When Should Students Begin SAT Prep?

If you’re helping your child with their SAT prep, you may be unsure how much time they need to learn the material. From what they should cover to how frequently they need to study, it’s critical to develop a strategy to ensure your child gets the most from their preparation. Timing is one of the most crucial factors in achieving the greatest success on the SAT and something that is often overlooked by many parents and educators.

How Much Time Is Needed to Prepare?

The fact of the matter is that this varies on an individual basis. There are a variety of factors to consider and we will break down each one.

  1. The child’s grade!

While this may seem a moot point, the child’s grade can be one of the most fundamental determining factors when considering when to start SAT Prep. Grade doesn’t only determine what classes the student is taking, but usually indicates a certain level of maturity. And while students often take the exam in their Junior year of high school, some students take the required classes (Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry are among the few classes) well ahead of time and have the maturity to optimize achievement earlier on. Some students take pre-calculus and advanced English and history classes starting in the 9th grade, thus there is no reason to begin in Junior year, and often times this could be detrimental as the student could forget much of the material that is crucial for success. At the same time, however, there is such a thing as too early.

            If the student is not mature enough to truly dedicate to a subject, he/she will simply flounder the responsibility and thus waste time, effort, and most importantly money. The student has to relish in the concept of knowing that he/she is preparing for the future and has to have specific goals in mind and a sound plan to achieve those goals. That being said, we here at JM Learning always recommend that the parent have multiple discussions prior to the start of any form of college preparation. If the student has an eagerness to look ahead and has the time necessary to make a strong push forward, the results could be extraordinary, no matter the age or grade.

Most colleges recommend that an SAT or ACT be taken within 3 years of applying!

That being said, a student could take the exam whenever he/she is ready. We have had students’ study for up to 4 years and have done tremendously well, and at the same time, we have students that have studied for 4 weeks and have done just as well. This brings us to our next point.

  1. PSAT or Diagnostic SAT score

Many schools are adopting a PSAT program that starts in the eighth grade, specifically Basis. This gauges the student’s overall ability to take a standardized exam and prepares them for long and drawn out formatted tests. It also gives the parent and the student an idea of where the student will begin. At JM Learning, we always require that a student take an evaluation or starting exam to determine the level of the student. This level will allow us to keep track of progress, approximate an estimated study time, and create an individual strategy that best suits the need of the student.

An evaluation exam is crucial to understand how long and when to really start studying for the SAT!

No matter the method of preparation, everyone studying for this exam must take an evaluation exam prior to studying to keep track of progress and determine what parts to work on.

  1. Always factor in extenuating circumstances.

Life is almost never simple, and things rarely go according to plan. That is why it is important to not only start early but prepare for unforeseen circumstances. These situations could be devastating if not factored correctly. A few things listed below can seriously prolong study time.

    1. School related activities: People often forget that extracurricular activities are among the most important factors when considering college acceptances. And while a student could study for 5 hours a night for SAT’s and schoolwork, go to school for 8, participate in various extracurriculars for 3 and hang out with friends and relax for another 5, giving them 3 hours of sleep per night for a few weeks, this schedule is not sustainable. After two weeks, the student will be forced to edit things out of the schedule, only indicating a lack of planning. This will lead to poor health and ensure that nothing is done with a sense of quality. Instead, be sure to spread the activities evenly and prepare for a longer period of time.
    2. Careless errors: A student could know every aspect of this exam and still not be scoring as high as he/she would like simply due to careless mistakes. These can only be eliminated with time and practice, thus something that should always be factored into when planning a study schedule.
    3. Life! While we do not plan for devastating circumstances to occur, they often happen during the worst of times. Thus, we always recommend starting as early as possible.
    4. The switch! Some students reach the dreaded plateau. This is the point at which the student’s learning matches the same pace as their ability to forget new concepts. It is a terrible cycle of learning something new and forgetting something old. That is usually the point where we at JM Learning pivot the student and not only switch the learning style but switch the exam. Sometimes, it’s better to re-evaluate and switch to the ACT than stick with doing the same thing over and over again.

Are There Topics That Require More Preparation?

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This question could only be determined by the evaluation score. But, as a general note, you should ensure that the student spends more time studying the topics he/she is least comfortable with, while not completely ignoring the topics he/she is strong in. For example, if the student scores a 650/800 on the reading section, most students immediately begin studying more vocabulary words, believing that this would help them in their quest to improve their reading comprehension, thus improving their score. But what if the student only had 2 questions wrong on the reading portion of the exam. You may ask, “Well, if they only got 2 wrong, how could they get a 650!” The answer is simple; the Reading section, while scored out of 800, is broken down into 2 separate sections:

Section 1 – Reading: 52 Questions broken up into 5 passages with 10-11 questions each.  The student is given 65 minutes total. This will be converted to a score out of 400. This section tests the student’s ability to read through passages comprehensively and answer questions related to the text.

Section 2 – Writing: 44 Questions broken up into 4 passages of 11 questions each. The student is given 35 minutes for this section. This score will be converted to a score out of 400. This section tests the student’s ability to read through passages and follow logical and grammatical guidelines, ensuring that the rhetoric of the piece is proper.

            Both sections test on entirely different aspects and what makes things more complicated is that they each have their own separate sub-score. This sub-score can be broken down into more specific topics that can indicate weaknesses on the exam. Usually a “Word in Context” or more traditionally known as the Vocabulary questions, only constitutes 5-10% of the Reading and Writing score and can appear in various frequencies across both the Reading and Writing sections. This conversation will begin to truly take a turn for the worse when we begin introducing variations and combinations of question types and the probability of appearance throughout multiple future exams.

WORK SMART, NOT HARD!

            At JM, all of our tutors have adopted this simple and yet important saying. We have seen students come in utterly exasperated after studying for the SAT’s for up to eight hours at a time and have consistently done this for years to show little or not improvement. We compare this same mentality to a hamster running on a wheel, the hamster is getting the exercise, but not actually moving anywhere. If the student doesn’t study correctly, the result could be disastrous for the student. But, to be clear upon this fact,

TUTORING IS NOT FOR EVERYONE!

            Many students are self-sufficient learners and simply need to be given the materials to learn. If that is your child, I would not suggest forcing the kid into tutoring or test prep. Let the child decide and determine whether or not it is the right move. Forcing anything upon teenagers is almost never the right way to go, and you may just be surprised by the outcome of letting them do it on their own.

            Continuing our discussion of which subject requires more preparation requires a general understanding of the exam as a whole.

            Section 3 – Math (no calculator) 25 mins, 20 questions

            Section 4 – Math (calculator) 55 mins, 38 Questions.

There is of course the optional Essay portion and let’s not forget the pesky experimental section that comes up every once in a while, which is not part of the overall score.

In general, the Math topics are somewhat patterned, and if the student is given the right tools to understand which topics, he/she is unfamiliar with, then the exam becomes a game of limiting the amount of “unforced errors.” Careless mistakes could only be eliminated with time, which is a crucial factor in determining how long is required for the test preparation and should always be factored in when determine test prep time.

How Can My Child Get a Higher Score?

WORK SMART, NOT HARD!

For the sake of repeating ourselves here, it’s important to understand the exam. Study the purpose and set a game plan.

  1. Make sure you are familiar with the required score needed for them to be accepted into their university of choice. Scoring higher than the required minimum is encouraged and can help them compete for more scholarships or grants.
  2. Have the student take an evaluation exam and then have them keep taking a new exam every month as they prepare, while increasing the frequency as they get closer to the exam.
  3. If the child is at a standstill or you simply do not know where to begin, hire a professional tutor or SAT preparation center.

 

 

If it’s time to begin SAT prep with your child, but you aren’t sure where to start, visit the professionals at JM Learning Prep in Brooklyn, NY. With programs designed to help students in grades kindergarten through college achieve academic and testing success, these professionals have helped improve tests scores by over 370 points on average. They provide services to students in Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin, Bensonhurst, Staten Island, Midwood, Bay Ridge, and Hewlett, Long Island. To learn more about how this facility can help your child prepare for the SAT, visit them online or call (718) 975-2665 to schedule a tutoring session.