How to Create a Study Plan for the SAT or ACT
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Shravya Kakulamarri in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
- Make a Study Schedule
- Take a Diagnostic Test Early
- Set Reasonable Goals
- How Does Your ACT/SAT Score Impact Your College Chances?
In this post we will cover tips on how to do well on the SAT or ACT. Rather than covering content, however, we will suggest actions you can take early on in the study process to set yourself up for success. These include making a study schedule, taking a diagnostic test, and setting realistic and detailed goals. Although these may seem like small steps, they are critical to staying organized and on track to achieve your goal score.
Make a Study Schedule
Creating a study schedule is critical for success; it ensures that you have enough time to review all the material and get comfortable with the test format and length by taking practice exams. This is definitely not a test you want to cram for because it’s mainly skills-based.
The first step is taking a diagnostic exam to figure out how long your study schedule needs to be. If you’re pretty far off from your ideal score, meaning greater than 10 points off for the ACT, we recommend you plan to study for 4 or 5 months. You should, however, take into account how much time you have to study given your extracurriculars and your classes. If you have a lot going on, you might want to give yourself 7 or 8 months.
If you are planning to study in the summer and have lots of free time, 3 months might be enough. The summer is the best time to study because you’ll have more uninterrupted study time. If you’re not participating in any internship or if you have a part-time job that is a very low commitment, the summer between your sophomore and junior year is the right time to study. Then you can take the test in the early fall of your junior year for the first time. We don’t recommend planning your studying and taking the exam your Senior year. That’s cutting it too close! Overall, set a realistic timeline for yourself to achieve your goals.
How Do Diagnostic Tests Work?
As mentioned above, taking a diagnostic test is the first step in determining your starting point for studying. Many testing preparation centers will offer diagnostic tests for free, even if you don’t end up using their learning or test prep program, so these can be valuable resources. A diagnostic test is a good way to take this test in a simulated testing environment.
If you decide to administer the diagnostic test at home by yourself, that’s still valuable, but it is important to be strict with yourself. Try to simulate a testing environment as best as you can by asking a sibling or a parent to proctor the exam for you. Make sure you use a timer for each section and that you adhere only to the allocated section time. On the real test, you can’t take extra time or go back to previous sections to change your answers.
Before you take your diagnostic test, it could be helpful to run through the format to figure out how the test is structured. But remember – the purpose of the test is to establish a raw baseline score to help you determine where your weaknesses are and indicate how much studying you need to do. Therefore, don’t feel like you need to prepare before the diagnostic test.
SAT or ACT Diagnostic Test Options
One more important tip is that third party exams, such as those from Kaplan, Barrons, and Princeton Review, are usually very deflated, meaning they will be much harder than your actual exam.
The most representative practice tests are from the actual CollegeBoard, but we don’t recommend wasting the official tests on an early diagnostic test. There aren’t very many CollegeBoard tests publicly available, so start taking the official exams once you get closer to your actual test date. Check out our guide to practice SAT and ACT tests, which lists all the free exams that you can take.
You can also use the PSAT or PreACT to gauge how well you will do on the SAT or ACT. Keep in mind that these are different tests, but they can give you an idea of how much studying you may have to do. For more information, check out our guides on how to prepare for the PSAT and the PreACT.
When setting your goals, it is important to first figure out where you stand in terms of your GPA and your test scores; we recommend checking out our chancing engine to see your personalized chances at different colleges.
Once you have determined what the schools you are interested in are looking for, you can set goals for the scores you want to achieve on the SAT and ACT – for both the individual sections as well as the overall test. For example, if you are interested in pursuing a career in the STEM fields, scoring well on the SAT Math and ACT Science sections is more important than on the Reading and Writing sections. Basically, you want to be able to show that you have the knowledge and skills to succeed in the field you want to pursue in college.
We recommend maintaining an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of your progress and even updating your goals as you continue with your studying. You can keep track of the hours you study, the scores you receive on practice tests, and even the scores you get on mini practice quizzes. It may also help to put your goal score at the very bottom to keep it in sight. Staying organized is the most important part of the process.
We’ve made it easy to understand the impact of your ACT or SAT score by creating a free Admissions Chances Calculator. You can input different scores and see how this would affect your chances of admission. This calculator will also let you know how your score stacks up against other applicants’, and give you tips on improving the rest of your profile, including grades and extracurriculars.
This tool will help you figure out what your goal score needs to be to have a competitive application for your dream school. Give it a try to get a jumpstart on your college strategy!