Take 4 Steps to Set Realistic SAT, ACT Test Prep Goals

Achieving your best possible score requires setting both small daily goals and looking at the long term. 


A realistic test-prep plan should be flexible enough to allow time for unexpected events but rigorous enough to give you a sense of accomplishment.

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Understanding how to set attainable goals is an important skill for all facets of life. Studying for standardized tests like the SAT and ACT is one area where setting proper goals can be the difference between success and failure. Setting rigorous yet reasonable goals during preparation for such exams focuses your studying in effective ways.

It is a critical component to achieving your best possible score. Here are four considerations to keep in mind while determining appropriate goals:

1. Think about both the short and long term: The overarching picture is just as important as the minuscule details of day-to-day studying. Before mapping out your review plan, analyze what must be completed and determine how much time it will realistically take you.

Once you decide when to begin your preparation, break the studying into small pieces. Start with the material you intend to cover each month, week and day. Record your plan in a calendar or planner and refer to it each day. Do not neglect it.

These daily goals are perhaps the most important. You will end each day with a sense of accomplishment and be ready to address the following day’s work.

[Follow these five steps to develop a test-prep timeline.] 

2. Schedule practice tests wisely: Ensure your weekly and daily schedules, especially those close to your exam date, allow ample time for practice tests. Sample exams are the single most important part of any review routine – one of your goals should be to sit for numerous practice tests.

Plan to complete a sample exam under timed conditions about one month before your test date. Then, chart backward in your schedule to set other goals, such as when to first take a full exam, when to complete each individual section and when to begin timing yourself. Also determine the number of practice tests you hope to finish per month and per week.

[Get five tips to reduce test-day anxiety.]

3. Create flexibility in your schedule: Ideally, you will adhere to your schedule as closely as possible. However, it is unrealistic to believe that you will do so with perfect success.

Certain topics may require additional review, or perhaps your scores on practice tests do not progress as you originally anticipated they would. Maybe an emergency forces you to suspend your preparation schedule for several days or longer.

It is important that you build a schedule that can be adjusted to accommodate unexpected events. Do not fill each day so completely that an inability to meet your goals will throw your entire schedule into disarray.

[Learn to use summer reading for standardized test prep.]

4. Make your goals attainable: Do not set goals for yourself that you cannot meet. Before deciding upon a goal, reflect honestly on your knowledge, your responsibilities and your learning style and work ethic.

Consider whether you will be able to meet that goal without expending more energy than you can afford. Accomplishing a daily or weekly goal should feel like an accomplishment, so do not go easy on yourself, either.

Ultimately, creating unrealistic goals that you cannot achieve will only lead to disappointment and negativity. In the long run, they may even harm your ability to prepare effectively for standardized tests. One example of a useful goal would be to aim for a certain score; based on what you accomplished on your practice tests, an attainable score can be determined.