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How To Prepare for the SAT/ACT

If you are a parent encountering the SAT/ACT process for the first time, the entire thing can feel overwhelming and confusing. There is so much information out there and it can feel impossible to understand it all. But you are in luck because this article is meant specifically for you. We have consolidated the entire SAT/ACT journey into 3 easy steps, and provided you with all the information you need to navigate the standardized testing process.

Step 1. Understand the Test

Why Do I Have To Take These Exams?

The SATs/ACTs are college entrance exams, and most colleges and universities require them to apply. They are meant to give schools a good idea of your child’s college readiness.

What Is Tested?

The content on the SAT and ACT differs slightly (click here for exact details), but for the most part both exams test a student’s Math, Reading, and Writing skills (the ACT has a Science section as well).

When Are The Tests?

The SAT is offered in October, November, December, January, March, May, and June.

The ACT is offered in September. October, December, February, April, and June.

How Do I Register to Take the Tests?

You can register for the SATs at

You can register for the ACTs at

Step 2. Make A Plan

Should my kid take the SAT/ACT?

Every student is different, and some students just prefer one test to the other. We have compiled a very useful chart to help you decide (see the chart here).

When should my child take the test?

In general most students will take their first SAT/ACT in January or February of their junior year. They usually attempt the test a second time in the spring of their junior year, and may opt to attempt the test a third and final time in the fall of their senior year. See our post "When to Take the SAT" for more info.

When should my child start preparing?

It is typically recommended that students start preparing at least 2 months before any test they decide to register for.

Step 3. Prepare

This is where parents really get tied up in knots, mostly because of the abundance of options available. Do you go with a class? One on one tutoring? Do you skip all of that completely and let your child study on his or her own?

We first recommend reading our article "Is Taking A Prep Class REALLY Worth It?".

There are generally 4 ways to prepare (ordered here from least to most expensive):

  1. Self Preparation - this method takes a lot of time management and self-motivation. If you know that your child can independently and diligently work through a practice book, then this is certainly the most cost-efficient way to study. The only downside to this method is perhaps missing out on the strategies that a tutor with years of experience can give you. If you do chose this method, we highly recommend getting the Official SAT Practice Book or the Official ACT Practice Book depending on which test you chose.
  2. Software and Apps - this method also takes a decent amount of time management and self-motivation, but kids often find using software or apps less boring than sitting with a book. It’s a cost effective way to get the strategies behind the test (as well as explanations for every question) without the cost of paying for a class. Find out more about the STAFFS Prep software.
  3. Class-Based Prep Courses - there are courses that you can find for $250/student to ones that can run you $4000/student. Make sure to do your research (look at reviews!), and not fall into the trap of thinking more expensive equals higher quality.
  4. One-on-One Tutoring - this can get expensive quickly, but there are definitely some tutoring companies that are more interested in helping students than they are about profits. This is by far the most effective way of studying for the test, since a good tutor will target a student’s areas of weakness.

We hope this article helped clarify and demystify the SATs/ACTs. If you have any questions on what was mentioned here feel free to contact us directly at