When Should Students Begin to Prepare for College Entrance Exams?


college_test_prepEveryone is familiar with the saying “practice makes perfect.” But when it comes to practicing for the SAT and ACT, there might be such a thing as too much practice—if it begins too soon.

A recent New York Times article chronicled kindergartners keeping a “word of the week” journal as part of a New York school district’s efforts to ensure students are prepared for the SAT. But is it too early for kindergartners to be thinking about the SAT or ACT and learning words such as incentive and consequence when their curriculum used to focus mainly on the ABCs and 1, 2, 3s?

According to Dan Ascher, President of A+ Test Prep & Tutoring, students should not truly start preparing for the SAT or ACT until they are in high school. Students who start too early run the risk of getting burned-out with test prep. 

It’s better to focus on building basic skills – especially reading, vocabulary, and writing skills. Encouraging activities that foster vocabulary development during the grade-school years is a great way to ensure students build a solid foundation for future tests.

“Make sure that students like to read and spend time reading for pleasure,” Ascher advises, urging parents to recognize that reading “doesn’t have to be a novel; magazines such as Sports Illustrated for Kids or other publications that relate to an interest of theirs also make good reading material.” Bar none, reading is the most important practice activity students in grade school can do in advance of the test preparation process. Furthermore, Ascher reminds parents they can also foster language development simply through “conversations with their son or daughter; discuss things with them, using a more advanced vocabulary.”

Ascher recommends sophomore year as the earliest students should begin preparing for college admissions tests. “Students who are in 10th grade should start to think about whether they are going to prepare for the SAT or ACT. If they’ve already taken the PSAT they can take a practice ACT to see what their score is, and then figure out if the SAT or ACT is a better fit for them.”

After they have figured out which test to prepare for, in the fall of junior year students should focus on actual test preparation using one-on-one tutoring or other approaches to become familiar with their preferred test’s format, content, and strategies. 

For those who want to start the process early, Ascher notes that it is never too early to focus on a student’s fundamental skills. Booster programs can help advance a student’s math, vocabulary, writing, and grammar skills—all of which will eventually be tested. 

While it is easy to get caught up in the belief that students must prepare early in order to be competitive, this is not always the case. Age-appropriate activities such as kindergartners expanding their vocabulary are a good thing; however, according to Ascher and other educational consultants, formal preparation for the SAT or ACT should wait until high school.


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