When should you start thinking about college?
We are tempted to say, “It’s never too early.” That might be misleading. Certainly, a third-grader has better things to do than compare “superscoring” policies! However, planning ahead allows you plenty of time to make important college decisions without feeling rushed or pressured.
The PSAT is a good place to start. The PSAT is typically taken for the first time in the fall of your sophomore year. The sophomore PSAT is a good indicator of academic areas you need to focus on. This “early warning system” offers three benefits:
- It gives you time to work on your skills to improve your performance on the Junior PSAT. You may decide to look at troublesome material independently, with your teachers, or with a tutor (or all three). The results of the sophomore PSAT may influence your selection of courses or motivate you to spend more time on geometry, for example. You might consider revisiting subjects you learned in lower grades. It’s surprising how many students reveal that they have not had any grammar instruction since they started high school.
- It helps you aim for the PSAT/NMSQT. The junior year PSAT is the test that can qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship. Being a National Merit Scholar looks particularly good on college and merit scholarship applications.
- It helps you prepare for the SAT or ACT. Taking the sophomore PSAT allows you to assess your standardized testing strengths and weaknesses in a relatively low-pressure setting. It also lets you experience the SAT format. Later, you can take a practice ACT and see which test you prefer.
Other tests that should be on your radar in both sophomore and junior years are SAT subject tests and AP exams. Not all schools require SAT subject tests. Find out if the schools you are interested in do require them. For each specific SAT Subject Test, we suggest that you take it immediately after completing the highest level course necessary for that subject test.
AP exams, while not required at most colleges and universities, can add value to your application and may allow you to earn college credits. Each college has its own policy regarding AP credit, so, again, you will need to check with the colleges directly. Be selective—only send scores of 4 and above.
The summer before your junior year is the time to take your first practice SAT or ACT (A+ provides practice proctored tests that give you a nice feel for the real thing). Evaluating your practice test scores with an A+ director can help you formulate a test prep “game plan” that includes:
- Which standardized test (SAT or ACT) to take.
- When to take the test.
- How many times to take the test.
- Understanding which subject areas and strategies to focus on to boost your score.
Before you start your junior year, you should find out when the SAT or ACT tests will be scheduled. Whichever test you choose, plan to take it more than once. This reduces pressure on you, the test-taker. In fact most students take the test 2 or 3 times in order to achieve their highest “superscore.”
It is also possible to take the SAT or ACT between your junior and senior years—or even, if you require it, during your senior year. Talk to the colleges of your choice and know the latest possible deadline for submitting scores.
The timeline above is a general one; it will vary based on, for example, your initial practice test score. For a true personalized testing schedule, talk to our A+ staff. One of them will help you set up the schedule that works best for you.
By now you may be thinking, “Hmm. The stops on this roadmap seem to consist exclusively of testing and test prep.”
Standardized testing is not the only part of college admissions, although it is an important one. In the second part of this series, we will look at other aspects of college preparation. College tour, anyone?
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our focus is always on you. Our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you would like more information, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware are available to answer questions and provide solutions. You may reach either of them by calling A+ Test Prep and Tutoring at 215-886-9188.