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  • John Baier, M.S.

Understanding the SAT & ACT

Setting a Goal Score

Sophomores: It may not be entirely possible for you to set a goal score at this point in time. Setting a goal score requires you to have a good idea of what your top school of choice is. You will want to spend this year building your college list and figuring out which school is your priority.

Juniors: By now you should know what your top school choice is going to be. If not, you’ll want to get going on building that college list. If you don’t know where to start, don’t fret, that’s what we’re here to help you with! Once you have, you’ll want to navigate to the common data set. Within this document you can identify a school’s 25th and 75th percentile score ranges. This can be found in section C9. You will likely want to target the school’s 75th percentile score, especially if you are applying to a STEM major. By aiming high, you are setting yourself up for things to easily fall into place at your less competitive schools.


Sophomores: This is a great year to figure out which test is a better fit for you. Something to keep in mind is that the ACT is a faster test and does tend to have more geometry than the SAT. The reading portion of the ACT is much different than the SAT. It’s more focused on interpreting charts and graphs and whether you can understand experimental design. Keep this in mind when figuring out which test is the right fit for you.

Juniors: Ideally you will know which test is your preferred test by now, but sometimes it’s a good idea to use that October PSAT to confirm if the SAT is the right test for you, assuming you were leaning towards it. You really should aim to have your preferred test confirmed no later than the end of your fall semester. This will help immensely when you are working to create your testing strategy.

Practice and Study

Sophomores: Practice, practice, and MORE practice! When trying to figure out which test is best suited for you, taking practice tests is the best way to do it. Many students use resources such as Khan Academy or Applerouth. More than a Teacher has some excellent resources for practice testing as well. When it comes to actually studying for the official exam, you can likely ease off on that. You don’t need a year’s worth of prep for this exam. Take your practice tests seriously, and do some studying for those. If you are unsure where to start when creating a study plan, seeking the advice of a consultant is an excellent step. Juniors: If you are still figuring out which test is your target, then of course continue to take practice tests. You’ll have your October PSAT and then depending on your situation, you may end up taking another practice ACT as well. There are too many variables to give a blanket answer for that, but when it comes to studying, you will want to set yourself up for success by utilizing the resources at your disposal. If you can manage your own study plan, you can utilize free resources such as Khan Academy to self study. It’s usually recommended to recruit the services of a company that specializes in preparing for the SAT to help you put your best foot forward.

When Should I take the SAT/ACT?

Sophomores: Ideally, as a sophomore you aren’t taking an official exam. This is a year where you should spend time identifying which test is the right fit for you. This includes taking the PSAT during the fall as well as other practice tests throughout the year. It’s a good idea to also take a practice ACT to help determine where your strengths lie.

Juniors: Ok juniors, this one has quite a bit of variability and it really depends on where you are in the process. It’s possible that you may end up taking your first exam in the fall of your junior year. However, if you don’t, then you will just have more time to dial in on your preferred test and set a proper goal score before possibly taking your first test in the spring. Depending on how demanding your courses and extracurriculars are, you may end up taking your first exam at the end of the year. It really all depends on where you are in the process, which is why it’s so important to discuss strategy with a consultant.

I could go on and on about this topic, but this would end up way too lengthy! To summarize the steps for success, you want to set a goal score, figure out which test is the best fit, create a practice and study plan, and then you will be ready to sit and take your exam! Good luck!

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