“One and Done” : Practice Early, Test Early, Be Done
By Mark Greenstein,
Founder and Lead Instructor,
Ivy Bound Test Prep, October 2011
Publication permission granted so long as the
name and URL is included.
Though many elite colleges dislike “score
choice” and insist that students disclose all scores come application
time, none discriminates against students with multiple scores.
Students need not fear the multiple scores, and those students
who build ACT or SAT success early STILL have a major advantage.
The strategy students should follow is:
PREP EARLY and PRACTICE TEST OFTEN.
Strong practice tests are the best indicator of
strong actual scores.
(Remember, a well-timed practice SAT is a better dry-run than the PSAT).
On a Test Day with no aberrations, a student is likely to score
within 60 points (out of 2400) of her or his best practice test.
Many students who begin their
test prep early have practice tests that reveal that they can post
impressive scores early (fall of Junior year).
Those who start prepping early but whose progress is slow STILL
have multiple test dates in the winter and spring of Junior year.
ALL students who do well as Juniors avoid a crowded last summer,
and avoid the pressure of Senior year “do-or-die” testing.
There is NOTHING in the SAT that relies on
junior year academics. The
SAT Math, Reading and Writing covers
skills presented in the sophomore year and earlier.
Students waiting for an extra year of academics to feel “ready”
for the SAT get an incremental bit of vocabulary – that’s all*.
Meanwhile, students taking pre-calculus or calculus are actually
REMOVING themselves from the core SAT math: Algebra I and low-level
The result of early prep and early testing is:
GOOD PRACTICE; BETTER STEELED FOR NEXT TIME
For ACT, which includes some trigonometry and
higher level math functions often covered in junior year, early is STILL
sensible if the family is willing to have a tutor give those higher
level math skills in the summer.
Unless a student’s prep takes away from good
academics or good extra-curricular activities, there is NO downside to a
well-prepped student testing early.
(To avoid prep greatly conflicting with academics, we at Ivy
Bound / Rising Stars encourage 2 – 4 weeks of summer SAT or ACT prep and
then a light fall ramp-up.)
The up-sides to posting a good score early are:
knowing what colleges are realistic, and thus
making intelligent campus visits
giving recruiters (especially coaches, but also
academic department heads) an early
reason to woo you
avoiding the pressures of junior spring and
senior fall, which are otherwise very busy
being DONE, and getting on to other pursuits
Remember, nothing on the SAT requires high level
math. A semester each of
Algebra and Geometry is all a student needs to take advantage of SAT
math topics. Most students
have had that requisite Algebra and Geometry by the middle of sophomore
year. The SAT math
topics that might fall outside of that early Algebra and early Geometry
can be covered well in a good prep course, or even in a few hours of
The student who takes a fall test Junior year
and doesn’t do well still has three advantages for the next test:
1) A student can learn from the testing experience.
Making the best use of time,
knowing what to expect of the
proctors, and avoiding
distractions can all incrementally help on the next test.
Even a student whose abilities have not improved
from one test day to another may still see a better score owing to the
vagaries of the test.
Even a student whose abilities have not improved
from one test day to another may still see a better score because that
student approaches the test differently the next time.
My students have always had the chance to take
frequent practice tests (Ivy Bound pays for all our students to make
maximum use of College Board’s released tests).
The students who start with us before junior year will be taking
a REAL test in the fall. Few
high school counselors push for fall SATs, but they
Foreign students command high regard by American
colleges -- they add "diversity" and they pay full tuition.
With the low U.S. dollar, I predict international applicants will
go higher for at least the next two years, cutting down the number of
places for American students.
The way to fight for a place at a competitive college remains
being a standout on test scores, grades, or extracurricular excellence.
"Legacy" status and just plain well-roundedness will continue to
This may be a wake-up call to some, but
knowledgeable parents have long demanded that their kids test a lot.
Savvy parents know what it takes in the modern era for
competitive admissions, and their students are getting the coveted
admissions and merit scholarship awards.
FOUR MORE SUGGESTIONS:
Consider an experiment of two practice SATs and two practice ACTs on
consecutive weekends. This
gives clarity about which test gives the better likelihood of a top
The Official SAT Study Guide
and The Real ACT Prep Guide
provide the comparison opportunity.
Don’t prep long, but prep WELL.
Ivy Bound encourages only 3 – 9 months for SAT tutoring.
When done well, no
student has to be saddled with 20 – 24 months.
Don’t take the SAT “cold”.
Unless you can attain a score that will guarantee you admission
to your cherished program, testing cold is a wasted opportunity.
Do at least SOME prep.
Get to a level where you can on a good day show a great score
(for the colleges you aspire to attend) on at least ONE section.
Once one section is “nailed”, it’s good for life at most
colleges, and thus the student might be able to end study on that
section and concentrate on the other two sections.
Ideally, do all prep you expect to do before the first SAT.
That gives you the chance to make it the last SAT as well.
All of the above suggestions apply to the ACT.
Colleges do not need both an SAT and an ACT, and we know of NONE
that has even a mild preference (BYU’s former preference for ACT ended
last year). All other things
being equal, the SAT is typically more coachable with less tutoring
time, and more colleges “super-score” (i.e. cherry-pick the best
sections) on the SAT than the ACT as of 2011.
A student with a poor ability to learn new vocabulary may be
better off on ACT, which does not directly test vocabulary.
* There are exceptions.
Students who have not had a semester of algebra and a semester of
geometry by sophomore year may deserve to wait until later in the junior
year to cover the basic math prior to their first SAT.
And some students actually get vocabulary-intensive English
courses as Juniors, though this is rare since most school administrators
dislike direct SAT prep.