How you approach the ACT or SAT is nearly as important as how much content knowledge you’ve gained. If you’re unprepared for the challenges of the test, you won’t do your best work. To help you out, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite simple tips that can give you a chance for the best score possible.
Tip #10: Keep your cool.
With adequate preparation, you’ll most likely have a confident and positive attitude when test day arrives. But if you know ahead of time that test anxiety is likely to be a problem for you, learn how to minimize it with practical techniques so you can get the best score.
Tip #9: Know the basics.
From foundational math formulas to common grammar rules, you’ll need a firm grasp of the fundamentals and how to use them effectively. If you’ve taken the traditional courses for college-bound students, you’ve probably learned all of this. But if those courses were a year or two ago, your memory could be unreliable. The SAT and PSAT help you out a bit by giving you some of the most common math formulas. The ACT does not; you have to know them by heart. Even if you’re pretty sure you know it all, the week before the test is a good time to review the basics in both math and grammar.
Tip #8: Learn the directions before the test.
The ACT and College Board (SAT) generally don’t rewrite their directions for years at a time. That gives the savvy student an advantage! Know the directions—and be sure you understand them—before you take the test. While other students are getting oriented, you’ll already be answering questions and scoring points to get the best score.
Tip #7: Be kind to your body.
Late-night cram sessions fueled by soda and junk food won’t set you up for a successful test day. Adequate sleep, hydration, and healthy food, however, will make a positive difference in your performance. With either test, it’s going to be a long day, and you’re likely to get fatigued and hungry by the end. So bring a nutritious snack and water for breaks. Remember the comfort factor, too: Wear layers in case the testing room is too hot or too cold. And be sure to use the restroom during your break. You won’t be allowed to leave the testing room once everyone has been seated; if you do, your test will be invalidated.
Tip #6: Wear a watch.
Sure, there may be a clock in the room, but will it be working? Will you be able to see it from your seat? If you wear a watch, the status of the clock in the room becomes irrelevant. A watch also enables you to implement a time-management plan during the test. If you don’t own a watch, borrow one; it’s that important. But don’t use an iWatch or any other device that provides more information than the time; the proctor will just take it away from you as you enter.
Tip #5: Mark up the test booklet!
Several effective tips involve making specific types of notes in the text. You’ve paid for the booklet (you don’t get to take it home, though), so mark it up! Draw lines, circles, arrows, diagrams, etc. to help you eliminate answer choices, solve a math problem, or find information in a reading passage. Write the stop time for each subtest near the directions or on the cover of the booklet. The booklet is the only “scratch paper” provided, even for math problems, so marking it up is your only option.
Tip #4: Manage your time carefully.
Of course, it’s important to get to the test early and pay attention to start-and-stop times for each test section. You should also know the most effective strategies for pacing on each subtest so you have ample opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge. Figuring out the best strategies to manage time isn’t going to come naturally; an effective PSAT/SAT and ACT prep class will focus a portion of the coaching sessions on time management skills for each subtest. It’s also a good idea to take a full-length practice test for a realistic experience under the pressure of time.
Tip #3: Know the idiosyncrasies of each subtest.
Your ACT or PSAT/SAT prep should provide specific strategies for each subtest and question type. For example, “Read the question first” is great advice for the math portion of college entrance exams but not such a good recommendation, in most cases, for the reading sections. You’ll also encounter test-specific question types that you may never have seen before. Again, a practice test can help, but working with a teacher, tutor, or test-prep provider who is an expert in the question types will help you even more when it comes to getting the best score.
Tip #2: Know how and when to guess.
The best prep classes help you understand when, and how to skip difficult questions and revisit them later to try again. You’ll need to treat the subtests individually when deciding whether to guess; the same tips don’t apply to all.
Tip #1: Answer the question.
That seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But it’s not always that easy to be sure of the question. Test items on college entrance exams are worded in ways that require you to read carefully and thoroughly. One of the traps test editors set is to add an extra bit of complexity to a question. If you don’t read carefully, you’ll end up answering only part of the question—and there are no points for partial answers.