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Summer of Exam Prep

It’s Spring! The sun is beginning to peek out more often. Flowers are out. COVID cases are finally decreasing, and vaccinations are continuing to rise. Before long, the new normal will hopefully start looking a whole lot like actual normal. And for soon-to-be juniors, it’s time to begin thinking about preparing for the fall SAT or ACT. Our strong recommendation is that they make this summer the Summer of Exam Prep.

Many schools and school counselors advise students to plan to take the SAT/ACT during the spring of their junior year. This can work, but there are distinct advantages to prepping over the summer for one of the fall tests.

Summer = Fewer Obligations

First, students generally have more flexible schedules during the summer. Though some families will have vacation outings and other trips, students can usually devote more time to exam prep during the summer. Students who prep during the school year often have to work around sports schedules and other extracurriculars. Students who prep during the summer usually don’t have those sorts of constraints. This makes it easier for students to schedule sessions and even pack an exam prep program into a shorter time period, while still getting the maximum benefit.

Summer = Less Academic Stress

Another benefit of summer prep is that students don’t have to juggle their time and attention between their exam prep and difficult academic work. Junior year is one of the toughest years for students. They generally take some of their toughest AP/dual-credit courses during their junior years. This can make it especially stressful to squeeze in exam prep for one of the spring tests.

Summer = Less Mental Slide

Finally, a great fringe benefit to doing summer exam prep is the prevention of the “summer slide.” One complaint that educators (and some students!) have about summer break is that much of the progress students gained during the school year is lost during the summer. Students usually don’t devote much of the summer to intellectual pursuits, so they are rusty and out of form when they go back to school in the fall. Working through an exam prep program during the summer allows a student to continue flexing their intellectual muscles, which makes the transition back to school that much easier.

Admittedly, working through the finer points of an SAT or ACT might not sound like a thrilling way to spend the summer. But with a team of excellent prep coaches to provide support, summer exam prep can be rewarding in myriad ways!

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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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Combating the Summer Slide

The summer is a great time for catching up on the things you missed during school. You can go camping and hiking and spend time with your friends or beat the video game that’s been sitting on your shelf for months. Some of our best memories are made during the summer months. However, the summer is also a great time to forget everything you learned in school. This is called the summer slide. 

Your teachers likely warned you about this on the last day of school. They hollered, “Don’t forget to keep reading and doing math so you don’t forget about them!” as you rushed out the door and towards freedom. These words probably rattled in your ears for a moment before falling to the floor and evaporating. But have no fear, combating the summer slide is as easy as playing a game or reading a fun book. 

Read, Read, Read

One of the more vital activities to do during the summer is reading. You can read chapter books, picture books, and even listen to audio books. The important thing is just to read. Reading helps build synapses in the brain that allow you to think critically, make accurate predictions, and understand the main ideas and theses of different books or articles. 

Reading is a skill that goes beyond simply learning to read words or understand vocabulary. It benefits your brain in many more ways than we know. If you find yourself forgetting the knowledge you worked so hard to build in school, start reading more books. Twenty minutes a day is all it takes!  

Attend Learning Camps

When I was a child, I attended a summer camp every year. Usually, they were sports camps, but I still got to learn a ton. Camp is where some kids make their most cherished memories. You can attend more academically rigorous camps like science camp, reading camp, or history camp. Or you can attend more active camps like adventure camp, outdoor camp, and boy/girl scouts. Either way, your brain is being active, is pumping knowledge into your long-term memory, and is retaining the information you learned in school. 

Play Learning Games

With advancements in technology and the accessibility of the internet, finding learning games has become easy. If you have access to a working computer, sign up for a fun, free learning game online. There are many resources that help channel learning into a fun and motivating game. If you like video games, there are games that allow you to complete learning tasks like missions. If you like colorful, playful games there are lots of options with fun stories and hands-on activities. All it takes is a quick Google search! 

Try New Things

This may not seem as obvious as the other three strategies, but trying new things and learning new hobbies is an excellent way to keep your brain working during the summer. When we try new things, we assimilate that information into our existing schema. This information is then stored and we can use it later in life with new hobbies. Hobbies help build skills like problem solving, tactile response, and muscle memory. All of which become helpful in classes like physics, chemistry, and even physical education.