When should my student take his/her first ACT (or SAT)?
Determining when to take a first ACT (or SAT) will likely depend on two key factors: scheduling and preparing. Because many students prep for the test during the summer before their junior year, I typically recommend that those students take their first ACT in September or October of junior year. The reason for that is simple: test prep has a shelf life, and so if a student is to invest his or her time and energy to do some prep, and if a parent is to make the investment to support the student, then the student should put that prep to work and take the September or October test.
The goal of summer prep is to give the student a thorough introduction to the ACT (or SAT) and to give them plenty of practice dealing with the frequently tested concepts, critical test-taking techniques and time management strategies essential to success. By taking advantage of Breakaway’s weekend practice tests, students and parents can measure the progress a student makes and get very accurate indications of how the student will score on a real ACT. By the end of the summer, having completed a rigorous program of prep, the student should be in a much stronger position to take his or her first test and realize an improvement over their initial practice test score.
Scores from the ACT (and SAT) are delivered amazingly quickly these days. For example, students who took the June 10th ACT just a couple of weeks ago, have already begun to receive their scores just 10 days later. Thus, students who take the September 9 ACT will likely be in receipt of their scores 10-14 days after completing the exam. A good next step in the process would be to circle back with one of Breakaway’s directors or with me to discuss the student’s results, the improvement that he or she realized, and to prepare a plan, as needed, for subsequent testing throughout the student’s junior year.
Please note that the ACT will debut a summer test date in 2018. For the first time, students will be able to take an ACT in July, which is something students and parents have clamored for over the years. The SAT is debuting a summer test in August of this year.
Also, please note that all Minnesota public high schools now require their students to complete a real ACT test, typically either at the end of February (Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools) or in the middle of April (suburban high schools). As such, if your student attends a public high school, he or she will take the test again on one of those dates.
Here are a few helpful hints about when to test and how to prepare for the ACT (or SAT):
- Your student will have lots of options to prepare for the tests: books, classes, tutoring, or various online programs
- Like with any test, we believe that preparation helps. If you and your student plan to do preparation, you should consider the student’s schedule (athletics or extracurriculars during the school year; an intense academic load during the all-important junior year; flexibility and availability during the summer) and plan accordingly
- Always start with a practice test. Breakaway offers practice tests nearly every weekend of the year, and your student is welcome to attend any of them.
- Think twice about sending your student into a real ACT cold, i.e., without preparation. You probably wouldn’t send your student into a Calculus test cold, so why should you with a high-stakes test like the ACT? Know that a practice test with Breakaway will give you the same information and subject your student to the same testing conditions as a real ACT, but the scores are only reported to you and your student.
- It is important that the student be ready to commit to the work that needs to be done. A prep program with Breakaway is intensive and rigorous because the ACT (and SAT) is a college-level, challenging exam. A typical program of private instruction during the summer is 6-8 weeks long, and we typically assign two hours of homework per lesson. We also recommend monthly practice tests while prepping with us. All in, the commitment a student needs to make when doing private instruction is between 50-60 hours of work.
- Over the course of junior year and early senior year, most students will take the test three times. I always recommend that when a student does summer prep, that he or she takes one of the fall tests. Once results come back, we can discuss if and when additional testing is necessary. Taking a late winter (February) or spring (April or June) ACT along with the September ACT in the student’s senior year is a typical testing path.
- When planning to do a second (or third) ACT, it is important to prepare for that exam as well. While a student can record an improvement by simply taking the test again, it is far more likely that with some additional, focused prep and a practice test or two, a student can be in a strong position to drive another improvement.
- That said, every student is unique, and what works for one student may not for another.
- Though summer is a popular time to prep, most students will and should do some work during the school year to prepare for subsequent administrations of their test.
- As a family, you should discuss the tests, the timing of the tests and how to prepare. You should also include your college counselor to get their input on the timing and frequency of testing.
- This is a highly individualized process, and each student will have a different path forward.
To learn more about ACT vs. SAT for your student, please click here.