The Best Approach to ACT/SAT Prep

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What are the specific steps to take (and avoid) for your student to achieve his or her best results on the ACT or SAT? Unlock the secrets to success at Dogwood.

  1. Start as early in junior year as practical.
  2. Figure out whether to start with the ACT or SAT.
  3. Don’t take a real test without proper preparation.
  4. Plan to take the test on two consecutive test dates.
  5. Start test prep about six weeks before the first test date.
  6. Practice, practice, practice – and avoid shortcuts

1) In general, start test prep process as early as practical in junior year. Families are much happier when senior year doesn’t include ACT or SAT testing. If your junior is currently taking Algebra 2, wait at least until winter break because there is so much algebra on SAT and ACT. Look at the workload throughout the entire school year. If he plays football, consider waiting until the season ends. If she has time-consuming activities in the spring, schedule test prep early in the year. You don’t want to add test prep to a schedule that is already fully committed.

2) Colleges and scholarship providers accept ACT and SAT scores on an equal basis. Even test-optional colleges will give consideration to results for ACT or SAT. The Dogwood approach uses practice tests to help determine which test to try first. You can also use results on a recent PSAT (the SAT practice test) as a predictor of SAT performance. In late 10th grade or early 11th grade, students should take a full-length ACT practice test at Dogwood (or at home) to experience the faster timing and feel of the test.

The ACT Science section is unlike any test taken in school, but don’t let that scare you away. ACT has been the more popular test for most of the past 10 years. The proctored practice test takes three hours, usually on a Saturday morning or a non-school weekday. See whether ACT or SAT/PSAT feels like a better fit – and which test yields a higher score. When you and your student meet with the Dogwood director for your follow-up consultation, we’ll evaluate those detailed test results along with their academic strengths and other practical considerations to select which test to prepare for first. Avoid bouncing back and forth between the ACT and SAT. Pick one test, take it twice, then consider switching tests.

3) It’s a very bad idea to take an official ACT or SAT test without proper preparation. Repeat — don’t take a real test cold. At Dogwood, we know that private tutoring is the best way to do test prep; that’s what we do. There are other ways to do credible test prep, however, including free online services like SAT Prep on Khan Academy — or ACT Academy. One-on-one tutoring is best; small classes can be helpful for some students; online prep can appropriate if students are either very diligent or supervised by an adult. Even a little preparation goes a long way on test day.

4) Students should plan to take an official ACT or SAT on two consecutive test dates in junior year. Avoid skipping a test date because that can leave a 3-month gap between tests– long enough for students to lose their edge on the skills learned. If you’re thinking of switching from ACT to SAT or vice versa, take a practice test at Dogwood before registering for an official test.

5) During ACT and SAT test prep, Dogwood tutors work one-on-one with students to strengthen their math, reading and writing skills. They also teach test-taking strategies tailored to match each student’s strengths. The schedule and lessons are customized for each student. There are no packages – you pay for one session at a time. After each session, the tutors send progress notes to parents to show what was covered and how the student scored on practice tests done for homework. 

6) Make time to practice, practice, practice. Just like improving skills in athletics or the arts, students get better at testing by taking practice tests. In addition to the session time with tutors, students are assigned a full practice test (3 hours with standard time) to take at home between their weekly sessions. Our tutors do a great job of coaching students and holding them accountable, but it’s up to students to take ownership of the test prep process. It’s hard work and there are no shortcuts.

Call Dogwood Tutoring and Test Prep at 678-735-7555 or email to discuss strategic options for moving forward with testing during these changing times. We look forward to working with you to customize a plan to help your student achieve his or her best results on the ACT, SAT or both tests.