Conquering the SAT: Why It’s Key to Prepare Early
When it comes to SAT prep, early and often are great words to remember. If you begin your test preparations early enough and repeat them often enough, you’ll ensure that you’re as prepared as possible when test day rolls around.
But what does this mean exactly? Why should you start preparing for the SAT so early and is there such a thing as preparing too early? In this post we’ll outline what we mean when we say that you should begin SAT prep early, and we’ll answer that question we hear time and time again—is it ever too early to prepare for the SAT?
When Is It Too Early to Prepare for the SAT?
Many students have asked us if it is possible to prepare for the SAT too early. The answer to this question isn’t quite as cut and dry as one might expect.
On the one hand, if you start taking practice SATs in seventh grade and actually expect them to give you a good idea of how you’ll score on the test during junior year, you will probably be sorely surprised and may even run out of practice tests to take before they really have much bearing on your actual test performance. On the other hand, there are certainly skills that you can begin to build very early on that will be beneficial when test time rolls around.
So in answer to the question, it is never too early to prepare for the SAT if you have the right mindset about doing so. Expect to build skills over time that are useful on the SAT and in other academic areas, but don’t expect to learn content-specific knowledge for the SAT early on. Instead, focus on the skills that will serve you well on standardized tests and across your academic pursuits.
Why Should I Begin to Prepare for the SAT Early?
Writing Skills Are Developed, Not Learned
If you plan to take the SAT with optional essay (which we recommend that you do), you will need to harness powerful writing skills to master the essay portion of the test. These are the kinds of skills that are honed through practice and repetition over an extended period of time.
To become a strong writer, you need to develop a voice and become comfortable using varied tones, sentence structures, and perspectives. You can’t cram writing skills into your final hour test prep. Instead, you need to write consistently and seriously over a prolonged period of time. Building your writing skills early gives you plenty of time to practice and fine tune them well before they’re assessed on the SAT.
Time Management Takes . . . Time
The pacing of the SAT is difficult to master. To become familiar with the pace you need to keep, you will need to practice time management skills repeatedly and learn how quickly you process the types of questions commonly encountered on standardized tests.
While you may think that this kind of skill can be honed during a couple of practice tests, you should consider the time commitment of these practice tests before you brush them off. To take and correct each practice test, you will spend approximately half a day. This does not even include reviewing the questions you got wrong or assessing your patterns of error.
You are better off becoming familiar with the pacing of each individual section of the test before you dive right into full practice tests. This means running through individual sections often enough that you can move through them within the time allowed and without your scores suffering by poorly managed time.
Strategies Need to Become Second Nature
As you prepare for the SAT, you will begin to learn many common strategies for making educated guesses when the answer is not readily apparent to you. You will also begin to recognize when your gut instinct can be trusted and when it’s usually worth a second look.
While you can certainly study these strategies and learn them front to back, there is no replacement for practicing them repeatedly over a prolonged period of time. Different strategies are more effective for different types of learners and thinkers. Further, some strategies will work great for you on some kinds of questions and not so great on others.
You will need to figure out which strategies work best for you personally and when to apply them. This can only be achieved by trial and error over an extended period.
The Format Of the Test Should Be Familiar
The greatest score increase for most standardized test takers is between the first and second test taken. While this likely has a lot to do with test anxiety, it is also related to the familiarity of the test. The more you practice and learn about the test, the better prepared you’ll be for the first test administration.
To familiarize yourself with the test, you’ll need to take practice tests, read and reread instructions for each section, and learn the various formats of question that you can expect. This way, on test day you won’t have to waste time reading the test instructions verbatim or trying to figure out how you’re supposed to fill in certain answers. The format of the test will become so familiar that you’ll be able to focus on what really matters—the content of the test.
It’s Better to Have Too Much Time Than to Realize You Don’t Have Enough
This is easily the strongest argument for starting your studies early. You can always figure out what to do if you have extra study time when the test day nears. Maybe you’ll review some content knowledge. Maybe you’ll have time to catch up with a friend over coffee. Maybe you’ll even sneak a nap in there somewhere. Extra time is no problem.
But if, as the test day looms, you realize that you haven’t done enough and are nearly out of time, you won’t have any options. There’s no way to create extra time when you’re running out, and the remorse of knowing you could have but did not is likely to follow you through test day.
Avoid this situation entirely by preparing early and often.
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