ACT/SAT Preparation Tips


What Are College Entrance Exams, and Why Should I Take Them?

The ACT and the SAT are college entrance exams—tests that most major universities require you to take in order to qualify for admission. ACT stands for American College Testing, and SAT stands for Scholastic Assessment Test. Both attempt to evaluate your intelligence, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking skills.

Colleges and universities use your ACT or SAT score as a measure of your ability to succeed in college, and they will make some of their admissions decisions based on that. Earning a high score on one of the tests increases your chances of getting into a competitive school with more selective admissions criteria, while low scores will make it more difficult to gain admission.

If you are nervous about taking the ACT or SAT, you’re not alone. They are a bridge every college applicant in the United States has had to cross since near the beginning of the previous century. Doing well on these tests is possible, and you will be thankful for the college preparation efforts you put into it come admissions time.

Which Test Should I Take?

There’s no advantage to taking one test over the other when it comes to being admitted. Universities accept both ACT and SAT scores with equal weight. What it really comes down to is a matter of style, and which test suits you better. Taking ACT and SAT pretests is a good way to judge this, as they give you a taste of what the real test will be like.

How to Prepare (ACT)

While the ACT and the SAT differ somewhat in format and material, the same advice largely applies to preparing for either. Preparing for the test is critical, though, because just like with any test, getting a good score is going to take some effort. Here’s some advice on how to focus that effort.

  • Take pretests.

One of the best ways to measure your preparation is to take a pretest. Take one initially to determine your areas of strength and weakness, so you know where you’re comfortable and also where you need to focus your study efforts. Try to replicate the testing conditions you’ll experience on test day: working near other students, having no unscheduled breaks, and setting a time limit. Take a second one to see how well the practice is helping you get ready for the real thing. Taking these pretests familiarizes you with the conditions, the instructions, and the question formats, so that you’re not caught unaware on test day. And like with everything else, the more practice you get, the more prepared you’ll be.

  • Study.

These are not your average tests, and you haven’t been spending all semester covering the material, so you should be aware that achieving success will likely require dedicating extra hours to studying, over a longer period of time. It’s best to spend a little bit of time each week for several months going over preparation materials, rather than cramming for the test the night before. There are testing guidebooks, online materials, and more resources than there ever were in your parents’ day, so make the most of it. Build a study plan, set regular study hours, and expect to begin studying at least two or three months in advance of the test.

  • Do lots of reading.

Reading, in general, is a good way to prepare for the test, provided you read the right things. Reading advanced-level books helps expand your vocabulary, improve your critical thinking skills, and broaden your perspective. It helps you look for minor details and develop an analytical thought process. What’s more, reading well-written works helps you develop your skill at writing. So read—analyze literature for deeper meanings and connections, study essays and arguments to build your understanding of rhetoric, and enjoy well-crafted pieces to improve how you communicate.

  • Don’t be afraid to take the test more than once.

If you don’t do as well on your first test as you’d like, don’t give up. With a little more study and the proper preparation, you can improve your score on a retest. In fact, many school counselors recommend that you plan ahead and schedule back-to-back exams in two consecutive months right up front. Some colleges will accept your highest score, but there are some that will want to see all of your scores, so make sure you prepare fully each time you take the test.

Remember, confidence is a matter of preparation; the more prepared you are, the more confident you can be in your ability to achieve the score you want.


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