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Tips and Resources for Summer SAT Prep, ACT Prep and PSAT Prep

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If COVID-19 restrictions have limited your summer activities, take advantage of this extra time to focus on studying for the ACT, SAT or PSAT.

Studying for ACT, SAT or PSAT this summer? You are not alone. With more ACT and SAT test dates scheduled during the fall months this year and the PSAT’s October test date, summer SAT prep, ACT prep, and PSAT prep is critical. Since your access to in-person ACT and SAT summer prep courses might be limited, we’ve put together 4 tips to help you study on your own.

1. Determine Your Target Score

SAT and ACT test prep experts often say the first step in studying for the ACT or SAT is to find your “target” or “goal” score. To find your target score, look at the average test scores of recently enrolled freshmen at the colleges you plan to apply to.

You can find these average scores in the College Profiles on CollegeData. The College Profile will report the “middle 50%” score range for the SAT’s English-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math tests, as well as the middle 50% composite ACT score, if the college reported it.

In the example below, UCLA's middle 50% ACT score range is between 28 and 34. This means 25% of enrolled freshmen at UCLA scored below 28 on the ACT and 25% scored above 34.  The remaining 50% of enrolled freshmen scored between 28 and 34. If you hope to be admitted to UCLA, your target ACT score would fall at the higher end of this range and preferably above it.  

UCLA's Average Test Scores

UCLA Profile.png Source: UCLA's College Profile, 2018-2019.

You’ll want to look at the middle 50% score ranges for each college on your list, select the highest range among your colleges, and shoot for a score near the top or above this range. In other words, if the highest ACT score range for all colleges on your list is 28 – 34, your target ACT score might be 34 or 35.

How to find ACT and SAT Score Averages on CollegeData

To find the average SAT and ACT scores of enrolled freshmen at the colleges you are interested in, look up the college’s College Profile on CollegeData. Enter the name of the college in the search field at the top of any page or use College Search. On the College Profile, the middle 50% SAT and ACT scores are displayed under “Qualifications of Enrolled Freshmen” on the Overview tab.

Your target score might also be influenced by scholarships from colleges or private organizations, which sometimes have a minimum SAT or ACT score to qualify. For example, to qualify for the $20,000 Chancellor Scholarship at the University of Kansas, students must have at least a 32 on the ACT or 1420 on the SAT.

If you’re studying for the PSAT, keep in mind the average scores for National Merit Scholarship consideration. The qualifying scores change each year and differ by state. Check with your guidance counselor to find out the qualifying scores for your state.

2. Take Practice Tests to See Where You Stand—and How You’re Improving.

Taking practice SAT, ACT, or PSAT tests will help you determine your “baseline” score, and how far you need to go to reach your target score. Practice tests may also help you identify the areas of the test in which you are the strongest and weakest. It’s important to take an official practice test offered by the ACT or College Board (which administers the SAT and PSAT), because they are more likely to simulate questions you’ll see on the actual tests.

However, taking a practice test and noting your score isn’t enough. Kaplan test prep (the official ACT test prep organization) recommends that you go through every incorrect answer carefully to understand where you went wrong, familiarize yourself with the questions on the test, and analyze your results. You might find that you need to work on a certain type of question as opposed to an entire subject area.

If you're planning to take the SAT essay or ACT Writing Test, you will want to review the practice essay prompts available online from the College Board and ACT websites.

3.  Create a Test Prep Schedule

Test prep companies and private tutors have different advice and strategies for the number of study hours required to achieve different target scores. Regardless of your goals, a study schedule is critical, especially during the summer months. Your schedule might consist of a few hours of study a couple of days a week, or an hour every morning on weekdays with longer periods of study on the weekends. It depends on your goals, the number of areas you need to practice, and the time you have available to study.

It’s a good idea to set up a calendar mapping out your study plan up until your scheduled test day. It’s also important to take practice tests throughout the summer to measure your progress and adjust your study time as needed.

Visit Kaplan’s website for a 3-month ACT test prep schedule or Khan Academy for a customized SAT test prep schedule based on your test date.

4. Mix it Up

Use a variety of test prep resources. You might purchase a test prep book, subscribe to an SAT or ACT question of the day, watch YouTube videos, or download an SAT or ACT test prep app on your phone.

A virtual tutor, paid virtual classes or an online study group are other ACT and SAT summer test prep options you might consider to add variety to your study routine. The ACT Academy and Khan Academy websites provide a variety of free SAT and ACT test prep options including videos, games and more.

While you might want to relax over the summer and not do any studying, getting a jump on SAT, ACT and/or PSAT prep during your summer vacation will reduce your workload when school begins in the fall -- and may help you achieve a better test score. Good luck!

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