Madison Masters, Lead Academic Coordinator for Bulldog Tutors, prepares students for success on such tests as the PSAT, SAT, and ACT.

Madison Masters, Lead Academic Coordinator for Bulldog Tutors, prepares students for success on such tests as the PSAT, SAT, and ACT.

“Anyone who is not already scoring in the 99th percentile on their own needs test prep tutoring for the SAT and ACT college admissions tests,” says Madison Masters, Lead Academic Coordinator for Bulldog Tutors.

A Yale graduate with a degree in Molecular Biology and a veteran tutor, Madison reflected on the benefits of expert test prep and the test prep process as the second half of the 2019 college admissions test season got underway.

Bulldog Tutors’ focus is boosting test scores, and as part of the process Madison and her tutors provide students and families with strategic guidance on choosing between the SAT and ACT, or taking both, the ideal test-taking schedule, and more.

Who Needs SAT, ACT Test Prep and Why

“Everyone can use prep,” says Madison, who scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT. Bulldog Tutors begins the process by determining what type and intensity of help students need.

“Do you need help because you’re not necessarily pleased with your score, you’re in the low range? Or you’re in honors classes but your scores not high enough?” Madison asks to illustrate the issue.

“If a parent came to me and said, ‘My son is scoring 1200, that’s great. With the proper SAT test prep, he can hit 1400. If the score is 900, your student needs to begin with basic content review before getting to strategies for taking the tests.”

The most common situation Bulldog Tutors experiences in the summer is outreach from the family of a student who has taken the SAT once and is unhappy with the results. “They say, ‘My son studied and didn’t do so well, We don’t know what to do,’” Madison explains.

That’s where Bulldog Tutors comes in, with SAT and ACT test prep provided by Madison’s corps of tutors, who all scored in the top 1 percent on the tests for which they provide tutoring and prep. She continually provides training and keeps the tutors up-to-date on any test changes and nuances.

The SAT, ACT Test Prep Process
And When to Take Tests for the First Time

The summer after sophomore year of high school—right now for these “rising juniors”—is the best time for students to dig into the process of SAT and ACT test prep and determine which test is a better fit.

As part of her reasoning, Madison offers these key observations:

  • Availability: “The summer is the best time to get in because a lot of students are going to try to start test prep right after school begins.”
  • Brain drain: “Students are already forgetting things they just had a test on.”
  • Free time: Students naturally have more of it in the summer and “people want to be done with test prep as soon as possible. The best way is to plan ahead.”

Some students who begin test prep in the summer will track to take the SAT or ACT for the first time in August, and others in October. (The SAT is administered each March, May, June, August, October, November, and December, and the ACT is administered each February, April, June, July, September, October, and December.)

Madison explains that high-achieving rising juniors who completed honors classes as sophomores will be guided to take the SAT in August, and students who feel less confident or clearly need help will be advised to take the test for the first time in October.

“A lot of people will say, ‘I should wait longer, prep longer,’” Madison explains. “It’s better to get that first test done by October. Then we can figure out if SAT is best test or switch to the ACT.”

Another reason to start early, according to Madison: “You don’t know how you’re going to do in official testing conditions with the pressure until you actually do it.”

The first step for all students is Bulldog Tutors’ diagnostic test, which provides benchmarks to help Madison and her team “see where students are” as part of presenting a strategic plan for test prep success. For example, most students have completed Algebra II or Geometry in their sophomore year. The diagnostic will show their proficiency with these key components of the SAT.

“A lot of people think they know which test they want to do,” Madison says. “You can get a feel for whether the SAT is their test during tutoring. If a tutor notices a student’s strengths are better aligned with the ACT, he or she might switch them in the middle.”

Madison feels the best strategy involves taking both the SAT and ACT, pointing out that most colleges accept either. The SAT focuses on reading comprehension and students’ ability to puzzle through things, she explained, while the ACT purports to more closely measure the expectations of teachers and employers in terms of calculator skills and timing.

Rising juniors who begin text prep in the summer and plan to take the ACT would take the test for the first time in September or October, depending on the level of proficiency and preparedness reflected in the diagnostic.

For both the SAT and ACT, students’ scores on the first test will indicate what further specialized prep is needed before taking the SAT and/or ACT a second time.

If a student purchases his or her QAS (question-and-answer service) report, they get to see the actual test and how they did, creating a student-specific roadmap for the second round of test prep.

It is possible to take both the SAT and ACT multiple times, but Madison believes taking one or both more than a few times risks triggering a negative in the admissions formulas of colleges and universities.

She stresses that while it’s ideal for students to first take their college admissions tests as rising juniors, Bulldog Tutors has different effective strategies for students who start the process later in junior year or even first come to Bulldog as rising seniors.

SAT and ACT Test Prep Intensity Levels

“Test prep is a process. Parents have a misconception that if they enroll their son or  daughter for two months, they’re going to do great. You can’t learn how to do something entirely new and foreign in just a month,” Madison says, referring to prep tutoring focused on how the SAT or ACT are structured, and on strategies for taking the tests with a mindset and methods that will encourage optimal results.

While Bulldog Tutors often sees students planning to take the SAT in August arrive at the beginning of July for prep, students who are committed to achieving high scores benefit most from at least 12 sessions of private prep, once a week for 90 minutes, over three months. Squeezing that private prep into two months means two sessions a week of 60 minutes each.

“Sometimes in teaching strategies you really have to break them down,” explains Madison, offering the example of many students needing to be refocused in how they formulate answers—moving away from things that sound good to them but are not well-reasoned.

And seen one way, some sections of the SAT are “really just testing your ability to apply strategies to strangely worded questions,” Madison says.

Students need time to assimilate their acquired knowledge and how the SAT and ACT seek to gauge that knowledge, which is not always intuitive or straightforward.

As part of establishing a sufficient test prep schedule, Bulldog Tutors works with families to decide if students are most suited to group sessions or  private tutoring. Generally, Madison says, students who are tracking for average scores on the SAT (900 to 1100) and want to boost those results should probably take a class. High-achievers seeking the best possible results would benefit most from private sessions.

“We always run a class for a month prior to the SAT,” Madison says. The sessions are twice a week, 2.5 hours each for 4 week.

Upcoming SAT test dates are Aug. 24, and Oct. 5, and Sept. 14 and Oct. 26 for the ACT. So the time to connect with Bulldog Tutors is now.


With offices in New Haven and Guilford, Bulldog Tutors provides the highest quality private tutoring, test prep, and college admissions counseling in Connecticut. Bulldog’s Ivy League-educated tutors have achieved top scores on every exam that they teach and take a personalized approach to instruction that targets students’ weaknesses and helps them succeed on admissions tests and in subjects where they may have been under-served by traditional educational settings.

The New Haven office is located at 142 Temple Street, 3rd Floor, and the Guilford office, which may be reached at (203) 423-0592, is located at 2257 Boston Post Road, Suite B.

For additional information, call the New Haven office at (203) 562-1000, or see the Bulldog Tutor website,