If you’re a high school freshman or sophomore (or the parent of one!), and you’re starting to panic about college entrance tests, we have some words of wisdom for you.
First, take a deep breath. You’ve got plenty of time to build skills for the ACT or SAT. In fact, you don’t even need to worry about test-specific prep right now! We recommend taking a diagnostic pre-test the spring or summer before junior year so that you can get an idea of what you’ll need to work on.
Second, the ACT (or SAT) is just one piece of the college admissions puzzle. There are a lot of other things you should be focusing on during your first two years of high school: doing well in challenging classes, practicing good executive functioning habits (like studying, time management, organization), participating in extracurricular activities, having a good time with your friends, and getting enough sleep.
Now, that said, there are certainly some things you can do freshman and sophomore year that will impact your performance on the ACT or SAT.
In the least surprising news ever, the best way to improve your score is to develop your reading skills by…reading. Reading on a daily basis helps with comprehension skills, pacing, vocabulary, and critical thinking. Having a good handle on those things will help you on every section of the test, not just the reading section.
Start by reading what you enjoy, whether it’s novels, a sports website, or biographies. Then, once you’re in the habit of reading every day, add in other types of reading: newspaper editorials, short stories, poems. Working short non-fiction articles (like these) into your rotation is also a really good idea. This type of reading is what tends to trip up students on the ACT/SAT because they don’t typically see much of it.
You may think that to prepare for the ACT/SAT math section you should start learning how to do trig and other more difficult work. Hold your horses! As a freshman or sophomore, the best place to start is pre-algebra and algebra – even if you’re an advanced math student. Many students learn the major algebra concepts in seventh and eighth grade and then don’t revisit them until the test rolls around. They’re surprised when they struggle with the “easy” questions.
Brush up on factoring, least common multiple, and greatest common factor. Review formulas like those for distance and circle (if you’ve got old notes or flashcards for formulas, hang on to them for regular review!). If you’re not confident with word problems, that’s another area you can focus on now. For all kinds of math review, we recommend two excellent online resources: Khan Academy and ALEKS. Get comfortable with the basics now, so that when you’re closer to the ACT or SAT you can put your energy into prepping for the more challenging problems.
What about the English and Science Sections?
At this point, you really don’t need to worry about doing anything specific for the English and science sections. Developing your reading skills will have the biggest effect down the road (and right now in your current classes!). Beyond that, buckle down in your classes with an aim to understand what you’re learning—not just memorize stuff for tests.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
It’s easy to feel the pressure of the ACT/SAT and give it more attention than it needs. Sure, you want to earn the best scores possible, but schools look at many other factors when making admissions decisions. They want to see that you’ve taken appropriately rigorous classes and have done well in them. Colleges are looking for students who are developing passions and who will have something to contribute to the school and wider community. Rather than starting too early with hardcore test prep, use that time to work on these other things. Not only will you be a more attractive applicant, you’ll also feel more balanced and fulfilled!
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you develop your academic, organization, and test-taking skills, give us a call!