Six Steps to Create Your Own Study Schedule for the ACT/SAT

Studying for a major test can be an intimidating process. We try to procrastinate and put it out of our minds when we should be hitting it right on the head. This is why it is quintessential to create a you-specific study schedule. 

By: Katelyn Pramberger, Political Science and Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University, 2023


1. Take a diagnostic test 

The first step is to figure out which test is best suited for you. To do this, you need to mimic a testing environment (i.e. time the test, turn off your phone, and make sure it is silent), set aside 3 hours to take each test, and evaluate your scores. This sounds very daunting, but I can not emphasize enough how important this step is. This will ensure you are choosing the best option for yourself, give you a baseline score for each test to work off of, and show you which specific sections to focus on. On top of taking a diagnostic test you can look at the difference between the ACT and SAT tests. Here is a link to the official ACT and SAT Diagnostic Tests

2. Get a test book

The second step is buying a book for the test of your choice. The best ACT and SAT books are all dependent on the type of studying you need. Some books give more practice tests and others give more strategies and tips and tricks. Finding the right book for you is very important.

3. Set a target score

The third step is setting a target score. This is a very person-specific step. I recommend finding the average test scores of your prospective colleges using the College Board’s BigFuture. Here, you can search for any college and view their average ACT and SAT scores in the search bar. I would also recommend that if you are interested in applying to scholarships, you should research them and see if there are score requirements. Keep in mind that your initial baseline score does not limit your target score. There is always room for improvement, especially if you set aside ample time to study for the test you choose. 

4. Plan out the time you need to set aside each week for each section

The fourth step is planning out your time. I highly recommend setting aside 2-4 months of studying before taking your first official ACT or SAT test. This will help you space out an ample amount of time to improve your score. My rule of thumb is that if you plan to study for 2 months before your first test, you should set aside 2 hours a week; If you plan to study for 4 or more months before your first test, you should set aside 1 hour a week. If you have a lot of commitments in or outside of school like I did, I highly recommend giving yourself 4 or more months to study before your first official test. For example, I took my diagnostic test in August before my junior year and began studying in September. I gave myself 5 months to study for my February ACT and over this time I was able to improve my score by 8 points.

5. Plan out what sections you will work on each week

The fifth step is planning out what sections you work on each week. Being strategic about how you study is quintessential to exponentially improving your score. After taking your diagnostic test, you will see your score for each section. This will give you an indication on what sections are your strongest and weakest. For example, when I took the ACT my reading and writing sections were extremely strong and my math and science sections were much weaker. This showed me that I had to create a study plan that targeted my math and science sections. Each week I recommend: focusing on one section, completing a practice section from your book with timing, checking your answers to see where you were right/wrong, recording the specific topics you need to review, and studying each topic and tips and tricks. This should take 1-2 hours a week and this will help you target exactly what you need to improve on. Here is an example of a study plan.

6. Choose a test date and register at least a month ahead

The sixth step is choosing a test date and registering at least a month ahead. ACT test dates and deadlines for 2020-21 and SAT test dates and deadlines for 2020-21 are listed here. To register for the ACT in 2020-21 and SAT in 2020-21 look here. 


These six steps will help you create the best study schedule to improve your score! Good luck!

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