare themselves for their big performance gig and ensures they sound just right in the particular venue. Even before that sound check test on the stage, the band you’re seeing in your hometown on their cross-Atlantic tour, or the local stand-up comedian readying himself to crack jokes took countless hours to rehearse their acts over and over again to make sure they could do their best when the red lights went on.
You’ve probably heard the adage: hard work will beat talent every time. I’m not sure this applies in every setting, but it works in most. That’s because we have learned that intentional preparation and practice performed under realistic conditions will reduce anxiety and set the stage (pun intended) for your own peak performance – whatever that may be – every time.
If you’re an athlete, you may also spend time practicing on the field before you play in the big game coming up that weekend. Personally, I have spent hours trying to improve my swing and stance on the driving range, so I feel prepared and confident in my abilities on the actual golf course (and trust me, it’s a tough blow for me when I come up short – ask my family how I react when I come home after a tough day on the tennis court or golf course).
For those of you interested in STEM, you may spend hours tinkering away with a code to make that AI bot do a certain action, or mix different chemicals in a lab to develop just the right concoction for your experiment to prove your hypothesis correct.
You get the picture, right?
I obviously believe in practice and preparation. So when my clients – especially those with 11th graders ask, “When do we start with taking the diagnostic test for SAT/ACT? When do we start test prep and take the actual test’, my knee jerk reaction is to tell them to start prepping for the SAT and ACT NOW.
However, like everything in academia, the best response requires a more nuanced, personal, and thoughtful approach. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to standardized testing strategies, and the timing of test prep. Here are a few considerations you should be mindful of as you consider your own testing goals/needs/opportunities.
One consideration is to evaluate the math courses you have completed so far. My first question I ask families who inquire about testing is “When did you take Algebra II?” For 11th graders, if you have already taken this course, feel free to take the SAT or ACT in your first semester. If you have NOT yet taken Algebra II, or you’re in 11th grade and taking it now, then wait until 2nd semester to sit for the SAT and ACT. The rationale behind this is to make sure students are prepared on test day without any surprising material that they haven’t yet covered in school.
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020 (and frankly for nearly the decade prior to that), many colleges and universities have opted for test-optional or test free policies for college admissions. Many schools have continued to relax their stance towards considering test scores as part of college admissions, and have been evaluating students based on other factors such as their grades, extracurricular activities, and their personal essays on the Common Application instead. In fact, according to Higher Ed Dive and FairTest.org, 1,835 colleges will be making SAT/ACT test score submissions optional for Fall 2023 applicants, including but not limited to the Ivy League, UNC Chapel Hill, the New England Small Colleges (NESCAC), Stanford, Rice, WashU, and even here locally in Florida at University of Miami and others.
Florida public universities such as Florida State University and University of Florida still require their applicants to submit their test scores as well. And still other schools with more rigorous academic programs, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Georgetown University require applicants to still submit their test scores since they may require more stringent mathematics programs and want to further evaluate each applicant’s performance, according to Money.com and The Washington Post.
The College Board has announced that, starting in 2024 the SAT will be fully digital, making sections of the test shorter, and decreasing the amount of time to receive test results from weeks to only days after taking the test. The changes to the soon-to-be digitized SAT will include two hours instead of three to take the test, shorter reading passages with one question per passage, and will allow students to use a calculator for the entire math section.
To all 11th graders who have already started prepping, and some who have even taken their first test – good on you. But for those 11th graders who have not (or 10th graders who are in Algebra 2), the time is most definitely NOW to investigate tutors and to begin the preparation now or right after the New Year, so that you can be prepared for either a February or March test. There are many different approaches to take when preparing for a standardized test like the SAT or ACT. At the end of the day, do what you think would make you the best candidate for the schools you’re considering.
In just about 3 weeks from now, many students in 10th and 11th grade will receive the results of their PSAT tests. Unless you are among the small percentage of 11th graders trying to qualify for national merit opportunities, the PSAT should be viewed as a practice test and absolutely nothing else. Colleges will not ask for, nor will they care about, your PSAT score. Period. Full Stop. The PSAT score report should be considered an opportunity to identify where to focus your aforementioned preparation! It also kicks off your college admissions ‘season’ in that colleges will begin marketing to you in earnest. Within weeks of receiving your PSAT score, you’ll become inundated with college brochures/emails etc. It’s important to remember that there are nearly 4000, 2-year, 4-year and vocational schools and that you shouldn’t fall in love with a school because they have a big marketing budget. It’s best to fully explore your academic interests, post-high school aspirations and your family’s budget — and then formalize an admissions strategy (and testing strategy) that considers all of these factors.