It’s that time of year again! Here are the steps I take to get my clients admitted into their top-choice college year after year. Remember, I have three goals for clients: graduate from college, in four years, with as little debt as possible. In that process, I also fulfill my other objective: creating a better student, not just a better applicant.

Take your placement exams.

This sounds pretty obvious, but many students are either too anxious to take the SAT and ACT at all, or procrastinate so much they lose the opportunity to increase their score. There is some legitimacy to that; stereotype threat and general anxiety can be crippling.

I think it’s important to weigh options in this case: what would happen if I don’t take the exam, and what would happen if I am not strategic about taking the exam? Here are some quick tips to accomplishing your goals with the SAT and ACT:

1) Just because you opt to take the exam, it doesn’t mean you take the SAT or ACT a ton of times. There is a point where one can look crazy and obsessive, and those aren’t the soft skills that you want to demonstrate. I believe three is the magic number (I’m going with the De La Soul reference there).

2) Study! The SAT and ACT are not just another test especially since you haven’t had a teacher explaining this topic to you every day prior to the exam. While some may think Algebra is Algebra, there is something to how questions are asked and you need to know how to answer the question they are asking. Also, and this is most important, as I mentioned in #9, the SAT and ACT are primarily intended to measure your college-readiness, not how well you have mastered certain topic areas. This is a critical difference. This means that wherever they can, they are looking at your reading comprehension. As I was told, the SAT is a reading test with some math in it. Students who are looking for quick answers or to make quick computations, aren’t going to do as well. And that part of the SAT seems right to me; nothing worth anything should come easily.

3) Space out your test but take your last test so that you can still apply during the early season. I usually recommend January and May of junior year. This also means that you have time between tests to work with a test prep company, and before as you should definitely take the PSAT in the previous October. If your score is not putting you comfortably within range of where you want to go to college, there is always September. But keep in mind, #2 becomes even more important then as you don’t want to risk getting a lower score due to summer fatigue.

4) Don’t forget the SAT IIs. If you have earned a 4 or 5 on certain AP Exams, don’t also take the SAT II in that subject area. Use the opportunity to demonstrate your abilities in another area. And also make sure to look to see what your target schools are asking you to do.

Wow, that was a lot! Test-taking is a difficult subject and honestly not one anyone should do alone. During my workshop on May 28, we are also going to do a SAT and ACT workshop. Be sure to sign up here before it’s too late.