When Should We Start Test Prep?

My son is in the 10th grade and my daughter is in the 9th grade. When should we begin preparing for the SAT?  We want to start test prep early.
Some preparation is long-term and is more an acquisition of basic skills – reading, math, vocabulary, writing, and analysis.  Students who fail to develop these will struggle on the SAT.  Usually students learn the necessary content in school and you would only seek extra help if your child struggles in a particular subject. True SAT preparation is best done right before taking the test, for most students that will be sometime junior year.  Complete test prep is like training for a marathon. You have a particular date. You have a particular goal in mind and you’re going to have a singular focus on that for a period of time. I’ve found that students don’t do well prepping over long periods, which is why I don’t recommend you begin before junior year. Students lose interest. They burn out. They lose momentum before it really counts. High-scoring juniors who seek to qualify for National Merit Scholarships will want to prepare before the October PSAT.  Everyone else can prepare when a class best fits into his or her schedule.  Look for a time during the school year with the fewest conflicts with activities, sports, or other academic obligations.  All juniors should take the SAT by the end of the year; you find the test date that works best for your student. If you want to give your 9th and 10th grader an advantage before you begin an SAT prep class, there are a few things you can do.
  1. Vocabulary.50% of a student’s SAT Reading score is based on knowledge of college-bound vocabulary, something students can’t cram in a 5-8 week prep class.  I offer theMy Vocabulary Success Coach program, which for $10 a month provides weekly vocabulary words, audio files, study activities, and tips.  I developed this program because I consistently found students in my SAT class lacking vocabulary necessary to succeed on the SAT.  Even my best students who attend highly competitive high schools could use some extra work in this area.  I’d recommend all students begin a program of vocabulary development as early as 7th or 8th grade.  For more on my vocabulary program visit: My Vocabulary Success Coach
  2. SAT Question of the DayYou can receive an official College Board question in your email inbox everyday if you subscribe to the SAT Question of the Day.  Even if students save the questions during the week and do them all on Saturday, seeing the types of questions on the test offers long-term benefits.  Subscribe for free at SAT Question of the Day.  (Note: College Board discontinued the Question of the Day email in August 2013.  You can still find questions on the website. for more information see here.)
  So I recommend early preparation for 9th and 10th grade students and complete SAT prep for juniors.  Waiting until senior year to prepare for the SAT may be too late.

Comments (6)

  • Great article about test preparation strategies! I agree that having a good foundation in reading, math and analysis is the best place to start, and it’s never too early to build that foundation.

    • Amy, I agree. No amount of test prep can make up for deficiencies in basic skills. I am always reminding students and parents that my class is designed to prepare students for the SAT, which I can do in a month or two. However, I can’t help students prep for the SAT AND teach a full year of Algebra or Geometry at the same time.

  • im already reaching the end of 10th grade I have 5 more months left and I study in a CBSE board so when do you think is the best time for me to give my SAT’s and is it ok if I start prepping for it before my 11th grade academic year starts ?? im becoming nervous looking at all the comments about children started in 10th already :'(

    • Anoushka,
      10th grade is the perfect time to start studying for the SAT. Work on vocabulary, math skills, grammar & usage, and overall test taking strategies. You could take the SAT this year, but you may want to wait until next year to take the test.
      Get started on long-term skills and learning now. Save intense test prep and the actual exam for next fall. (My opinion.)

  • As we move forward, more colleges are making SATs optional, and some are not even asking for scores. A lot of what you need to know for SATs is very useful elsewhere so teachers should address these topics such as vocabulary. They should also help students understand how to game multiple choice tests as they will being seeing them in lots of future courses. As for specific SATs lessons, we may be approaching a point where they are obsolete. I for one hope so. Thanks for this thoughtful piece and keep up the good work.

  • Great article! I had my daughter take the ACT this past June, she’s in the 9th grade. We didn’t do any real prep, she read through the free test booklet and took the test. No pressure. I suggested she take it to become familiar with it and to see what she will need to concentrate on. It was helpful to get a benchmark as well as to get comfortable with the format. I know many will think it’s too early but the boost of confidence she received by doing well on the test will (hopefully) help to offset the pressure of taking the test later.

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