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10 Test Prep Tips for SAT and ACT Takers

By Delece Smith-Barrow via

Succeed on College Entrance Exams

Many colleges and universities require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores to show their mastery in certain subjects, such as English and math.

Test preparation experts encourage prospective college students to carefully think about when and how to study for these exams. Start with these 10 tips.

Decide Which Test to Take

While the SAT and ACT are similar, they have a few differences. For example, the ACT includes a science section, but the SAT does not. Before choosing between the two, college applicants should take a practice test for each exam, one test prep expert recommends. Applicants should then focus on studying for the exam in which they had scored better.

Consider Writing Ability

When deciding which test is best for you, think about the writing portions for each exam. Although not required, some schools prefer applicants to take either the SAT essay or ACT writing section.

Test-takers must analyze one passage in 50 minutes in the SAT essay section. For the ACT writing section, students must argue a specific perspective in 40 minutes.

Register Early

It’s best to take college entrance exams sooner rather than later, says one expert. If test-takers don’t get an ideal score the first time around, they may have time to refine their approach for studying and retake the exam.

Partner With Parents

One test expert says parents can help students with everything from finding a quiet place to study for the entrance exam to planning a study schedule and identifying areas of improvement.

Select the Right Test Prep Course

SAT and ACT test preparation courses can vary in many ways, such as class size and teaching style. College applicants should consider how much help they’ll need studying for the exam, how much they can pay for a class and what their ideal learning environment is, among other things, a test expert says.

Explore Other Test Prep Resources

While test preparation classes are one way to get ready for the SAT or ACT, other options are available that can cost a lot less. Libraries, for example, often stock test prep materials. High schoolers can also ask for help from their teachers, who may provide feedback on draft essays or recommend practice math problems.

Take Strong High School Courses

Some classes offered in high school may also help students prepare for the SAT and ACT exams. A class in trigonometry or AP English may help students with the math or English sections on either exam, a test expert says.

Set Realistic Goals

It’s important to create a study schedule that leaves students ample time for practice tests, says one test preparation expert. Prospective college students should also anticipate that some subjects may require additional review or that their practice test scores won’t increase as quickly as they would like. Test-takers should leave room for flexibility in their study schedules, one expert says.

Simulate Testing Conditions

When taking practice exams, it’s important for students to mimic the testing conditions that they’ll face on exam day, one test expert says. This includes sticking to the allotted time for each section and taking short breaks between sections.

Reject Myths About Standardized Tests

Some may believe the ACT is easier than the SAT or that it’s less difficult to prepare for the SAT than the ACT. Ignore these myths and others, one expert says. Both exams require lots of studying and hard work.

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