When Should I Start Studying for the SAT?

To a high school sophomore just finishing up their academic year, college seems a long way off. But the truth is that the summer before your junior year is the ideal time to start studying for the SAT!

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Free time

One of the most obvious reasons for beginning exam prep in the summer is the increase in free time. Especially given that many summer camps and other activities have been canceled due to COVID-19, students have quality time to spend on sharpening their standardized test skills.

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If you start studying for the SAT during the school year, as many students do, you’re then forced to juggle your academic work (including AP and IB courses!), sports, drama, other extracurriculars, and a social life with several hours per week of SAT sessions and homework. That’s a lot to keep track of! One of the SAT students I worked with in the past was taking five AP classes, participating in marching band and jazz band, playing as the starting goalie on the soccer team, and serving on the National Honor Society council for her school. No wonder she was continually exhausted!

To avoid that sort of workload and the potential for burnout during one of the most important years of high school, start that exam prep in the summer and get it done!

Flexibility

Along with avoiding a heavy workload, another great reason for studying for the SAT during the summer is flexibility. If you take your first SAT in August, you’ll have an official score you can use in the application process.

If you prep during the summer and crush the August SAT, great! You’ll never need to take that test again! If you don’t get the score you want, you have many more opportunities throughout the year to take the exam. This year, again because of COVID-19 and the March, May, and June test cancellations, College Board is offering the SAT in August, September, October, November, and December, as well as March, May, and June in 2021. That gives many opportunities to take the test and get your goal score!

By doing your preparation and studying for the SAT in the summer, you give yourself a great deal of flexibility, which, in turn, can be a great stress reducer.

Potential for National Merit

Depending on how high you’re able to push your score on the SAT with some preparation, you might want to have an eye on the PSAT in October, as well.

Many students view the PSAT as simply a free practice for the SAT, but it can be much more. If you achieve a high score on the PSAT, you can qualify as a semi-finalist for the National Merit Scholarship. A student’s National Merit Index score is calculated by doubling her/his reading and writing scaled scores, dividing the math score by 10, and adding the three scores together. For example, if a student received a 34 in reading, a 33 in writing, and a 610 in math on a PSAT, her/his National Merit Index would be calculated in this way:

(34 x 2) + (33 x 2) + (61)

So this particular student would receive an index score of 205.

Index scores that qualify a student to be a National Merit Semi-Finalist vary by state. A list of recent scores for each state can be found here. In Idaho, for example, the qualifying index score is usually 215 to 217. Achieving a National Merit qualifying score can open doors, whether or not s/he ends up winning the actual scholarship. In fact, plenty of schools offer full scholarships just for qualifying as a semi-finalist or finalist! So it’s worth it to make a good effort on the PSAT.

And that’s where summer practice comes in.

By starting in early summer to begin preparation for the SAT, you can not only prepare yourself to achieve a great score on the regular exam in August, but you’ll also be more prepared to do well on the PSAT. What a deal!

Getting Help

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Students looking to gain insight and help on the SAT have myriad resources at their disposal. College Board itself provides a self-help program on Khan Academy, and there are many companies who offer self-directed instruction online. For those who want the best help possible, there’s no substitute for meeting regularly with an expert on the test. Whatever you choose to do, if you’re a rising junior, the time is now to begin studying for the SAT!

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