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Summer Study Sessions: Perfect Time for SAT Prep

Chris O’Brien’s dream summer looked like this: vacationing at the beach, working at a restaurant, and hanging out with friends. Not pictured: studying for the SAT.

But his PSAT scores “weren’t good enough” he says, so he agreed to SAT tutoring over the summer break. While it wasn’t his ideal summer activity, it did pay off. “The results were huge. I improved my SAT test score by 300 points, which gave me scholarship opportunities at several colleges.”

“Summer is a good time for test prep. Students have fewer conflicts with their academics, sports teams, and other extracurriculars,” says Anathea Simpkins, who manages tutoring and test prep programs for Sylvan Learning. ACT and SAT summer prep courses are especially helpful for incoming seniors like Chris, she says. “Concepts from the junior year are still fresh in their minds and they haven’t experienced summer learning loss. Also, senior year can be very hectic.”

Taking practice tests is the best way for high schoolers to become familiar with the SAT and ACT college entrance exams. It can give them an early read on how they might score and help uncover areas they need to work on.

Without the pressures of school, your teen may find it easier to carve out the three-hour blocks of time needed to complete the practice tests.

Summer’s longer, lazier days can also open up more time for pleasure reading—which helps with vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.

Is your teen the type to take online practice tests independently? If so, their high school guidance office should have test prep materials to share, and numerous study resources are available online. If not, lining up a tutor or enrolling in a test prep course with personalized support may be the way to go.

Libraries and bookstores also typically carry SAT and ACT study guides. But don’t be tempted to dig up your older child’s SAT workbook, because the SAT underwent substantial changes in 2016:

  • The content more closely aligns with high school coursework
  • The essay is optional
  • Each question offers four answers to choose from instead of five
  • There are now two math sections
  • One math section must be completed without a calculator

The purpose of the SAT or ACT is to measure a high school student’s readiness for college. The more challenging the college or university, the higher the test score they will want.

Not all colleges require standardized test scores. But those that do typically accept either the SAT or ACT with no preference for one over the other.

“In deciding which test your teen should take, either one is fine,” says Simpkins. “The schools can convert SAT scores to equivalent ACT scores, and vice versa.” Many students will take both tests to see if they perform better on one than the other. Then retake that test to try for a higher score a second (or even third) time.

Tracey Guild advises students to send at least two sets of scores to colleges when they apply. “Many colleges will super-score their SAT and ACT scores,” says Guild, assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Fairfield University in Connecticut. “If a student submits more than one SAT score, we will take the highest score from each section and combine them to get the highest overall score.”

Like an increasing number of colleges and universities, Fairfield University is test-optional. “This means we do not require either test,” Guild says. “However, if a student does submit their test scores, we will use that as another part of the application to help us with the decision-making process.”

While standardized tests aren’t at the top of anyone’s summer fun list, using these months to prepare can lessen the stress of the tests in the long run. As Simpkins says, “These may be the most important tests your student will ever take. The more familiar your teen is with the tests, the more comfortable and confident they will be about taking them.”

Nancy O'Connor

Nancy O’Connor is a freelance writer and the triumphant mother of three emerging adult sons.