Begin by scheduling a meeting with your guidance counselor. Find out which tests are offered and understand how they differ and which ones are appropriate for you.
Take a practice SAT and ACT. Determine which test you’re more comfortable with and is the best for you. Kaplan Test Prep offers free SAT and ACT online events and tests to help you compare. The Princeton Review also offers free SAT and ACT online tests.
Once you decide which test you will be focusing on, set up a schedule. If you can take the ACT or SAT in junior year, you’ll have more time to focus on applications and financial aid when you’re a senior. Look at the ACT and SAT test dates for the entire year and choose dates that allow you enough time to prepare . Of course, you will have the option to take additional tests during senior year should you want to improve your scores. Take into consideration any AP or IB exams as well as your course finals when planning your schedule.
Ask your parents and guidance counselor for input. Choose test dates that don’t conflict with any of your own personal obligations and talk to your parents to clear the test dates you are considering with the family calendar as well.
Register for tests as soon as possible to ensure your spot at the location of your choice. Keep a master calendar of the tests, test dates and locations that you register for and store your registration ticket in a place you’ll remember on test morning.
Find test prep resources. Search for resources that will work best with your learning style and your budget. You can prepare on your own, in a group or with a tutor. Take advantage of the free resources available online. You can borrow test prep books from your local public library or you can purchases them online and in your local bookstore. Use these resources to take practice exams. Take as many timed practice tests as possible to get comfortable with the test and develop a good sense of how to pace yourself. In addition, there are many online prep programs as well as classes in your local area. Ask your guidance counselor, and also friends and relatives who have done this before for recommendations.
Keep track of your scores. Once you have your results, record all your test scores on a master calendar like the one included in The College Bound Organizer. From this list you’ll choose your top scores, even if those scores are from different test dates, to submit with your applications.
Learn about test-optional schools. The list of colleges and universities that don’t require the ACT or SAT in their admissions process has expanded significantly in the last few years. Whether you decide in advance to opt out of standardized test taking or you’re not happy with your scores, test optional schools may be a good choice for you.
Remember, that while there is so much talk about testing, your test scores are only one piece of your application. Admissions officers are also interested in your grades, your curriculum, your participation in extracurriculars, and what you express about yourself in your essay.