Here is a basic outline of what high school students need to be considering when it comes to preparing for the SAT:
RELAX! You've got lots of time. You shouldn't be thinking about formally preparing for the SAT much at all. If you must, you may consider the following activities as your early SAT prep: reading books, learning new words, paying attention in math class, writing persuasive essays, taking a Latin class.
It's a good idea to take the PSAT in October of your sophomore year. If, and only if, you know that you experience crippling anxiety when taking standardized tests, then one or two tutoring sessions are fine to alleviate the stress. Don't go overboard. The PSAT is the Preliminary SAT. Taking it in your sophomore year is essentially practice for the practice. The reason for taking it is simple: there are precious few opportunities to experience real testing conditions. The more comfortable you feel in that kind of environment, the better you?ll do when the SAT rolls around.
The other thing that really makes sense sophomore year is to put a little extra emphasis on vocabulary. Get an SAT vocabulary list and start learning 5 new words a week. Finding a list of Latin roots (assuming you are not taking Latin) can help immensely.
If you think you might be eligible for a National Merit Scholarship (which is only open to juniors who take the PSAT/NMSQT), then it can make sense to start working with a tutor during the summer after sophomore year. The scholarships are highly competitive. Among other things, you need to be at the very top of your class, demonstrate leadership and community service, and essentially show that your PSAT score was not a fluke by performing comparably on the SAT. Although the award is a lot of work for $2500, it sure does impress college admissions officers.
This is the time to start SAT tutoring in earnest. If you are like the vast majority of our students, we recommend starting with an SAT tutor in the fall, and using the PSAT in October to gauge your progress and motivate/scare yourself into working harder. Remember, it's better to have started early and have too much time than the alternative.
At the beginning of the junior year, it is a good idea to set a target SAT score. You need to be thinking about where you'd like to go to college when deciding your target score. While you don't have to finalize a top 10 list, you should get an idea about the range of SAT scores for accepted applicants at the schools that interest you. Your target score should put you in at least the 50th percentile of accepted applicants' scores. (If you attend an elite independent high school in NYC, you will likely need to aim for the 75th percentile rather than the 50th, due to the degree of competition from your peers.) Of course, to strengthen your chances of getting into your first choice school, it?s better to aim for the top end of the range. . . if it's doable. Once you are consistently reaching your goal in practice, formal test prep should be finished. You might be the kind of student that is highly motivated by knowing that you can stop once you reach your target.
The SAT is offered in March, May and June. Generally speaking, we recommend taking the test as soon as you are meeting your target goal.? If you?re ready in March of junior year, then go ahead and take it. If you're unhappy with your performance, you'll be able to take it again in May or June.
Remember, if you are taking multiple AP tests & SAT Subject Tests (SAT IIs), make sure you spread them out so you don't get overwhelmed (or at least so you get less overwhelmed). You really don't want to be taking the SAT, two AP exams, and an SAT Subject Test in the same week at the beginning of May!
If your scores aren't where they need to be after the June exam, plan on summer tutoring and taking the SAT again in September. The final exam date in November, just before college applications are due, is cutting it really close, but it's nice to know it's there as a final option if early results aren't what you hoped.