In all my conversations with high school parents, and increasingly with middle school parents, I’m asked, “When should my child begin SAT preparation?” It’s an important conversation to start having early because planning should be individualized. Rather than treating the SATs as an event for short term cramming, it’s much better to think about the skills and strategies needed for the SATs that are also important for successful, lifelong learners. Whether we’re coaching reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, or on-the-spot essay writing, the skills we build serve students well beyond the exam. SAT preparation often becomes the catalyst for closing gaps and reviewing material not previously mastered.
Consider vocabulary development. It’s extremely difficult for students to start memorizing hundreds of flash cards in the months leading up to an exam date. Instead, vocabulary development should take place over the long haul, beginning in early grades and continuing through exam preparation and beyond. Students who read daily and actively engage with texts naturally develop a richer vocabulary. A great way to facilitate vocabulary development is to have students using e-readers with built in dictionaries. Unless required by a teacher, most kids won’t look up unfamiliar words. But with an e-reader, it’s easy to check the definition as one reads. This active reading combined with explicit word study makes a huge difference in critical reading scores.
Math instruction for the SAT often unveils concepts not mastered at earlier grades. It’s not uncommon to find high school students who struggle, for example, with fractions, percentages, functions, or algebraic reasoning. Our SAT tutors spend time exploring concepts and skills to close these gaps, which usually benefits students in his or her math course work as well. You can imagine that a student with foundational math weaknesses as a junior in high school might also be struggling in the classroom.
So when should a student begin test preparation? As a general rule of thumb, we recommend that students take a baseline assessment the summer before their junior year begins. That way we can analyze a student’s performance in July or August and have plenty of time to coach the exam throughout the fall and spring semesters. Students with very high scores in the summer can often knock out the SAT by December. Students with relatively lower scores given their school preferences can continue preparation into the spring. Ideally, students complete the SAT by April or May so that the remainder of the spring semester can be focused on SAT subject tests and AP exams. Then we can get a jump-start on college applications the summer before senior year begins.By Brad Hoffman, M.S.Ed.
Board Certified Educational Planner and Learning Specialist
My Learning Springboard, Inc.