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ACT and SAT Summer Study Tips

Amy C.

The ACT and SAT exam schedules are designed to correspond with a typical high school academic year. Accordingly, no test dates for either exam are offered over the summer. This makes summer vacation the ideal time to study for a fall ACT or SAT. If this will be your second or later exam, you should treat the summer break as an opportunity to improve in your weakest areas. Here are some tips for making the most effective use out of this time when you are not balancing ACT/SAT prep with school and extracurricular activities.


Examine Your Subscores

ACT and SAT exam results include subscores for almost-every subject. These 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. ACT English, for example, has subscores for grammar (Usage/Mechanics) and style (Rhetorical Skills). ACT Math is subscored by different types of mathematics, and Reading is broken down by passage type. The SAT has similar subscores, although their names tend to be less intuitive. (Check out our blogs on the new SAT scoring system for a “SAT-to-English” translation of the subscores.) The sole exception is ACT Science. No subscores are provided for this section of the ACT.


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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