General Test Tips
Preparation is vital, no matter which standardized test you choose. Here are eight universal tips that apply to both the ACT and the SAT.
Choose resources for you
Keep in mind that no two students learn the same, so you are going to have to choose the resource that is going to be best for you. What might be best for you, might not be the best approach for your best friend. Know that you’re pursuing what will provide the right resources for you.
Make a plan that fits your learning style
There’s no magic number in terms of what everybody needs to prepare for these exams. I’ve had students with whom I worked who were ready in three weeks. I’ve had students who studied for five months, and I had one student who grew her ACT score 5 points in five days because she literally studied for 15 hours a day for five days straight. It really comes down to how much time you have and on what you need to focus.
A huge part of studying for these exams is reviewing content that you learned in middle school. You have to review fundamental math and you have to know grammar rules. The only students I’ve ever tutored who didn’t need explicit instruction in grammar rules were students whose parents hounded them at home from an early age and for whom correct grammar just became second nature. But that situation is rare, and 99% of students preparing for these exams need explicit instruction on the foundational content tested.
College test preparation is stress inducing; it causes anxiety for kids and for their families; it can create a tough dynamic at home. I will say that regardless of what approach you are taking, please remember to be mindful and to take care of yourself. Remember to sleep and to have nutritious food and try to achieve some balance in this process. Planning ahead and spacing out review can lower anxiety in this process.
I cannot impress enough how important it is to review mistakes; it is how you will learn. Mistakes are not an indication of a lack of intelligence; they are simply an indication of an opportunity to learn and to grow. You have to embrace mistakes. Then, the best thing to do when you learn something is to explain it to someone else; tell your sister, tell your parent, tell your friend, tell whomever, and explain what you have learned because that’s how you really reinforce the content.
Take advantage of “special” test dates
Remember the special test dates on which you have the option to pay a nominal fee to receive a copy of the test and your answers. The ACT offers “Test Information Release” for $20 on its December, April, and June exams. The SAT offers its “Question-and-Answer-Service” for $18 on its October, March, and May exams. Make sure that you take advantage of those dates because the opportunity to review your real test with your answers in the real testing situation is invaluable in the preparation process.
Practice with real tests
Please make sure that you are always practicing with real materials. Otherwise, questions you encounter could be harder or easier than what you’ll see on the real exam. On top of that, be sure to always use a real scantron that you are actually bubbling by hand as you take practice exams. You have to practice your bubbling (1) because it takes time and (2) because it’s easy to make mistakes by skipping lines or bubbling the incorrect answer choice. You need to practice bubbling, too.
Enhance your reading skills
Reading skills come up everywhere on these tests. The tests are designed to be hard to finish with the time pressure. Students I’ve assessed who do exceptionally well without any test prep are voracious readers: they read quickly and they remember what they read and where they read it. Building skill in reading is important from an early age. Reading should always be encouraged in youth.