Making a test prep plan

A quick review on the process so far.

  1. You’ve researched your schools to know what sort of score you need.
  2. You’ve taken a practice test from each and compared your scores to see if one test is better for you than another.
  3. You know which test dates will work best with your schedule.

Carefully planning for focused test prep can help you cut down the number of tests you take dramatically.

The next step is critical

You need to allow yourself 6-9 weeks ahead of a test date to do focused preparation, whatever that’s going to look like for you. Most classes will be 6-8 weeks. You can find some crash courses that go over just a few days, but those classes won’t allow for the sort of guided practice most students need to make big gains.

Here’s a look at the options that are available.

Free options

You have a range of options. You can use something like Khan Academy or the ACT Academy. Khan Academy has a more robust list of options. You can even import previous SAT and PSAT results to create a practice plan based on what you need. If you took a practice test, you could also use those results to get a current assessment. Khan Academy will rate your skill level on a range of concepts and let you up set up a practice schedule that emails you reminders.

Budget options

If you need to prep on a budget, you can find plenty of practice books out there. For the Reading and Writing/English sections, Erica Meltzer’s books give you lots of realistic practice questions. For Math, I’ve had a more difficult time recommending a program that will work for a range of students. Most students need reliable questions with good answer explanations. For that, I recommend Barron’s material, whether it is specifically for the Math section or the test in general.

Test prep professionals

For structured outside help, your options are a class or 1:1 tutorials. Structured programs give you the huge advantage of working with a test prep expert, provided that the instructor IS a test prep expert. My recommendation is pretty obvious, but it might not be for everyone. Whatever you choose, do research into the program. Most of the time word-of-mouth is a reliable resource, but what works for one student at one place may not work for every student.

When looking for a program, find something that has an established track record. Some people are lured by “guarantees”. In most cases, the guarantee is relatively worthless. Either they’ve rigged the process with a difficult diagnostic and easier practice tests or they’ve loaded up the Terms and Conditions with so many requirements that you would either never meet all of them. In short, the guarantee looks like a company’s confidence when it is really rigged so that you’ll never qualify for it.

Need a customized prep plan? Check out our test prep planning app. Answer a few critical questions and get a test prep plan that is right for you.