Don't Let A Weak SAT/ACT Foundation Send You Flying.
I was almost afraid to watch.
It was a gray September day in Southbury, CT, and my friend Brian and I were at our high school's freshman football practice. The field was slick and muddy. I weighed about 135 lbs. back then, and Brian was even skinnier. Neither of us had played the sport before, but we somehow had decided it would be a good idea to try out for the team. As I watched, he braced for impact as the team's star running back charged at him for a blocking drill.
Brian flew backwards several feet, and then hit the ground and slid a few more. Painful, not to mention embarrassing. Needless to say, our dreams of becoming football stars didn't come true. If we had played Pop Warner football in middle school, worked out more, and added, say, 30 to 40 lbs. of muscle each, we would have had a fighting chance. But without that kind of foundation, no matter how much Brian practiced that drill, he would have still went flying every single time.
If you're a freshman (or a sophomore), the SAT and the ACT are the star running backs. They're big. They're muscle-bound. They already have chest hair and can grow a mustache.
If you wait until junior year to start getting ready for these tests, you're giving yourself plenty of time to learn about how the tests are written. You're giving yourself plenty of time to practice.
What you're NOT giving yourself much time for is foundation building. Reading all kinds of different things beyond what you're required to do in school. Getting top grades in your math classes and studying ahead. If you come into junior year with rock-solid reading and math skills, SAT and ACT prep will be way easier. Just like football practice would have been easier for Brian and me if we'd prepared a lot more beforehand.
When high schools tell you to wait until spring of junior year to take the SAT or ACT, they're making the assumption that their curricula actually build the foundational skills I'm talking about. But for some students, they don't. Students can often easily get A's in school but have fundamental weaknesses in reading and math ability.
So, the sooner you start working on foundational skill, the better. Here are a couple of specific tips:
- Read, but choose things you legitimately enjoy. Don't like reading? You just haven't found the right books yet. Experiment and explore. Go into a bookstore and ask for a recommendation. Grab a random magazine. Change things up.
- Watch Khan Academy videos for the math subjects you're studying. They'll give you deeper understanding, which makes everything you do in class go more smoothly. Find some math challenge problems and figure them out. Deciding to master math subjects is much more powerful than doing just enough to get an A.
What you don't need to worry about yet is taking practice tests, reading SAT / ACT books, or working with a tutor like me. I'd rather have you focus on kicking butt in your classes and strengthening your math and reading. Come see me after sophomore year ends, which is a great time to begin actual test prep.
The Bottom Line
Some students can score extremely high on the SAT and ACT with NO help from me. 9 times out of 10, these students have very strong reading and math skills. So even if these tests don't come naturally to you, you can make your job (and my job) a lot easier if you put in the work this year to do extra reading and math. If you do, you'll be the one sending the SAT and ACT flying.