My first experience taking the SAT was in November of my junior year. This is earlier than most juniors take the test, but I felt I should do a trial run since I expected to retake it one or two more times before graduating.
I had been informed on the experience almost exclusively by my sister, who is now a freshman in college. She never reflected glowingly on the SAT or ACT, describing the whole testing system as a necessary evil.
Beginning about eight weeks before my test day, I began my test prep via Khan Academy. I didn’t want to be worn out by the combination of test prep and my regular homework schedule, which was heating up in the mad dash toward finals.
My first crack at the SAT left me with a sense of what was required for future attempts, allowing me to overcome some of the disappointment that came with a score below my expectations. Here are four key takeaways that would’ve helped me better prepare for standardized tests and, hopefully, will help you.
Related: How to Set Good Expectations for Your SAT or ACT Scores
1. Right timing
If you’re dead set on taking the SAT or ACT early in your junior year, make sure to choose a date that allows you to balance test prep with school work and any extracurricular activities that demand your attention.
I chose November of junior year. I believed it would allow me adequate time to prepare without interfering with my preparation for finals, which are mid-to-late December at my school.
However, I failed to account for the “two-month push” that’s often necessary to be successful in my regular school work. This caused a conflicted schedule between studying for my intensive AP finals and spending the recommended time on SAT prep. This doesn’t exist at every school, so it’s up to you to know what sort of workload you can balance in a semester.
2. Multidimensional preparation
Whether you decide to use a test prep booklet, Khan Academy, or another online source, or you’re taking a test prep class, it’s vital to balance your studying for each section. You may be a superior math student, but that doesn’t mean you can expect to breeze through that section without being aware of what material will be covered.
In my case, I devoted about 75% of my time to the Writing and Reading sections and only about 25% to Math. While this allowed me to score highly on the Reading and Writing sections, I was woefully unprepared for the Math one. Be sure to spread out your studying evenly to achieve the best score in each section.
3. Eat well and stay hydrated
This can’t be overstated. It may be difficult to have a substantial breakfast, especially that early in the morning, but you’ll regret not having one after four or more hours of testing. I went with a simple breakfast of a few toaster waffles and some milk and wasn’t terribly hungry during the test, but I still wish I’d eaten more before.
More importantly, try to stay hydrated, as it helps you feel refreshed and allows for greater focus. Snacks aren’t allowed in the testing area, but you can bring water and something with you to eat during breaks.
4. Know your strategies
Be confident in your preparation and your approach to the test. If you begin to feel nervous before or during the test, do whatever helps you relax.
It may help to socialize with other test takers before the exam begins for some students, while others may require a trip to the restroom to splash some water on their face. It’s important to do what makes you comfortable, as it will have a strong effect on the way you perform.
Related: SAT 101: Handy Tips and Tricks for the Test
For those who decide to take either the SAT or ACT early in their junior year, remember why you’re taking it. You may struggle on your first attempt and fall below your goal score, but you may also prove that your hard work has paid off and allowed you to demonstrate your academic advancement.
Regardless of your final result, you will have several more chances for improvement, and that’s why I recommend testing early. Although some colleges ask that you report all your scores, many others allow you to superscore your results.
Check out our Test Prep page for more standardized test prep advice!