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Students, Summer, and Preparing for Tests

Many parents have asked me what their rising high school juniors should do this summer to prepare for upcoming ACT tests.

“Read a lot.”  

But a better answer depends on the child because the top 1% of scorers in each state on the October, junior year PSAT can become National Merit Finalists.

The PSAT is the less rigorous version of the SAT. National Merit Finalists can win $2500 scholarships that can be spent at any college—but that’s just the appetizer.  Colleges compete for National Merit Finalists, sometimes offering winners tens of thousands of dollars a year in free tuition, sight unseen (The University of Oklahoma is one example). National Merit Scholarships are gold.

So academically strong rising juniors should be preparing hard for the SAT this summer– taking an SAT Prep course or at least doing lots of practice questions. If your child scored at least a 28 on the ACT or a 1300 on an SAT or PSAT as a sophomore, she has a shot at winning a national merit scholarship. They can wait until the fall, but champions are made during the off-season.  Some intentional practice each week now should lead to happy scores later.

For the 95% of rising juniors who are less likely prospects to finish in the top 1% on that October PSAT, wait until the February ACT to take a college admissions test. Then hammer the April or June ACT and then two ACTs in the fall of senior year—four ACT tests should ensure a maximum score and the scholarships it brings.

So decide if your child possibly could score in the top 1% on the October, junior year PSAT.  If so, have her commit to SAT Prep this summer and fall, effort that will also help her on future ACTs and SATs.

The SAT has four sections.  Merit Scholar prospects should be taking at least one section twice a week all summer. You can find four free sample SATs at

Those beyond striking distance of the top 1% on the upcoming PSAT junior year should shore up gaps in their knowledge foundation for cumulative subjects. Struggles in Spanish and math may harm future grades, whereas struggles in biology probably won’t.

And reading a lot helps, too.

John Baylor is a father, husband, author, Stanford grad, broadcaster, and owner of John Baylor Prep. The mission of JBP is to help families and schools create two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt. You can listen to the John Baylor Prep Show by subscribing on iTunes or by going to The show also runs on Nebraska stations KHUB (1340 AM) in Fremont, KNCY (1600 AM) in Nebraska City, KLIN (1400 AM)in Lincoln. Check listing for days and times.


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