Algebra II, the SAT, and the ACT


In helping families prepare plans for their standardized test prep, I have come across a recurring dilemma: lots of sophomores want to begin preparing for their tests as early as the summer before junior year, but won’t have the requisite course work completed in time to do so. Both the SAT and the ACT feature math content up through Algebra II and Trigonometry—classes often taken during a student’s junior year. This puts some students in a precarious position: do you prepare for the test when you feel you have the most time to do so, teaching yourself the necessary Algebra II along the way, or do you wait until you have taken enough Algebra II in school and then prepare for the test during the school year?

Families and I have come up with some creative solutions in the past.


An aggressive study plan of both Algebra II and SAT/ACT over the summer

Some students really want to push themselves, and with all of the resources—both free and paid—available to them, there is no reason they cannot make huge strides in their learning in the 8-10 weeks between school years.

For some of these students, we have created custom plans covering the Algebra II topics most relevant to the SAT/ACT—quadratics, exponents, systems of equations—prior to any test-specific instruction. This has the added benefit of helping students prepare for the next school year at a pace that is less intense than a program that is entirely test-focused. Students often supplement these kinds of programs with self-study on free sites like Khan Academy or through text/work books.

After a few weeks of Algebra II-specific instruction, students migrate to an SAT/ACT-focused program to provide them with the necessary strategies and content-knowledge. This allows them to take their first test early in the year and make decisions related to their results without being crunched for time. It also allows them to keep participating in extra-curricular activities or athletics without overwhelming themselves


Take your test in the spring of junior year and another in the summer/fall of senior year

Some students opt to get their Algebra II instruction from school before bothering with the SAT/ACT. They just don’t have the time to do the extra work necessary to teach themselves Algebra II AND practice the test at the same time. These students might be better off waiting for a spring test for their first time, either preparing in the winter, or preparing over the summer after getting their spring results. This timeline is a bit more crunched as far as reacting to your scores, but it can be a good option for those that already feel overworked during the school year.

Work test prep into your school routine and work less intensely

For the students who can stick to a routine but don’t like being overwhelmed by a high intensity program, we have put together extremely flexible programs that allow students to mostly study independently and “check in” with teachers as needed to fill in the gaps. This allows them to learn at their own pace and keep consistently engaged with test material over the majority of the school year rather than immersing in it for two-three months.

Not every student will flourish under this kind of program—it requires discipline and strong study skills—but those that could really appreciated the flexibility.


Have a plan

No matter what you and your child ultimately end up deciding is the best way to study, have a plan and stick to it! There are few opportunities in life that offer the kind of return of investment that doing well on the SAT/ACT does, so it is worth prioritizing.

We at Silver Oak offer free SAT/ACT assessments and consultations to help you develop a plan, so if you have any questions, give us a call.

Mike Constanza is the Director of Learning and Technology for Silver Oak Learning K-12. His expertise is primarily in reading, writing, SAT and ACT prep.