11th Grade Guide: Preparing for the SAT®/ACT® Tests

By Jacky Gilchrist

During your final two years of high school, you’re likely looking forward to heading off to college (at last!) and pursuing your dreams for the future. But first, you still need to clear some test-taking hurdles. 11th grade is the time when we typically recommend most high school students should finish taking the SAT® and ACT® tests, although there are some exceptions.

If you aren’t feeling as confident as you’d like, or even if you are, now is the time to ramp up your test prep activities. Try these 11th grade testing tips to get started.

Navigate through this article:

How to Study for the SAT/ACT Tests in 11th Grade

Create a testing timeline at the beginning of the year

Before diving into these 11th grade testing tips, it’s a good idea to know exactly how much time you have to work with. During the summer before your junior year, you should sit down and create your ideal testing timeline. This will help you determine how much time you have to prepare for each exam. The exact test dates are subject to change, but here’s a look at what you can generally expect:

  • PSAT/NMSQT Test® – Schools administer in October
  • AP® Exams – Typically administered during the first half of May
  • ACT Test – Usually administered seven times/year in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July
  • SAT Test – Usually administered seven times/year in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June

When determining exactly when to take the SAT and ACT tests, it’s important to consider your other commitments. For example, you might not want to take the SAT test in October because you’ll be taking the PSAT/NMSQT test then. The same is true of taking both AP exams and the SAT test in May.

Sign up for a test prep program

If you haven’t already enrolled in a test prep program, it’s time. You’re likely to find that a structured test prep program will help you stay focused and on track toward meeting your targets far more effectively than trying to go it alone.

KD College Prep offers multiple options, such as the Complete™ Program, which offers workshops and lessons led by our experienced instructors. The program includes plenty of practice tests (reviewed by instructors), as well as impactful 11th grade testing tips.

If you are enrolled in a test prep program, you can also benefit from expert recommendations on a testing timeline that is unique to your goals.

Set a target score (if you haven’t already)

If you followed the advice in our previous article, 10th Grade Guide: How to Prepare for the SAT/ACT Tests, then you should have already become familiar with the score ranges for the colleges you’re thinking of applying to. If not, no worries! Choose a few colleges that appeal to you and then check their websites or Common Data Set for the average scores of accepted students. You’ll want to shoot for a score that meets or exceeds that range.

Brush up on your knowledge of test content areas

It’s difficult to do well on a test if you’re completely unfamiliar with its structure and content areas. Spend some time reading up about the general structures of the SAT and ACT tests, and the types of questions you can expect on the exams.

For example, the SAT test has the following sections:

  • Reading – 65 minutes for 52 multiple choice questions
  • Writing and language – 35 minutes for 44 multiple choice questions
  • Math – 80 minutes for 58 multiple choice questions (including calculator-allowed and no-calculator sections)

The College Board recently eliminated the optional essay portion of the SAT test. Also keep in mind that this is for the paper version of the tests. Big changes are coming to the PSAT and SAT tests in Fall 2023.

The ACT test has the following sections:

  • English – 45 minutes for 75 questions
  • Math – 60 minutes for 60 questions
    • Reading – 35 minutes for 40 questions
    • Science – 35 minutes for 40 questions
    • Optional essay – 40 minutes

Improve your reading speed

As you can see, for both tests, each section is timed. In order to do well on the exams, you’ll need to be able to read questions and the possible answers quickly. You’ll also have to navigate reading passages without spending too much time on them. If you aren’t already a fast reader, you’ll want to spend some time every day reading (beyond required reading for school) to improve your speed. Daily reading will also help you improve your reading comprehension.

Study grammar rules and read often

Another reason why daily reading is strongly recommended is that it will help you to subconsciously absorb the many grammar rules of the English language. Our 11th grade testing tips include actively studying the grammar rules you’ll be tested on. Here are a few commonly tested rules:

  • Keep the verb tense consistent throughout a sentence. (Example: Wrong – “Jeanie petted the cat and mimics its purr.” Right – “Jeanie petted the cat and mimicked its purr.”)
  • Use commas after starting a sentence with a dependent clause. (Example: “After petting the cat, Jeanie stood up to fetch some treats for it.”)
  • Use apostrophes to indicate singular or plural possession. (Examples: “Jeanie’s cat” or “The kids’ cat.”)
  • Make sure there is proper subject/verb agreement. (Example: Wrong – “The rats in that city is huge.” Right – “The rats in that city are huge.”)

For more tips, read this guide written by a KD verbal instructor and essay editor.

Work on your mental math skills to save testing time

The ACT test allows the use of approved calculators. The SAT test has a math section in which calculator usage is allowed, and one in which calculators are not allowed (with the paper-based format of the tests). It’s a good idea to improve your mental math skills to reduce the amount of time you spend on the no-calculator portion of the SAT test, as well as the calculator portion.

Continue to take practice tests and complete test reviews

No list of 11th grade testing tips would be complete without a mention of taking practice tests. Your online test prep program should include plenty of practice tests and instructor-led reviews. (If you’re enrolled in one of our programs, you’ll definitely have access to these!) Plan to take several practice tests periodically, and be sure to time yourself on each section.

Don’t sign up for an upcoming test without reviewing your practice test results so you can correct your mistakes and avoid making the same errors in the future.

Take the PSAT/NMSQT test for National Merit® Scholarship consideration

If you enjoy the thought of getting free money for college, then the PSAT/NMSQT test is one that you can truly look forward to taking. By taking this test in your junior year, you may qualify to enter the National Merit Scholarship program. This is an academic competition, and the PSAT/NMSQT test serves as a gateway to enter it.

It’s important to note that even if you took the PSAT 8/9 and/or the PSAT 10 test, you’ll still need to take the PSAT/NMSQT test in order to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The only opportunity you’ll have will come in the fall of your junior year, so be sure to mark it on your calendar and ask your guidance counselor about it well in advance.

Though highly competitive, about 7,250 Finalists each year are selected for a National Merit Scholarship award. Even if you don’t make it to the final round of selection, doing well on the PSAT/NMSQT test may qualify you to compete for other scholarships, including corporate-sponsored scholarships. Plus, it’s great practice for the SAT test, as the sections (reading, writing, language, and math) are quite similar.

Plan to try both the SAT and ACT tests

Exactly when you should take the SAT and ACT tests for the first time is up to you and may depend on individual factors, like sports schedules and family commitments. It’s a good idea to avoid waiting until the last possible test days of the year to take the tests for the first time. Leave yourself time so that if you’re dissatisfied with your scores, you’ll have the option of retaking them. Even if you’re happy with your first set of scores, you may want to retake the tests to see if you can do even better.

Again, an expert recommendation for a custom testing timeline may be extremely helpful!

Evaluate your SAT and ACT test scores

Earlier in this article, we recommended that you set a target score or score range for the SAT and ACT tests. Once you receive your score reports, you can compare your performance to your target scores. How did you do?

If you met your target, exceeded it, or almost got there, congratulations! If you didn’t do as well as you’d hoped, it’s time to take a closer look at the sections you struggled with. You’ll definitely want to retake the test that you struggled with—after spending more time studying and working through your online test prep program.

Plan to retake your stronger test at least one more time (if applicable)

Even if you met, exceeded, or nearly met your target score for one of the exams, it can be a good idea to retake it. Often, students find that they achieve a higher score on their second attempt. Keep in mind that many colleges accept superscores, meaning they will take the highest section score results for multiple test attempts.

Ask for additional help (if needed)

If you’re struggling to reach your target score range, it may be time to reach out for additional help. For example, even if you’re already enrolled in our online test prep program, you may benefit from one-on-one tutoring to help you overcome any problems you’re experiencing with specific sections of the tests. In-person and online sessions are available.

Finish testing by the end of 11th grade

At KD College Prep, we generally recommend that students finish their testing by the end of 11th grade. This is because you’ll have plenty more college-related activities to address in your senior year. Namely, you’ll want to complete all of your applications, do your college visits and interviews, apply to scholarships, etc. It can be a little overwhelming to deal with all of that on top of retaking the SAT and ACT tests.

But, don’t worry if you need to continue to test into 12th grade. Many students do so for a variety of reasons.

Is the PSAT/NMSQT test harder than the SAT test?

The PSAT/NMSQT test is slightly easier than the SAT test. It’s also a little shorter, requiring less testing time and fewer questions. In addition, you’ll have a bit more time to complete the math questions.

What is a good score for the PSAT/NMSQT test?

When you receive your score report for the PSAT/NMSQT test, you’ll notice that it looks a bit different than the score report for the SAT test. For instance, while the highest possible score on an SAT test is 1600, the top score for the PSAT/NMSQT test is 1520. In addition to displaying your scores, you’ll also see your percentile—how well you did compared to others taking the test. Although the percentiles are subject to change from year to year, here’s a general breakdown:

  • 1370 – 1520: Elite
  • 1200 – 1360: Excellent
  • 1080 – 1190: Above Average
  • 960 – 1070: Average
  • 320 – 950: Below Average

Read more about PSAT score ranges.

Should I send my SAT test scores to colleges as a junior?

One of the most important things to know about sending your SAT test scores to colleges is that you can choose to either 1) Opt to send your scores before you actually know what those scores are (free option) or 2) Pay extra fees to send your scores after you’ve received your score report.

You can certainly choose to send your SAT test scores to colleges as a junior if you wish. This option may be right for you if you already know for sure which colleges are on your shortlist and you’re fully confident about the outcome of your SAT test. However, you may want to wait until after you see your score report if any of the following apply:

  • You aren’t quite sure which colleges you want to apply to yet
  • You haven’t been scoring as well as you’d like on practice tests
  • You think you may need to retake the tests in 12th grade

You also might simply like the peace of mind of knowing what your scores are before you send them. If you’re prone to stress, it may be better to wait. Likewise, you may decide that you do indeed need to retake the tests in the fall of your senior year.

What are good test scores for 11th grade?

College Board has released SAT test score benchmarks by grade level. Meeting or exceeding these benchmarks indicates college readiness. For 11th grade, the medians are as follows:

  • Evidence-based reading and writing – 460
  • Math – 510

But keep in mind that college-bound students will want to score much higher than the median. If you have already tested and fall below the bar, KD can help you improve your performance.

Need help preparing for upcoming tests?

Wherever you are in your test prep journey, the friendly team at KD College Prep can help you achieve new heights. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss which of our test prep programs might be right for you. We work with students from 7th through 12th grade, offering comprehensive test prep programs and college counseling.

Jacky Gilchrist is a blog writer at KD College Prep.

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Claudia A. – Class of 2020

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Rishab P. – Class of 2021

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David P. – Class of 2022

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“I attended KD for the last 3 years, and I was blessed with the opportunity to take the SAT® test one last time last month. I got a 1430 on the test. I wanted to take the time to say I have finished college applications, and I would love to thank all the teachers and aides at KD for giving me the score that I got on the test. Without the extra practice, I wouldn't have been able to get through to the score I got. These past 3 years went by so fast, and it is so fun to look back at where I started and how much I have come out with flying colors. Thank you so much!”
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Kareena A. – Class of 2021

“I just wanted to say thank you to KD for all the help and support you’ve given over the past couple years! I was able to get the scores I wanted for the PSAT, SAT®, and ACT® tests. The resources were very helpful, and the individualized assistance I received from teachers were what really supported my learning. Special thanks to Ms. Barwick and Mr. Hoffman!”
“I just wanted to say thank you to KD for all the help and support you’ve given over the past couple years! I was able to get the scores I wanted for the PSAT, SAT®, and ACT® tests. The resources were... Read more...

Advika R. – Class of 2022

“I shifted toward taking practice tests and going to workshops because I felt those were the best ways to apply the concepts (I was) learning in class. I started applying the tips and tricks that the teachers were showing me in class. In conjunction, those two things helped me raise my score a lot because I was not a math kid before KD or high school. The repetition and being able to practice in a non-stressful environment and simulating that testing experience is something that was very beneficial for me... “The college counseling team was super patient and honest about the work I was submitting. I know for a lot of kids, it’s hard to articulate who you are through 250-300 words. It was definitely... Read more...
“I shifted toward taking practice tests and going to workshops because I felt those were the best ways to apply the concepts (I was) learning in class. I started applying the tips and tricks that the teachers were showing me in... Read more...

Blaine W. – Class of 2021

“Both of my sons have been guided by KD College Prep counselor Steve Peifer on their journey to finding the right college for them, and we could not have had a better experience and outcome. My oldest son is now a rising junior at the University of Miami, and my youngest son is an incoming freshman at Vanderbilt University. Steve’s help in navigating the complicated college landscape and finding the BEST FIT for my two sons is what has made this resource invaluable. “What made the biggest difference for my two sons was the depth and breadth of knowledge Steve has of the many universities and colleges in the U.S. First, by getting to know my kids on a one-on-one basis, he was able to... Read more...
“Both of my sons have been guided by KD College Prep counselor Steve Peifer on their journey to finding the right college for them, and we could not have had a better experience and outcome. My oldest son is now a... Read more...

Julio M. – Parent

“My daughter loved the program—the program materials and the teachers both online and in person. She participated in a year of online and a year of in person. It was incredible enrichment and helped her keep her skills sharp over the summer. She liked being challenged academically, and she loved taking classes with high school students who were focused on their college goals. These students were also excellent role models! The lessons were especially important during the pandemic when it wasn’t a typical middle school experience.”
“My daughter loved the program—the program materials and the teachers both online and in person. She participated in a year of online and a year of in person. It was incredible enrichment and helped her keep her skills sharp over the... Read more...

Beth L. – Advanced Start™ Parent

test prep testimonial vyom
“I wanted to say thank you to all of the teachers and directors at KD for helping me get a great score on the SAT® test. I started with a 1250 on the first KD test I took, and I got a 1530 on the December 5th SAT test. KD played a huge role in this, and I just wanted to say thanks to everyone there for helping me achieve this.”
“I wanted to say thank you to all of the teachers and directors at KD for helping me get a great score on the SAT® test. I started with a 1250 on the first KD test I took, and I got... Read more...

Vyom S. – Class of 2022

"Our twin 16-year-old boys used KD College Prep to study/practice for the PSAT test, and we believe the classes and coaching were invaluable. Very professional and concise. Worth every penny!"
"Our twin 16-year-old boys used KD College Prep to study/practice for the PSAT test, and we believe the classes and coaching were invaluable. Very professional and concise. Worth every penny!"

Jerry – Sons, Class of 2022

mithra testimonial
“I'm writing to thank the KD team for all the help and guidance over the last couple of years! All the resources provided were very useful to me and helped me achieve the scores I was aiming for on the PSAT, SAT®, and ACT® tests (1520, 1580, and 34). I really appreciate everyone's willingness to be flexible and accommodate my requests!”
“I'm writing to thank the KD team for all the help and guidance over the last couple of years! All the resources provided were very useful to me and helped me achieve the scores I was aiming for on the PSAT,... Read more...

Mithra A. – Class of 2022

"The resources that KD offers have greatly prepared me for the college admissions process. Without KD, I would not have been this prepared and confident... I am a rising senior, and I ended up receiving a 1570 on my SAT® test (third time) and a 35 on my ACT® test (first time). I remember the first ever practice test I took for the SAT test was a 1230 (about 1.5 yrs ago) and the first ever practice test I took for the ACT test was a 31 or 32 (about 6 months ago)."
"The resources that KD offers have greatly prepared me for the college admissions process. Without KD, I would not have been this prepared and confident... I am a rising senior, and I ended up receiving a 1570 on my SAT® test... Read more...

Elise P. – Class of 2022

“I want to thank KD College Prep for helping both of my kids over the last years reach successful outcomes on their SAT® and ACT® scores, which helped them get into great colleges. I found the college prep class for parents very informative and helpful during the process as well.  My son (Jacob) graduated in 2018 and got a 32 on the ACT test. got accepted into Texas A&M but chose Baylor for Health Sciences.  My daughter (Morgan) graduated in 2020 and got a 1450 on the SAT test and a 32 on the ACT test. got into an Ivy League school (Cornell) for Engineering.  Both my kids say that they apply the test taking skills they learned at KD Prep to... Read more...
“I want to thank KD College Prep for helping both of my kids over the last years reach successful outcomes on their SAT® and ACT® scores, which helped them get into great colleges. I found the college prep class for parents... Read more...

Jon D. – Parent

“Coming into this whole process, I had absolutely no idea what anything was, and your help was invaluable—your encouraging words, strategic advice, and wholesome stories and jokes really got me through a stressful time! I'm still on the waitlist at Harvard and other schools, but I've really started to immerse into the Emory culture, especially their debate team. Not having to pay for college and still attend a private institution is really a dream come true, and it wouldn't be possible if it were not for you.”
“Coming into this whole process, I had absolutely no idea what anything was, and your help was invaluable—your encouraging words, strategic advice, and wholesome stories and jokes really got me through a stressful time! I'm still on the waitlist at Harvard... Read more...

Shreyas R. – Class of 2020

“The most beneficial guidance I received during my College Counseling experience was being taught that it's completely ok to not know what I want to do with the rest of my life at 17/18 years old. Steve told me that a good school will help me find my path. Also, Steve's knowledge about what colleges were wanting to see in potential admissions candidates was a huge help... “There was not one specific beneficial moment or turning point in my time working with Steve, there were many. He encouraged me during the entire application process and brought to my attention many colleges I wouldn't have considered or heard about without his help.”
“The most beneficial guidance I received during my College Counseling experience was being taught that it's completely ok to not know what I want to do with the rest of my life at 17/18 years old. Steve told me that a... Read more...

Jake W. – Class of 2020

"I'm very happy my daughter chose KD as her learning partner to achieve her goals. All the experiences with KD and the Directors there are fabulous. My daughter has improved significantly."
"I'm very happy my daughter chose KD as her learning partner to achieve her goals. All the experiences with KD and the Directors there are fabulous. My daughter has improved significantly."

Zarni, Daughter – Class of 2021

"I took KD classes the summer before my junior year, and I was finished with my SAT® test by December...The test prep classes also helped me earn the award of National Merit® Finalist."
"I took KD classes the summer before my junior year, and I was finished with my SAT® test by December...The test prep classes also helped me earn the award of National Merit® Finalist."

Claire I. – Class of 2020

"It's been super helpful, and I've noticed my scores go up both on my SAT®/ACT® scores as well as test scores in school... Overall, I believe this to be the best college prep that money can buy."
"It's been super helpful, and I've noticed my scores go up both on my SAT®/ACT® scores as well as test scores in school... Overall, I believe this to be the best college prep that money can buy."

Gopi C. – Class of 2021

"KD helped me come up with a game plan for the colleges I wanted to attend, as well as any backups, and how to manage my time during this stressful period. They helped to ease the stress and made sure that I would be successful in whichever college I picked, and I am eternally grateful for all their help and hard work!"
"KD helped me come up with a game plan for the colleges I wanted to attend, as well as any backups, and how to manage my time during this stressful period. They helped to ease the stress and made... Read more...

Omar S. – Class of 2020

"My initial goals when I first started working with the KD Counseling crew was to compile a list of colleges that I would be somewhat interested in attending and fit my career goals. I think that this step I was by far the most concerned about. I didn’t know how exactly I should go about choosing which places to apply to and if I were to be accepted, if they would fit me. The team did a wonderful job considering my likes and dislikes and helped me compile a list of colleges that suited my tastes and would further my academic career. "After this integral first step, my focus turned towards time management and writing quality essays that would stand out to colleges. I got... Read more...
"My initial goals when I first started working with the KD Counseling crew was to compile a list of colleges that I would be somewhat interested in attending and fit my career goals. I think that this step I was by... Read more...

Nina H. – Class of 2020

"I was thankful for all the help I received from KD in preparing for my SAT® and ACT® exams. The workshops they offered, as well as the practice exams, gave me the tools I needed to do my very best."
"I was thankful for all the help I received from KD in preparing for my SAT® and ACT® exams. The workshops they offered, as well as the practice exams, gave me the tools I needed to do my very best."

Morgan D. – Class of 2020

"KDCP is a must for students wanting to stay a step ahead of the game for getting into college. My son has gained huge insight from the ACT®/SAT® practice workshops, practice tests, and essay class."
"KDCP is a must for students wanting to stay a step ahead of the game for getting into college. My son has gained huge insight from the ACT®/SAT® practice workshops, practice tests, and essay class."

Tiffany – Son, Class of 2021

"KD helped to increase the efficiencies of how I took the national exams. I was also able to implement these efficiencies in my daily school studies within the IB program at PESH. I would (and have) recommend KD to those students wanting an edge on their national test scores!"
"KD helped to increase the efficiencies of how I took the national exams. I was also able to implement these efficiencies in my daily school studies within the IB program at PESH. I would (and have) recommend KD to those students... Read more...

Daniel J. – Class of 2020

"Not only have I been able to significantly improve my test scores, I have learned a tremendous amount of information about the college application process due to complimentary events that KD offers."
"Not only have I been able to significantly improve my test scores, I have learned a tremendous amount of information about the college application process due to complimentary events that KD offers."

Sam H. – Class of 2020

"I came to KD the summer before my senior year with only my determination and big goals! KD provided me with the resources necessary to improve my test score to increase my chances at my dream school, Notre Dame, with the help from amazing teachers and staff. I am so grateful for KD!"
"I came to KD the summer before my senior year with only my determination and big goals! KD provided me with the resources necessary to improve my test score to increase my chances at my dream school, Notre Dame, with the... Read more...

Matt K. – Class of 2020

"I started classes at KD the summer before 9th grade. I...made a perfect score on the PSAT (earning the National Merit® scholarship) and, after taking the SAT® test only once (a relief!), scored a 1590/1600."
"I started classes at KD the summer before 9th grade. I...made a perfect score on the PSAT (earning the National Merit® scholarship) and, after taking the SAT® test only once (a relief!), scored a 1590/1600."

Thomas D. – Class of 2019

"In just one year, I was able to raise my score by 300 points and get into my dream school."
"In just one year, I was able to raise my score by 300 points and get into my dream school."

Piper F. – Class of 2020

"Having our recent GHS graduate attend KD was life changing. It provided our son with choices and opportunities that he might not have had otherwise."
"Having our recent GHS graduate attend KD was life changing. It provided our son with choices and opportunities that he might not have had otherwise."

Kathy – Son attends Mizzou

test prep testimonial grace
“I came to KD College Prep after already using another tutoring service which we were not seeing results with. Due to time constraints, the traditional classes were not going to be feasible for my daughter. They took the time to figure out a personal plan that would work for her and were always available for our questions and helping her reach her goals. Every employee from the managers to the students working at their locations are top notch.”
“I came to KD College Prep after already using another tutoring service which we were not seeing results with. Due to time constraints, the traditional classes were not going to be feasible for my daughter. They took the time to figure... Read more...

Tracy – Daughter, Class of 2020

"The KD College Prep course not only provided test practice but also motivated her to work hard for her college applications. It gave her the confidence to dream big!"

"The KD College Prep course not only provided test practice but also motivated her to work hard for her college applications. It gave her the confidence to dream big!"

Prema – Daughter attends Rice