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When Should Students Start Studying For the SAT / ACT?

I'm often asked by parents when their children should start studying for the SAT / ACT. My answer is always the same: students should start studying in their freshman year.

The point at which a student starts studying for the SAT / ACT is one of the key predictors of his / her success. Starting early, and studying consistently, is the single best way to maximize your grade. The benefits of getting a head start are incontrovertible, and in today's article, we'll enumerate a number of them.

Benefit #1: Stress-free studying

When I suggest to parents having their child start out in freshman year, they blanch. They think of their older kids, who spend hours a day studying for their SAT / ACT, and assume I'm suggesting the same for their younger - but for a longer period, this time.

I'm not. I'm suggesting the opposite. I want your younger kids to avoid the stress and burnout. I want them to study for less hours, with better results. And the way to do this is by starting early.

The earlier a student starts, the less he or she has to study each day. The studying he /she does will be moderate, relaxed, spaced out over time, and of low proportion, in relation to the frantic scramble most students push in their junior / senior year. Doing a small number of questions a day, of half an hour duration, is entirely sufficient.

Many of my students reach the point where they hire me a few months before their actual exam. They spend three or four hours a day studying for their SAT / ACT. If you've been studying correctly, for an adequate period of time, and have a good coach, you should never be in a position where you're studying 3 hours a day for the score you want.

Benefit #2: Exposure to each question type

One thing I do in my blog is introduce you, one by one, to the question types you might see on each section of the SAT / ACT. The more of these different question types you see before your actual exam, the more prepared you'll be. You can be trained to know exactly what the question is looking for, and how to answer it immediately.

Luckily for us, the SAT and ACT tend to repeat their questions. Unluckily, the range of these predictable questions is extremely broad. If you start studying in your freshman year, you'll have been exposed to pretty much every question type the SAT / ACT has to offer.

Benefit #3: Spaced Repetition

If you read this blog regularly, you know that effective use of brainpower is an important principle in my teaching methods. One idea that has particular relevance to this article is that of spaced repetition.

Spaced repetition leverages a memory phenomenon called the spacing effect. Roughly put, our brains learn more effectively when we space our learning over time. Studying a little bit consistently, for a long period of time, yields significantly better results than studying a lot in a short amount of time.

Say, for example, Student #1 start studying during her freshman year. She spends a total of 300 hours studying for her SAT during the course of 30 months.

Student #2 starts studying at the beginning of his junior year. He invests the same amount of study time - 300 hours - during the course of 6 months.

Both these students have logged 300 hours of SAT study time. But from a neurological perspective, the amount of time they've spent studying is not the same. Student #1 has studied perhaps 500 hours in terms of cognitive benefits. Student #2 has studied for about 150 hours, due to all that cramming.

Not all study hours are created equal.

Benefit #4: Identifying your weak spots early

Studying early gives you an opportunity to identify what you're weak at, and to start working on it promptly.

Students have a tendency to harp on the segments they do best, and avoid the elements they have difficulty with. This is exactly the wrong action to take. By far the easiest place to gain extra points on the SAT is in the areas you struggle. Things you're already good at can only be bettered by so much.

Starting to study in your freshman year gives you an opportunity to identify your problems. Many students, for example, open their first PSAT or SAT practice test expecting a struggle with the math section. To their surprise, the math section was fine, but the reading was a disaster. If this happens in their junior year, the task of now improving their reading comprehension seems daunting. If it occurs during freshman year, they can take on one reading passage a day - 10 minutes, 15 questions. By the time they hit their actual exams, they're pros.

Or take vocabulary building. Students often end up scrambling to study thousands of words in a few months. In reality, they should be learning one or two new words a day.

Or take the topic of word problems. This topic isn't only difficult for most students, it's also a favorite with those who write the SAT / ACT - word problems are all over the place. Translating English into math is a difficult skill which takes time to acquire, and it shouldn't be left to a number of months. Identifying such a weakness early allows you to address it by practicing one or two problems a day.

With the help of a good coach, an ample study period will allow you to craft a short, undemanding daily study plan, specially tailored just for you. The value of such a study plan will prove to be invaluable in your eventual success on the exam, and later on, in your college acceptance.

For more tips and methods, or to get help personally tailored to your needs, consider working with me. I've helped people from all over the world get into their dream school. In coaching you, I adopt my methods specifically to your personality, schedule, and learning style. For this reason, studying privately with a skilled coach is the best way to increase your test score.

Happy learning,



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