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ACT and SAT Summer Study Tips Redux

With summer once again upon us, it’s time to revisit our ACT and SAT summer study tips. Because the ACT and SAT are aligned with the traditional school calendar, no test dates are offered over the summer. This makes summer vacation the ideal time to study for a fall ACT or SAT.


Below is an updated guide to making the most the most effective use out of this time when you are not balancing ACT/SAT prep with school and extracurricular activities. If this will be your second or later exam, you should treat the summer break as an opportunity to improve in your weakest areas. 


Start Early

While this is arguably the most obvious tip in this guide, it is also one of the most important. The longer you delay setting up and beginning your study routine, the more difficult it becomes to do so. In addition, each week where you say “I’ll start next week” is one less week you have to actually study. You don’t have to start as soon as school lets out, but you shouldn’t wait until July either. Starting in mid to late June will give you a solid month of summer ACT or SAT prep time.


Examine Your Subscores

ACT and SAT subscores give colleges a better idea of where your strengths and weaknesses within each test subject lie. However, subscores are also something that you can use to self-diagnose where you most need to improve. The ACT and SAT have subscores for every section based on either the type of question being asked or the underlying skill being tested. (Check out our posts on ACT and SAT subscores if you need help understanding what the subscores measure.)


Decide What to Focus On

Now that you know the areas you need the most help in, your next step should be to decide which subscores to devote the majority of your summer study time to. This is not as simple as you might think. Your decision should depend on, among other factors, your intended major(s) and college(s). If you intend to major in communications or English, for instance, you would want to focus on the verbal sections of the ACT or SAT, even if your scores for those sections are slightly higher overall. If, on the other hand, you plan to major in a science or technology field, you would want to focus on subscores that contribute to the STEM meta-scores on the ACT and SAT.


If your intended major is interdisciplinary or the colleges you are applying to care primarily about a student’s composite score, you might consider a strategy designed to provide a maximum study time to composite boost ratio. One such approach is to focus on your lowest subscores in the sections with your highest overall scores. In other words, take the path of least resistance to a higher composite score.


Plan a Summer Study Schedule

Once you decide what to focus on over the summer, you should come up with a rough study schedule. This doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be particularly intense, but it should be consistent. Spend an hour three to four days a week working on your chosen subscores. Set a regular day every couple of weeks to take a full practice test. Make sure you take vacations and other times that you will be away from home into account, but don’t worry too much about studying during these times. Your ACT/SAT summer prep routine should be a marathon, not a sprint. Sticking to a lighter schedule, even with some breaks, will do more to boost your subscores than an intense cram session shortly before the ACT or SAT.


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