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When to Start Test Preparation and How

When do you start the process of test preparation? Which strategies are most effective for college admission test practice? The world of college test prep can seem overwhelming! Let me bring some calm and help you learn when and how to start test preparation for best outcomes.

Educate for Understanding 

The best test preparation will always be a good education. In the elementary school years, focus on reading, writing, math, and penmanship. In the middle school years, include keyboarding. Computer-based typing skills will be critical to help your children be prepared. Make sure you are teaching math with a curriculum that makes sense to your child, and continue moving forward with one level each year. In high school, teach your child to write a complete essay in 30-50 minutes so they are prepared for college essay tests. But before formal test prep begins, the best preparation is what you and I fondly refer to as "home education." Yup, the best test prep is teaching our children reading, writing, math, penmanship, vocabulary, and thinking skills.

Start Test Preparation 

When do you start the process of test preparation? For most people, the PSAT® is the starting pistol for college admission test practice. Teenagers take the PSAT for fun in October of 10th grade. That will give you a worst-case scenario test score based on no preparation. That can be the starting pistol - go! Start studying now!

It makes sense to give children some exposure to the PSAT briefly before that test, so they aren't shocked, but delay heavy-duty test preparation until you have the "starting place" score so you can measure the success of your studying.

Some teens aren't ready to incorporate test prep that easily, and for them it makes sense to start test preparation in 11th grade, after taking the PSAT. Other teens have finished geometry early, and are academically inclined. For those kids it might make sense to start test preparation earlier, in 9th grade.

But HOW do you start test preparation?

Become Familiar with the Test 

When you begin prep for the SAT® and ACT® tests, focus on getting awesomer, not smarter. Studying will help your child become more familiar with the test. Together, you will begin to learn how the tests are written and how the test makers want students to answer the questions. After a while, questions become so familiar that you start to feel like you have somehow cheated - the questions become easier and easier for your child to answer!

Test preparation can help your student become more comfortable with the testing environment too. As you use a timer for their practice sections, they'll become more comfortable with being timed and can learn to pace themselves through each section. Your student will start to relax without being anxious waiting for the bell to ring, signaling "time's up!"

Preparing for the SAT or ACT can fill the tiny gaps that are inevitable. Everyone (everyone!) has gaps, whether they are in public school, private school, or homeschooled. By practicing for their tests, students are asked little tiny questions they may not have thought of before. Once they get it wrong and look at the answer, presto! They know it and don't need to worry about it again.

Choosing between the SAT and ACT before you even begin is the best way to increase your student's score without anyone getting any smarter at all. Don't default to the SAT just because that's what your neighbors do. Often a student will score better on one test than the other, so sample both the SAT and ACT at home when it doesn't matter. Have you child take a sample of each in a timed setting with their slippers on at home, and see which one makes them naturally just LOOK smarter.  Sure, many girls and science-lovers score better on the ACT, and many boys score better on the SAT, but what difference does that make? You are looking for the best test for YOUR child, and each child is unique. Use a sample test to find out which one is best.

The Cheapest, Easiest, Most Effective Test Preparation 

Formal college admission test practice at home is the cheapest, easiest, and most effective strategy, just like for most other things we teach. The child doesn't have to become smarter during their test prep, they only need to become more familiar with the test. Studying real tests at home with resources like Princeton Review SAT Premium Prep, The Official SAT Study Guide, or The Official ACT Prep Guide is the simplest way.

But when you do teach test preparation in earnest, consider doing one section of the test each day, three days a week or so to develop test stamina. It's like a runner developing endurance. Taking a full length, timed test once a month would be awesome practice for the full length "real deal" test on exam day.

If your children aren't willing or able to study test prep at home, that's when it's a good idea to reach out for help and find a test preparation tutor or class.

SAT®, AP®, and CLEP® are trademarks owned by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this blog post or The HomeScholar, LLC.

PSAT/NMSQT® is a registered trademark of the College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

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