As tenth grade students wind down Sophomore year and begin to think about which college has the best academic reputation, sports opportunities, geographic location, and parties, they might also be thinking about when to take the ACT college entrance exam. Now is an optimum time to collect information and create a study plan.
ACADEMICS: Consider the academic load in eleventh grade. List the courses in which the student will be enrolled and estimate the time requirements for homework completion based on the student’s previous subject experiences. Try to be realistic when judging how quickly the student learns, especially when considering honors or AP courses, but lean toward over estimating rather than under estimating time commitments.
OUTSIDE OBLIGATIONS: If the student will have a job or will be participating in extracurricular activities, estimate the calendar of events and the time commitments involved. Starring in the musical, for example, will undoubtedly occupy all available time a week before the performance. Again, it is useful to allot more time than to find out later that the student is over committed.
SOCIAL COMMITMENTS: Look at the school calendar and the family’s vacation plans to identify blocks of time unavailable for study. Include birthdays and other social events that may disrupt a study plan.
KNOW THE LIMITS: Research a few possible schools to determine the academic and entrance exam expectations. Visiting schools in person or on internet can provide all needed information and also the motivation for the student to implement a study schedule.
KNOW THE LIMITATIONS: Use results from the PLAN (the standardized test given in Sophomore year) or have the student take a practice ACT to evaluate the level of study required to achieve a desired score.
CREATING A STRUCTURE FOR THE STUDY PLAN
Use a 9-month or longer calendar to mark out large blocks of time that are already committed. For example, if the student is a football player or cross country runner, block out the Fall when focus will be on the sport and keeping up with school work. Don’t forget semester finals which may consume as much as 2 weeks for intense study.
Based on previous experience, estimate the length of time the student will need for ACT preparation. For an average student, incremental improvements in any of the 4 sections might require a week for each 2 point elevation in score. For example, if the entry score for English is 24 and the target score is 30, figure 3 weeks of concentrated study to accomplish the goal. This estimate should be adjusted according to the student’s academic history and current level of achievement. It will take longer to go from a score of 34 to a 35 than from 14 to 15. In the first case, the student will need to search for unknown concepts to study, while the latter might be accomplished by studying just one of many possible rules.
Determine when the student will be taking the ACT. For public school students in Illinois, the PSAE is given in late April of the Junior year and includes an ACT component which is generally considered to be “required” and reported on the student’s permanent high school record. While this score need not be the highest the student will ever achieve, a respectable score is necessary since every potential college will see it. Don’t rush into a national administration of the test, however. December of Junior year is a recommended testing date ONLY for students who have completed a course in Trigonometry and have adequate time in the Fall to prepare. February’s test results do not include actual answers to test questions and cannot be used for effective study. ACT offers an early April test, but many Juniors wait until June, after school is in Summer recess. An incoming Senior can take the test in September or October and usually have results in time for early admission to the college of their choice.
It is commonplace for a high school Sophomore to hesitate in planning for the ACT, especially right now when Final Exams and summer vacation are just over the horizon. But planning now can ease the mind of a dedicated college-bound student. After all, this part of the plan isn't actually learning any concepts needed on the ACT, and could be an excellent excuse to visit colleges while postponing the arduous task of studying.