One of the biggest questions students face when it comes to ACT® or SAT® prep is when to start studying. In this video, Andrew, a UWorld College Prep content author, discusses preparation timelines, diagnostic practice tests, and ideal study methods to help you do your very best on exam day.
Hey, everyone. I’m Andrew, one of ULWorld’s SAT and ACT authors, and today we’re going to talk about just how much time it takes to get ready for your exam.
Long story short, it depends on what you already know, on what range you’re already scoring in, on how much time you have per day, per week, per month to study. But once each of those factors is addressed, you can be pretty confident in your estimation of the amount of time you’ll need.
That said, you should plan for at least a month. Anything less in between your various commitments to school and work and friends and extracurriculars, you’ll not have the time to verify how ready you are or how much your studying has really helped.
Unless you’ve recently taken the exam and already have your score, the first step is to take a diagnostic. Grab the latest officially released exam. Both College Board® and ACT post them on their websites. And set aside a few hours to take it under exam conditions. This means taking the whole exam timed and in one sitting with only brief breaks between sections. It might sound like overkill, but the less like test day your diagnostic is, the less alike your scores are going to be.
Taking one section at a time or taking the test untimed is notably less stressful, less tiring, and more likely to cause you to overestimate your score.
Score your exam using the provided document and compare that score to the target. If you don’t have one of those already, take a look online at the average scores generally accepted by your dream schools, and if you’re already there, congratulations!
Go ahead and take another diagnostic about a week later to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, but otherwise, you probably don’t need much more studying.
Most of us, though, aren’t there on the first try, so take a look at how many points shy of your goal you are and where you lost most of those points, remembering that the Math is generally the easiest section to improve, followed by Writing or English, then Science [for the ACT exam], then Reading.
If you’re off by more than 100 points in a given section, consider dedicating at least 30 hours of practice time to that section. How long it takes you to get those hours depends a lot on your schedule.
With a bit more than an hour per day for a month, you’ll be there even while taking a day off every week, which is really recommended to help with retention. But if you’re looking to improve multiple sections, or if you can only practice a few days a week, you may need to take three or more months to get where you really want to be.
Now, if you’re willing to dedicate this kind of time to get your dream score, you don’t want bad practice methods to get in the way of your improvement. Make sure your practice is heavily emphasizing working on questions just like the ones you’ll see on the exam, rather than only on strategy or in-person or video lectures.
Hearing and reading about the test does help, but minute-to-minute, nothing improves your score like actively practicing questions just like the ones you’ll see on the test. Besides, ideally, looking over the explanations for why you got any given question right or wrong is going to help you form those strategies on your own, anyway.
Now, no matter the path you decide to take, take another diagnostic test every couple of weeks to make sure that your progress is still improving, to gauge how effective your practice is, and to get yourself just that little bit more comfortable with the exam format.
And if you’re not sure where to find that sort of practice, UWorld includes thousands of questions, score-predicting diagnostic tests, and thorough explanations for every type of question you’ll find on the real exam.
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