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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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Juniors: Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Start Studying for the SAT or ACT

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If it’s your junior year, odds are that your thoughts have turned to standardized tests. Maybe you’re still deciding whether you’ll take the ACT or the SAT. Perhaps you’re looking ahead at your calendar to plan possible test dates, or you’ve purchased a study guide that is beginning to gather dust on your shelves.


As a junior, standardized tests may seem a distant reality until the spring when suddenly it’s time to get serious about them. During the first semester, you may be thinking that you have plenty of time to get studying. Maybe you’re even thinking that if you begin to study now, you’ll forget everything you learn before test day. Rest assured, though, that when the second semester rolls around, the heat will be on.


In reality, the first semester of junior year is the perfect time to get serious about preparing for your ACT or SAT. To learn more about why you should start prepping for standardized tests during the first semester of your junior year, keep reading.


Underestimating ACT and SAT Time Commitment


If you’re like most juniors, you’ve had your share of tests already. You’ve probably taken on finals or maybe even a few AP exams already. You might think that prepping for tests is no big deal. We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but the time commitment involved with preparing for other tests, even when it represents a year’s worth of knowledge, is still minimal in comparison to the preparation required to tackle an SAT or ACT. Here’s why.


The SAT and ACT are unlike any other tests you’ve ever taken. If you took the PSAT as a junior, (which you definitely should, if there’s any question,) then you have some idea of the test format and content. Essentially these tests don’t just simply test a collection of knowledge, but also a variety of skills, thought processes, and strategies. Preparing for them requires a variety of different approaches, and it isn’t something you can master in a few weeks.


Many students believe that prepping for the SAT or ACT should take roughly four to six weeks. While this does represent a significant time drain for the serious student, it is still just a scratch on the surface. To really prepare, absorb, and master all the test knowledge and techniques that you’ll need on exam day, you need roughly nine months. At first glance this may seem excessive, but remember that most students take these tests more than once, so allowing six months of prep before your first test date will leave you another three months of prep to improve before your second test date.


Underestimating the time commitment involved with successfully mastering the materials and strategy necessary to ace your standardized tests is an all too common error. To really make sure you’re ready to perform at the peak of your ability, allow about nine months for standardized test preparations.


Overestimating the SAT vs ACT Decision


We know lots of students who say that they aren’t ready to begin test prep because they have yet to decide which standardized test they’ll take. While this is indeed an important decision that bears careful consideration, it is no reason to delay actual test preparations. In fact, even if you choose the “wrong” test for your unique skills and situation, the time you can spend preparing for it if you begin now should more than pay off for making an earlier decision about which test you’ll take.


In other words, the benefit of selecting the right test cannot outweigh the score improvement of slow and gradual preparations over a prolonged period. Selecting which test you’ll take is an important decision, but it’s one that you are more than ready to make right now. If this choice is what’s holding you back, take the plunge and make your best decision possible. Starting to study for your test now will more than pay off in the end.

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Underestimating the Number of Practice Tests Recommended


While studying for the test can and will take up the majority of your prep time, many students forget to consider how much time will also be spent on practice tests. Keep in mind that these tests are lengthy. A realistic practice test will mimic an actual test not only in content but also in format. This means that it will take as long as an actual test, up to half a day!


Most students believe that two or three practice tests is a lot to take before your actual test day. At CollegeVine, we recommend more. To start with, we recommend a formative assessment at the very beginning of your studying to help guide your progress. This is a practice test before you even begin studying. In addition, we recommend two or three more practice tests along the way.


While this might seem like a nonissue if you have yet to take one, seasoned test takers know that a practice test can take up to four hours to complete, and then another two to three hours to review. This essentially means a whole day needs to be spent on each one. To ensure that you have enough time in your undoubtedably busy schedule, don’t delay.


Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Get Started


Junior year is no cakewalk. If you’re feeling the pressure already, rest assured that there will be some relief headed your way soon. The winter term of junior year is generally the slowest. You’ll be past the phase of settling into new classes, learning the ropes of new teachers, and simply navigating a whole new workload. At the same time, you aren’t yet feeling the weight of college applications or standardized tests seriously around the corner.


For these reasons, starting your standardized test prep now is a great idea. Take advantage of the time that you have to allow a steadily progressing approach to standardized tests. Many strategies such as time management are ones that cannot be learned overnight, but instead need to be carefully calculated for your individual pacing requirements. This means getting a head start to learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses before perfecting your approach.


Remember, while you can always dial back your study time later on if you feel you have everything under control, you’ll never be able to get back lost time if you start later and wish you hadn’t. It’s best to dive into studying for your ACT or SAT now, and then put on the brakes later if you can.


For a Sample SAT and ACT Studying Schedule, Consider This:


Winter Term Junior Year:


Formative Assessment (Practice Test #1)

Initial Strategy Development

Time Management Techniques

Practice Test #2


Spring Term Junior Year:


Content Mastery

Subject-Focused Studying

Practice Test #3

First Administration of the Standardized Test


Summer Before Senior Year:


Review Score Report Carefully

Create Study Plan for Score Improvement

Focus on Study Plan

Practice Test #4


Fall Term Senior Year


Take the Test a Second Time

Closely Review Score Report

Decide if You Need to Take the Test a Third Time

Third Test Administration If Necessary


To learn more about studying for the SAT, check out these posts:


Tips to Prepare Yourself for Your SAT Test Day

How to Pace Yourself on Every Section of the SAT

Five SAT Strategies You Should Know

10 Tips to Prepare for the SAT

How Many SAT or ACT Practice Tests Should You Take?

What Parents Need to Know about ACT and SAT Studying Prep


Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.

Want to know how your SAT score/ACT score impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.