For the majority of students, the optimal time to begin preparing for standardized tests is either the summer before or the fall of their junior year. That timeline allows for 2-3 months of tutoring and preparation geared towards testing in the late fall or early winter, which gives students several opportunities to retest if the first test does not go as well as anticipated.
However, there are some circumstances that make beginning test prep earlier a better strategy. For these students, beginning test prep in the spring of their sophomore year may help them achieve a higher score. When trying to determine the best time for your student to begin preparing for standardized tests, consider the following factors that might prompt an earlier start date.
Unusual Junior Year Schedule
Test prep often begins for students during the fall of their junior year. However, if their fall schedule will be particularly packed, it may work out better to start earlier.
Busy Summer Between 10th and 11th Grade
The summer before a student’s junior year is often a popular time to begin test prep. This typically allows students to focus on test prep prior to when their heavy academic and extracurricular workload begins. However, if a student is going to be traveling, working, or otherwise committed for the majority of the summer, it may make sense to begin test prep in the latter half of their sophomore year. When making this decision, consider the student’s schedule during the fall of their junior year as well; if the fall schedule will be particularly strenuous, an earlier start makes sense.
For students with learning disabilities, standardized testing can sometimes be particularly challenging. For these students, it can take more time to determine which strategies and approaches might work best for them. To develop this more personalized test-taking strategy without taking time away from the student’s regular studies, it may be beneficial to start test prep earlier. Additionally, if the student does not know which accommodations they should pursue, working with a tutor earlier may help guide them towards the right accommodation plan.
Remedial Work Needed for Math or Reading Comprehension
Students who need remedial work in math or reading comprehension may need more individual time with a tutor to improve their skills enough to meet their goal scores. Students who will not take precalculus by the fall of their junior year or who struggled with either algebra or geometry may need extra time to learn the math necessary to succeed on the ACT or SAT. Students who struggle with reading comprehension may need additional time to determine what strategy works best for them on standardized tests or to meet the time deadlines imposed by the reading or science sections on the tests.
Extreme Test Anxiety
Some students face considerable anxiety surrounding the high stakes attached to standardized testing. For these students, a longer-term and more gradual approach to test prep may help them build confidence for the test. However, this strategy can backfire if it provides too much time for the anxiety to build. A discussion with a Mindfish administrator can help guide you towards a good plan for your student’s needs.
Subject Tests for Courses Taken in 10th Grade
For students planning to take subject tests, we recommend that they take the subject test as soon as they are able to after completing the course. For some students, this may mean that they take subject tests during their sophomore year, particularly for classes like AP Chemistry or World History.
For students who are being recruited as college athletes, some coaches may want to know earlier if the athlete will easily meet admissions requirements or if the admissions office will need to make an exception. If the coach wants to see official test scores early in the student’s junior year, beginning test prep as a sophomore may make the most sense.
If any of these factors describe your student, you may want to begin their test prep process during sophomore year. We are happy to discuss your student’s situation further and recommend the timeline that might work best for them.