Mike Settele is a NY native who resettled to LA in 2016. Mike is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where test prep was in his blood. Mike taught SAT classes for Capital Educators throughout college, and became a full-time course director after graduation. He started his own private SAT and ACT tutoring business after moving to California, and he currently works with students throughout the Los Angeles area. Mike offers practical advice on how to prepare for these critical tests, while managing the stress!
The SAT is a rite of passage for high school juniors, and a stressful one at that. Luckily, I only had to take the SAT once in high school. But since then, I’ve taken dozens of SATs and ACTs myself, and I’ve helped hundreds of students prepare for their own tests.
Why you should prep:
You should NEVER take an SAT or ACT without some kind of practice. For one, these tests are 4-5 hours long, so building endurance is essential. But just as important, practice tests provide exposure to the unique styles of the SAT and ACT. As any tutor will tell you, the questions are designed to trick you into picking wrong answers. It’s not hard to avoid these traps—if you know to expect them.
When you should prep:
There’s no need to think about the SAT or ACT before sophomore year. Many schools offer the PSAT 10 during sophomore spring. Almost all give the PSAT/NMSQT in mid-October of junior year. Some offer pre-ACTs as well. I strongly suggest you take advantage of these opportunities. The scores don’t count, so most students won’t need to study, but it’s good practice. PSAT/NMSQT scores are released in mid-December, and that’s when families should start thinking about a test prep plan. Most juniors take the SAT in March or May and/or the ACT in February or April. One of the most common questions I get asked is whether it’s better to take the SAT, the ACT, or both. I prefer the SAT, and you can read about why on my website why I hate the ACT. But if you have practice scores for each test, you can compare them and decide. Just remember that the SAT/ACT decision is much less important than the hype suggests. The real secret to good scores is hard work. You should start practicing 2-3 months before test day, and consistency is key. Most people will retest over the summer or in the fall of senior year, but EVERYONE should take at least one test as a junior.
How you should prep:
Obviously, there are different learning styles and schedules that may require slightly different plans. Talk to counselors, tutors, and friends for guidance. But the greatest variability comes from the prep itself. There are basically three ways to get ready for the SAT and ACT: private tutoring, group classes, and self-study. Private tutoring is convenient and efficient. Sessions can be organized around your schedule, and tutors can focus exclusively on your weaknesses. There will almost certainly be outside homework, including those long practice tests, but a good tutor will follow up with students and parents to make sure it gets done. Private tutoring can get expensive, so you should know what you’re signing up for. Definitely talk to the tutor about his or her experience, and try to get some sort of trial session before you commit. Having taught group classes for a decade, I think 8-12 students is ideal. The bigger the class, the easier it is to daydream in the back row. Just as important is how the classes are grouped. If students are separated by score, the entire class can learn at the same pace. When various abilities are lumped together, the instructor has to teach to the middle, so advanced students might get bored and struggling students might fall further behind. One benefit of group classes is that they usually offer proctored practice exams. They also tend to be less expensive than private tutoring. You might start with a group class to take a general approach, then fine-tune with private tutoring. Self-studying is hard, but it’s basically free. It’s unfortunate that many students don’t have the resources for professional prep, but motivated students can absolutely improve by setting a study schedule and sticking to it. The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to offer free online SAT prep, and the ACT has a similar arrangement with Kaplan for students who qualify for a fee waiver. I recommend finding a “study buddy” so there’s some accountability. It’s easy to procrastinate, since junior year is already hectic. Once you’ve come up with a plan, visit the SAT or ACT website to register for the test. You should definitely sign up WITH the Essay, at least for the first exam. The Essay is optional for most schools, but when it comes to college applications, “optional” means “mandatory.” You don’t want to skip the Essay in March, only to discover that you need it in October when you start applying. And that’s the general principle for all SAT and ACT prep— don’t wait until the last minute!
For More information about Mike’s services check out his website at https://www.setteletutoring.