8 Tips for Top ACT and SAT Performance | Winward Academy


8 Tips on How to Maintain Top Performance During Your ACT or SAT

Staying calm and focused is critical for you to excel on your test.  The eight tips below will help you tremendously whether you’re taking the ACT, the SAT, or any other high-pressure, timed exam.

Stay calm & confident: During the exam you want to be calm and confident. If you find yourself starting to feel nervous, take deep breaths when you need them and if you need to just close your eyes and allow yourself to refocus, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Own each section: Remember, this is your test. You should write all over it! Cross stuff out when you know it’s wrong. Draw a diagram when you are solving math. And, remember, it’s a four-hour test but it’s divided up into chunks, and you want to make sure that you’re owning each section one at a time.

Be in the present: Building off the previous tip to own each section, be present as you progress. It’s only going to hurt you if you allow yourself to let past perceptions of performance affect the present. Don’t anticipate that the next section is the hardest one for you and then lose focus on the current section. You need to be present in a section that you’re completing at that moment.

Fill every bubble: Neither the ACT nor the SAT penalizes you for guessing (this is not true for the SAT subject tests – FYI), so never leave anything blank! When it comes to guessing, pick a letter for the day and stick with it. We always recommend students guess A or D.

Focus on your focus: If you lose concentration or get frustrated and stressed, give yourself a few moments to relax. It’s all too common that someone reads a paragraph and then goes “oh my gosh, I can’t remember anything I just read” and has to go back. If you find that this happens to you, just give yourself 5 seconds or 10 seconds and allow your mind to regain its focus.

Maximize your break: You have 10 minutes to recharge in the middle, and that’s all you get in four hours. You need to take advantage of this break: use the restroom; put cold water on your face; do a few jumping jacks; have a snack; talk to somebody; do something to just keep yourself feeling good. Practice your breaks! This sounds so silly to say, but, if you’re doing a timed practice, you might as well practice what you’re doing during your 10 minute break to see how it affects your focus. If you find eating a specific snack recharges you for the second half of the test, then that’s what you should eat during your break on test day.

Know your order: Always have a strategy on how you approach each specific section. For instance, in the ACT reading section there are four passages: prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. The advantage of practicing in advance is knowing what order is best for you to do those sections. If you do a lot of practicing you might find “wow I really tend to struggle with the humanities section.” Well guess what, you should do that section last because if you run the risk of running out of time, you would want to run out of time on the section that would be most challenging. Embrace the process of preparing in advance, in knowing yourself and in knowing what order is going to maximize your performance.

Don’t linger too long on a single question: This is a timed test. If you find yourself spending more than one minute on a question, use your letter of the day and move on. Do not let yourself work on a question for five minutes; it is not worth it. You have to be disciplined and if you start to notice that you have been spending too long, you need to guess and move on.


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About Winward Academy – Winward Academy is one of the world’s leading innovators in the online education space, providing web-based academic support that enhances students’ knowledge, confidence, and competitiveness in middle and high school academics and in college applications. We help thousands of students every year by providing personalized, comprehensive ACT and SAT test preparation and extensive math curriculum support. The Winward Academy learning platform honors over 40 years of education and cognitive psychology research, incorporating proven techniques that promote effective learning.

Winward Academy’s unmatched reputation is wholly attributable to our students’ exceptional success and to the trust earned among students, parents, and schools around the world.

Jennifer Winward, Ph.D.

Dr. Jennifer Winward is a renowned college instructor, a distinguished 20-year veteran of high school tutoring, and the founder and lead instructor of Winward Academy. She earned her Ph.D. specializing in adolescent brain development and adolescent learning. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude with highest distinction honors. Dr. Winward has been widely recognized for her academic success, published research, and philanthropic efforts with awards from the President of the United States, the California State Assembly, Rotary International, the Marin County School Administrator Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Science Foundation.

22 responses to “8 Tips on How to Maintain Top Performance During Your ACT or SAT

  1. These are all excellent tips. My son is 17 and will be testing soon. I’m definitely going to share this with him.

    1. Fantastic Jonel! Please do pass them on to your son.

  2. These are all great tips and should help make taking these tests less stressful.

    1. Absolutely! We hope she benefits from the tips to maximize her performance.

  3. this is coming up far too soon for us with a teen who is a terrible test taker.

    1. Thank you Sandy! We’d love for teens everywhere to benefit from these tips.

  4. I like the tip about guessing. It’s better to guess than to leave it blank.

    1. Yes you got it! Students should never leave an answer choice blank on the ACT or SAT.

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