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Test Prep: Planning for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT

By Peterson's Staff updated on Thursday, April 17, 2014

The time to prepare for the PSAT, SAT and ACT exams is now!  Learn what it takes to get organized. Pick your exam date, get registered, identify the study resources you'll need, and create a study timetable that will boost both your confidence and your test scores!

Setting a timetable is part of test prep

It's no secret that standardized exams like the PSAT, SAT, and ACT are important guideposts for the future of your education. So preparing for these exams — both intellectually and emotionally — is vital. You probably don't need more stress in your life, and cramming for these types of exams doesn't do much to improve your scores. So why not plan ahead, and create a test preparation timetable that suits your schedule?

Select a test date

The first step is determining the correct date for the exam you'll be taking — whether it's the PSAT, SAT, or ACT. The SAT is offered seven times a year: October, November, December, January, March/April, May, and June. The ACT is offered six times a year: September, October, December, February, April and June. The PSAT is offered once a year in October. Once you know the exam date, you can create a study schedule that works for you

Create a test preparation and admissions calendar

  • Make note of your test registration dates. When you enroll for a particular exam administration, you should put that date on your admissions calendar as well. Everyone should aim to take the SAT or ACT at least once by the spring of junior year.
  • Add the application deadlines for all schools you're considering. If you're thinking about applying anywhere "early decision," make sure you've included those deadlines as well.
  • Plan to attend college fairs. Using your school's website or information from the guidance counselors' office, write down any dates of college fairs or information sessions.
  • Organize your test preparation program. If you're taking a test prep class, put those dates on the calendar. If you're studying on your own, give yourself "homework" and dates by which you expect to complete each "assignment."
  • Remember your financial aid deadlines! Put every important date on your admissions calendar. To be safe, consider giving yourself internal deadlines well before the official date that an application is due.
  • Schedule dates to go see colleges. As you start to put a school list together, you should schedule visits to as many of those colleges as possible.

 

Familiarize yourself with the tests

The best way to create an effective test prep plan is to begin by looking at the individual exams. While most students will not take all of these tests, it's crucial to understand the use of each test and whether it's required at the colleges to which you're applying.

The PSAT consists of two critical reading sections, two math sections, and one multiple-choice writing section. It provides an important trial run before the SAT exam and is key in determining who receives next year's National Merit Scholarships.

The SAT is a critical determinant used by colleges to screen applicants and is a general knowledge exam assessing fundamental critical reading, math, and writing skills. There are 3 critical reading sections, 3 math sections, and 3 writing sections, one of which requires you to write an essay.

The ACT features balanced coverage of English, math, reading comprehension, and science reasoning skills. There is also an optional writing section.

A quick and easy way to familiarize yourself with the tests is to take some free practice tests, like the free practice tests for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT available here at Peterson's.

Test prep helps you develop strategy

Thousands of students take standardized exams each year.  So you're neither the first nor the last. Your greatest enemy in any exam situation is stress. So relax. Fortunately, you don't have to face your next exam challenge alone. A test preparation course can certainly give you an added advantage, but it's not the only option you have to prepare. There is a wide range of resources — both in print and online — to help you develop an effective test-taking strategy.

Find the resources that fit your learning style

Everyone learns differently.  Some people are visual learners, others learn best by memorizing lists, and still others need to see practical examples in order to understand a concept. There are a lot of guides and websites out there. So take your time, and find the one that fits the way you learn.

Prepare at a steady pace

Pace yourself. There's a lot of material to absorb, so you'll want to devote some time to each subject area. Whether you study a different subject or skill each day, or rotate between weeks of math study, reading comprehension practice, and writing preparation, you'll need to plan ahead. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and be sure to set aside enough time to devote to those areas most in need of study.

Practice is key in test prep

Whether you're studying for the PSAT, SAT, or ACT exams, successful review demands repetition. Be sure you have enough time to take several practice quizzes and tests in each subject area, especially those where you need the most help. If you're patient, and have planned well, you'll be amazed at the results!

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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