Making “Friends” with the SAT/ACT: Start Earlier!


Practice and familiarity. We know that repetitively pushing yourself to excel at auditions for All-District, All-State, and competitions makes you more comfortable with the process if you start when you’re a freshman. It’s the same with the SAT. Begin with easy things like vocab and keep at it slowly and patiently and improve your test-taking ability for this very specialized test.

There is a hidden SAT “prize” that can help you out. It happens when you are a JUNIOR.  Score high on the PSAT the “pre-SAT” and you can make National Merit Scholarship status. It opens the doors at a lot of colleges both in terms of admissions and money. Even get close and you get a National Merit finalist standing, which gives you a bit more shiny profile if you mention it in your application process under your awards and honors.

In many schools, students sit for the PSAT 10, a yardstick geared to 10th grader’s knowledge base. Dreyfoos sits only for the junior year PSAT. Still, since that is a measure out there, being aware and gearing yourself up for this big college “audition,” is no different than practicing your instrument or practicing vocals.


At the beginning of your freshman year, grab a copy of Princeton Reviews Vocabulary Flash Cards.  Keep building your vocabulary base along with the words that you’re learning at school.

Inevitably most students at DSOA don’t get enough of the word base that is on the radar of the College Board, and “cramming” for vocabulary in your Junior year never works well.

If you do a little bit each month over the next four years, it should improve your English scores as well.

Whatever areas you are weak in, consider using Khan Academy. offers excellent FREE online courses in most high school subjects.

You have nothing to lose by strengthening “core” skills in math and english, because they will make you do them again in your Freshman year if you haven’t mastered them in high school anyway.


In your sophomore year, go to Khan Academy and and the College Board have teamed up to offer a FREE SAT practice testing system.  We like it better than the books because it’s interactive, and gives you instant feedback on how you’re doing, and where you can improve.

Beginning in October of your Sophomore year, once a month, take an SAT practice test on Khan Academy.  Some of the material on the test will not be things that you have studied. If it’s something that you have not studied yet. That’s okay.  Your end score is not the objective as a sophomore. The object of taking the tests as a sophomore is to get comfortable with the format of the questions, pacing, and the overall time needed to get them done.  Do the best you can, and follow Khan’s instructions.

When you’re done, Khan will give you feedback.  Look at how you did with material that you already do know. With the material that you have already studied in school, did you do well? Not so well? Things to consider:

  •  If there are questions on the practice SAT in subjects that you have already studied that you DID NOT get correct, go back and review them on Khan Academy.
  • Part of college is learning to deal with things that you’ve never seen before, by taking what you do know, and trying to sort out a correct answer. Your teachers are teaching you how to synthesize ideas, and the SAT and the ACT both are going to test that.  Were any of the questions that you got wrong in this area? If so, this is something that you might want to work more on with your English teachers and/or an SAT course or tutor that can help you identify and process these types of question better.
  • If you’re continually struggling for time needed to finish, or you feel like the questions are worded in a way that is just not making sense to you, then you might want to consider taking an SAT prep course between your Sophomore and Junior year.  The test is a game. Learning how to process it faster and with greater accuracy can improve your score.

SAT Subject Tests

Many schools outside of Florida want them. If there is a subject test in a course that was offered to you as a Sophomore that you can do well in, take it at the end of your Sophomore year, while it’s still fresh for you.


Prep for the PSAT. Continue taking the tests, and tweaking areas you might not know/remember as well if the test is showing you places where you can make improvements.  Take the PSAT.  The PSAT is offered through Dreyfoos. Your guidance counselor, Mrs. Middleton, will help you with that.

Most schools “superscore” the SAT and the ACT. They will take your best scores and put them together. DO NOT pre-authorize, when you sign up for the tests with the College Board website, scores to be sent to different schools. Wait until you’re ready to make application and then pick which ones that you want to send the colleges of your choice.

Take the SAT and the ACT in the Winter AND Spring of your Junior year.  See which one you like better/did better with.  You can take one or both, as they superscore each at most colleges that use standardized tests for entry. After the first test, taking the SAT or the ACT is usually good enough. If you haven’t hit the numbers you want/need, then take some tutorial in the test that you’re running with, and take it again on the first Fall Date.   The Florida colleges early consideration period cuts off somewhere in October/November for UF, UCF, USF, etc. so you want to have your scores ready to report by then you so you can get an answer back from these schools, if you’re applying to them, by the first week in December.

Khan Academy works for the SAT.  They don’t cover the ACT though. The Princeton Review has excellent ACT & SAT test/prep books, and real-world online tutors with their masters and Ph.D.s who can help you virtually.

Senior Year

There are generally two SAT and ACT test dates open prior to the close of regular admission applications. If you’ve been following the program as outlined here, you might still need to take the first SAT in the late Summer/early Fall.

DO NOT rely on the second test if you can avoid it, because many of you will be seeking music major or minor scholarship money/merit scholarship for music, and if you can’t get past the university’s Admissions office with a “Admit” by December, that money may find its way to students whom the college music department knows are already admitted.   On the other hand, if you didn’t take the SAT in your junior year, or took it once and the score was not at a level to get you admitted to your schools of choice, you may have no other alternative but to take the ACT or SAT into that second testing date.

Just like your music rehearsals, if you work the SAT/ACT into your school routine and do it in smaller bites over a longer period of time, it will be less stressful, and give you a greater ability to get your head around the way the test is built so you can do well on it.

If you can do well on the PSAT, National Merit opens doors just like music does.

4 thoughts on “Making “Friends” with the SAT/ACT: Start Earlier!

  1. lreyblat

    Hello. I would like to clarify the situation with the PSAT. I was under impression that one would take it during the 10th grade with hopes of getting the “National Merit Scholar”. Now it seems at Dreyfoos one would have to wait until the 11th grade. Can you take it during the sophomore year at all? I was going to sigh my incoming 10th grader for the PSAT prep course at the end of this August. Can you please clarify this for me. Thank you so much.
    Lana Reyblat

    • Brian Ross

      The only national merit test is the PSAT offered in the 11th grade. The Palm Beach County School District does not, to our knowledge, offer the 10th grade “pre-PSAT.” It was implemented because the College Board added the National Merit Scholars program to PSAT, so many schools, mostly private, were pushing their kids to excel on that test first. The 10th grade “pre-PSAT” is what the old PSAT was intended to be: A check-up to see how your student is progressing towards taking the test, with a 10th grade knowledge-base. Since it is not offered, using the new Khan Academy-College Board SAT online system should be able to give you a pretty equivalent “read” of how your student performs on the test.

    • Brian Ross

      Students take it for practice now at Dreyfoos in their sophomore year. Didn’t used to be the case. 11th grade is the only year though where you are eligible for National Merit.

    • Brian Ross

      The PSAT was supposed to be a “practice” SAT, but once they started using it for the National Merit Scholars program, it became too important, so, most schools administer a 10th grade test. The test doesn’t count towards National Merit, but it should be a good bellwether of how much prep work or additional courses should be taken before the full PSAT in the 11th grade. YOU WANT TO DO AS WELL AS YOU CAN on the PSAT, because National Merit Scholar and even finalist status on your admissions application definitely improves your academic section of a college’s admissions file.

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