When Should Your Students Begin Preparing for the ACT Test?

I enjoyed speaking with a prospective client recently who asked me a thought-provoking question – when is the ideal time for a high school student to start ACT prep?

With increasing numbers of parents investing in tutoring and college consulting services in order to give their children the best shot at gaining acceptance to their dream schools, some are seeking earlier test prep services – as early as freshman year. Admittedly, I had not previously given this question much thought, as in recent years I have mainly worked with juniors and even seniors who were attempting to improve their scores. As I move to a more proactive model of service and seek to engage clients earlier in the admissions process, I would like to address this trend toward earlier ACT prep. I frankly do not believe starting in 9th grade will give students an edge on the test for a few reasons:

  1. They will grow weary of test prep by the time they actually sit for the test junior year.
  2. They typically do not have the full benefit of advanced math classes yet.
  3. They will not retain everything they learn about taking the test over a two-year span, as this knowledge will get diluted by other schoolwork during that time.

So what to do? I recommend starting in 10th grade at the earliest, and even then, I would only start by administering a practice test to gage the student’s areas of strength and weakness. Then throughout sophomore year, I would work with the student on some general test taking strategies to get him or her comfortable with the timing and the need to pace oneself throughout the test.

I believe the summer between sophomore and junior year is the ideal time to begin reviewing test material and strategies in earnest. Students are not in school and the added pressure of homework and tests is lifted. I also believe in scheduling test prep to target a specific test date. In this way the students can maximize their learning in the months leading up to the test and retain it in order to maximize their scores. Additionally, I am always an advocate of planning to take the test multiple times. No matter how many times students practice the full test, the first time they actually sit through it can be nerve wracking. After they have gotten one under their belts, they very often relax and perform even better on subsequent tests. Also, the pressure of only having one shot at a good score is lifted in their minds.

This was written by Laura George who is the founder of Laura George Consulting, LLC (https://www.laurageorgeconsulting.com/), a college consulting firm that provides a comprehensive range of services including customized, one-on-one high school entrance exam tutoring (SSAT, HSPT, ISEE, PSAT 8/9) and ACT/SAT tutoring, college essay coaching, and college application and admissions consulting in person for students in the Chicago area and across the country via Zoom. Laura is a graduate of Duke University and Northwestern Kellogg School of Management and a former member of the Kellogg Admissions Committee.

Visit her website at www.laurageorgeconsulting.com, join her informative Facebook group, Parents of College Bound Kids, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/ParentsofCollegeBoundKids/ or reach out to directly at laurageorgeconsulting@gmail.com if you have any questions about this, other test prep, or college admissions questions.