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When to Start ACT or SAT Test Prep

If you have a teenager, and especially if your oldest or only child is in 9th or 10th grade, you may be wondering about an ideal timeline to engage in standardized testing for college admissions. At LGC, we often receive questions about when to start test prep for the ACT or SAT. While some families are wondering if they are starting to investigate this option too soon, more often parents who reach out to us are concerned that they are "behind" and are starting the process too late.

While there is no perfect "one size fits all" timeline for the tutoring and testing process, I advise that students get started no earlier than spring of sophomore year and no later than spring of junior year. Drilling down further, at LGC, we evaluate many factors to help families make this decision, including a student's availability during the year (taking into consideration whether they have a busy sports or extracurricular schedule during specific seasons, for example), level of math coursework, and maturity/readiness to commitment to investing the time and energy necessary to make the most of the test prep process.

Regarding the inclination that some parents have to encourage their student to get started earlier, I frankly do not believe that starting during 9th or early 10th grade will give students an edge on the test for the following reasons:

  1. Students need to have a chance to settle into high school, ensure they are focused on doing their best in their classes, try different clubs and activities, and generally not feel the unnecessary added pressure of thinking about anything related to the college application process yet.

  2. Students will grow weary of test prep by the time they actually sit for the test during junior year (which is the earliest that the vast majority of students should test to maximize their full potential). I do not advise tutoring for more than five to six months consecutively or taking more than four tests, as students have almost always maximized their scoring potential at that point. I'd much rather that they use their time to focus on their classwork/grades and their extracurriculars and interests.

  3. Students typically do not have the full benefit of advanced math classes yet.

So what to do? I recommend starting in 10th grade at the earliest, and even then, I would only start by administering a practice test to gage students' areas of strength and weakness. Then throughout sophomore year, I advise that students focus on some general test taking strategies to get them comfortable with the timing and the need to pace themselves throughout the test.

I believe the summer between sophomore and junior year is the ideal time to begin reviewing test material and strategies in earnest (with a few exceptions based on factors such as math level in school and busy sports or extracurricular commitments). Students are not in school, and the added pressure of homework and tests is lifted during the summer. I also believe in scheduling test prep to target a specific test date. In this way the students can focus their learning in the months leading up to the test and retain it in order to maximize their scores. Additionally, I am always an advocate of planning to take the test multiple times (an average of two to four is my general recommendation). No matter how many times students practice the full test, the first time they actually sit through it can be nerve wracking. After they have gotten one under their belts, they very often relax and perform even better on subsequent tests. Also, the pressure of only having one shot at a good score is lifted in their minds.

For those who are just considering this process as second semester juniors, not to fear! There is still plenty of time to invest in a meaningful test prep process. The ACT has June, July, September, and October test dates and the SAT has June, August, and October test dates that allow students to test multiple times prior to submitting applications for EA or ED deadlines, which are typically November 1 (many schools will accept the October scores, but some will not).

Questions or comments? As always – please leave them in comments under this edition of the newsletter, email me at, or call our team at 847-363-6780. Also, if we can be of more substantial help with setting up diagnostic ACT/SAT testing, tutoring, college planning, college essay and application guidance, and/or with anything pertaining to charting a Clear Path Forward through your child's journey to their best-fit college, please reach out to us in one of the above ways or fill out a request for a free 20-minute consult on the top of our website at Thank you!


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