Test Prep Secrets (for the ACT and SAT)

Our Test Prep Tutors evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses during their first session. Each session targets areas where improvement will have the greatest impact on test scores. But what happens if you’re unsure of which test your child to take? When do you start preparing for these exams? Read on for some test prep secrets.

Our Test Prep Coordinator, Payton Marshall, lets us in on everything you and your child needs to know when preparing for college entrance exams.


What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?

The ACT and the SAT are two very different tests.

The ACT is a much faster paced test and includes a lot of questions in a shorter amount of time. It is formatted similarly to tests your child takes in school right now. The content is information they have learned throughout their high school career.

The SAT is more of a strength test and tests your child’s critical thinking skills. She has to use the analytical side of her brain. Although there are fewer questions on the SAT, they are longer and wordier and take more time to answer.


Should my kid take both tests? How do I know which one is better for them?

There is no need for your child to take both the ACT and the SAT. All colleges across the country take either the SAT or the ACT, and one is not looked at as better than the other when determining your child’s acceptance.

Some parents will ask, “Does it matter what my son wants to major in? If they’re going to be an engineer, should they take this test over that test?” It makes no difference. Both tests are looked at equally, so your child should pick the test that is better suited for him or her.

To find out which test is better suited for your child, it’s best to look at a practice ACT or SAT score, his PSAT result, or other practice tests he may have. Our Test Prep Coordinator works to compare scores from different tests to determine which test has a higher score. Some kids also know which test they would like to take because they have a preference for one over the other.

Once the preferred test is selected, your student can begin preparing and channel all of their focus on that one test, which is must more advisable than dividing attention and energy over preparing for both tests.

When is the best time to take the test? How many times should my kid take the test?

Most Juniors will take the real test for the first time in the spring of their Junior year. Usually, Juniors will take it anywhere from two to three times later that spring and early summer. Sometimes they’ll take it one more time in the fall of their Senior year.

Typically, if you can get all two or three tests out in the spring of their Junior year, it’s best, because most kids aren’t extremely diligent about preparing over the summer for a fall test. Usually, they take it the two to three times just to make sure that they can get the best score possible. Maybe one day the testing room was too cold, or they had a bad headache or something like that. By taking it two to three times, they can maximize their score. By the spring of their Junior year, they have learned all the academic content that they need to be prepared for the test.

What is the best way to prepare for these tests? When should you start if you want to take a test in March or May?

The first step is to determine where your child is in the process and where he wants to be. Take note of which schools he wants to apply to and what kind of exam requirements they have. Have a conversation with him about what his score goals are and where they are regarding completing that goal. If he is planning to take the test in March, for example, then January – after the holidays – is the best time to start preparing.

Our test prep tutors would encourage him to take the test in March, then again in June to compare scores. Since slow and steady preparation is the best approach, doing one session per week leading up to the test is one of the best options. He can sleep on it overnight, practice throughout the week and then meet with the tutor the next week to review.

Obviously, there’s more than one way to prepare for tests. You can, of course, prepare on your own. If your kid is good at self-study, she can pick up a book and prepare herself. There are plenty of free online sources out there that help with this kind of test preparation. While most high school Juniors are not that self-driven, some are indeed able to do this.

You could also sign up for a group class. There are plenty of group classes available. However, group classes are at the mercy of the group. Everyone gets the same curriculum, and the instructor goes through the class at the group’s pace, not the individual student’s pace. There is also the one-to-one approach, where the tutor focuses directly on your student to find his or her strengths and weaknesses and work on their weaknesses to try and increase scores.

If your student needs guidance on which test to take, contact us at 703.934.8282 to speak to our Test Prep Coordinator.