What does an ACT score or SAT score actually reflect? | Winward Academy


What does an ACT or SAT score mean?

ACT and SAT scores reflect neither someone’s IQ nor his or her potential for life-long success.

Students should think of the ACT and SAT as a performance – just like a track meet, a championship basketball game, or a piano recital. The best way to improve on the ACT and SAT is practice, practice, practice. Do that enough and students are sure to develop the four skills that contribute to test performance.


skill 1: Knowledge of Content

By the time juniors are gearing up to take the ACT or SAT, they’ve already been exposed to the content they need to know. However, they may be rusty on the concepts not seen since middle school. Students may have learned who versus whom in 6th grade. How to combine fractions may have been covered in 5th grade. Reviewing and practicing the content is crucial. That may seem daunting to students (“I need to remember everything I learned since middle school?!?”), which is why reviewing the basics over time is the best approach. Taking the long haul approach works best for test performance, confidence, and long-term retention.


skill 2: Time Management

It’s all too common for students to wish they had just five more minutes. Because pacing can be a challenge, students must learn to balance speed with accuracy. With increased knowledge, students will naturally quicken their pace. There’s also the fine art of managing one’s time during tests – basically knowing when it’s time to guess and move on (letting go can be tough!). The ultimate goal of test preparation is practice that will build students’ confidence and pace without sacrificing accuracy. Remember – finishing a section first doesn’t earn extra points!



Skill 3: strategy Utilization

Learning strategies that guide process of elimination or inform the order one should approach sections can be quite helpful in the test preparation process. But be aware – simply focusing on “tricks” will not necessarily move the needle in the way students hope. Instead, students must command the tests: the content, the order of sections, the timing. Students must familiarize themselves with frequently tested content, manage their time wisely, and confidently navigate complex reading passages. Knowing exactly what to expect ensures that students’ minds are in the right place.


skill 4: Control of Emotions

One cannot ignore the tremendous pressure these tests bring. Emotions play an integral role in test performance. Some students have debilitating anxiety and freeze up mid-test, while others have misplaced confidence that leads to careless mistakes. Focused preparation (i.e., practice, practice, practice) can identify these challenges and help students know themselves, no matter what their personality. Emotions can have a detrimental impact on performance on both sides of the spectrum, which only focused practice can prevent. Students should follow important tips to Stay Healthy While Studying.

What’s the take home message?

At the end of the day, knowing the meanings of aberration, abnegation, and accretion will not prove your intelligence. Nor will knowing rules of apostrophes, modifying phrases, and matrix multiplication. Mastery of this information demonstrates knowledge, not intelligence. ACT and SAT scores reflect dedicated preparation and discipline, as well as mastering informed time management, utilization of strategy, and emotional control. Shift how you view these tests. Your potential for success will continue to increase with hard work and a commitment to bolstering knowledge of the tested content. To better understand what content is tested, see ACT vs. SAT – What’s different in each section.


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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.

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