Our colleagues at Endeavor Academics have worked with countless students as they navigated the process of testing with extended time. Megan Phillips shares their top tips for students focussed on getting their best score with the least amount of stress.
1. Apply for accommodations ASAP: Getting accommodations can take time. Ideally, you’ve been using your accommodations in school for several months before applying for extra time on the SAT or ACT. If not, starting early will give you time to complete or update educational testing and get your accommodations in place at school. Starting early will also give you the opportunity to appeal the decision if your initial request for testing accommodations is denied.
2. Start early preparing early, but not too early: Both the ACT and SAT include math content covered in Algebra 2. Unless you are on an advanced math track, you are likely to still be learning important material over the course of your junior year. While it’s tempting to wait until the end of junior year to get more math under your belt, doing so will leave you with very few test dates to choose from before your application deadlines. Waiting until after the first semester of junior year is often a good compromise. If you have already completed Algebra 2 when junior year starts, start your preparation in the fall. It feels great to have your testing out of the way early!
3. Choose one test to focus on - pick that test based on data: Junior year is stressful enough without having to juggle preparation for two tests. Sometimes students get approved for accommodations for one test but not the other. If that’s the case, your decision is an easy one. If you get approved for accommodations on both tests, take a practice SAT and a practice ACT to make the decision based on facts not feelings. Often students perform significantly better on one test, so it’s worth investing the time in practice tests to be sure of your decision.
4. Consider available dates: Your preparation should be scheduled backward from the test date you choose. Unfortunately, each test is only offered seven times each year. As a result, it’s important to consider your schedule when choosing a date. Are you playing football in the fall? If so, waiting for an early spring date will allow you to avoid testing the morning after a big game. Are you in the spring play? Rehearsals might leave you too exhausted to adequately prepare, so testing in the fall is likely a wise choice. Whatever date you choose, make sure that there is at least one (ideally two) date after your initial test in case you decide to test again. Many students test two or three times before arriving at their final score.
5. Decide whether to add the writing: Both the SAT and ACT include optional writing sections, though a handful of schools require applicants to have an essay score. Fortunately, neither test incorporates that score into your composite score. If you are still unsure of where you will apply, taking the essay is probably the safest bet. However, it should be noted that the vast majority of schools do not require it.
6. Pick the right prep program: Make sure that the program you choose will set you up for success. If you are testing with accommodations, you will want a teacher or tutor that has experience working with students with extended time. The strategy and techniques should be adapted to your strengths, scores, and testing conditions. Don’t be shy about asking questions about a tutor’s experience with accommodations before you decide on a program. Having the right support will increase your scores and decrease the amount of time, money and stress associated with the preparation process.
7. Commit to doing the work: Unless you plan to apply to schools that are test optional, your scores are a vital component of your application. Unlike with your GPA, you can make a significant difference in how competitive your application will be in a relatively short period of time. Every year we see big gains from students who buckle down and get focused. Don’t wait to get serious or you will drag out a process that could have been much shorter.
8. Do your homework under testing conditions: Using your time efficiently can be one of the most challenging components of these tests. A strong test prep program will have you completing homework each week. Make sure to complete your assignments using a timer. If you have other accommodations beyond extended time, practice under those conditions as well. For example, if you qualify to have the test read aloud, ask a parent, sibling or friend to read homework assignments to you. Practicing the same way you will test will give you more confidence on test day and will give your teacher or tutor more accurate data to coach you.
9. Take practice tests: Homework is incredibly important, but it won’t give you the same experience as taking the full test. Make sure to take at least one full length test (though ideally several) before your real exam. This will give you a sense of the stamina required to complete the test. It will also allow you to test out the pacing plan that you’ve developed with your teacher or tutor.
10. Keep the lines of communication open with your teacher or tutor: Everyone learns differently. Don’t be shy about letting your instructor know if you still have questions, if they can make adjustments in their instruction to improve your understanding or if their suggestions for a pacing strategy aren’t working as well as you had hoped. The best strategy is one that you develop with your teacher based on their years of expertise with the test and your knowledge of how you work and learn. This isn’t a one size fits all process, so don’t be embarrassed if you feel like a different approach might help! Your teacher wants that high score for you too, and sometimes small adjustments can make a big difference.