Effective Test Prep for the ACT/SAT

Test taking can be very anxiety provoking, especially when you are unfamiliar with the exam and see it as a huge challenge. And although it is not easy, it’s important to keep in mind that all scores can improve, with dedication and persistence (a lot of persistence).

While the results are not always in your control (unexpected things can always happen), you can take your focus away from those and turn it towards that which you can control: Strategy and Practice.

Here are some of our tips when you are starting to think about taking the ACT or SAT.

Take Challenging Courses in High School

One of the most effective resources for doing well on these exams will be taking challenging courses throughout high school. These courses can expand your knowledge in areas that the ACT covers, improve your critical thinking skills and prepare you for the difficulty level of the exam.

An added plus is the more challenging classes will give you an edge on your transcript when applying for colleges. Admissions offices look at entrance exam scores, your grades and the difficulty level of your coursework. The more demanding the courses, the better prepared you will be for college classes.

Working with Others

Having a coach to guide you can be extremely helpful. Even when having a high level of discipline for studying, having someone that holds you accountable, and can talk you through incorrect answers can make all the difference in your score. After all increasing your score by just a few points has been shown to increase the amount of scholarship money a student can receive.

Practice Makes Perfect

There are many forms of practice but all of them have a different purpose. Practicing untimed is best for improving in specific sections or questions, so you have ample time to process and learn before focusing on speeding up. On the other hand, taking a full practice test helps you become more familiar with the format, timing and practice your test strategies.

The best way to improve your score is reviewing your mistakes, and most importantly why you missed the correct answer. Retaking practice tests will make you accustomed to the test, but it won’t improve your ability to spot the right answer. When reviewing you should understand not only know which answer is right, but also why the other answers are incorrect. If it comes down to elimination, knowing which answers are wrong will be extremely helpful. A more thorough review will take you more time, but the quality of the review will be much more valuable.

When you take a practice test, try to recreate the real exam (no interruptions, timed, break time is the same, etc.) so you know what to expect and truly see how well you are testing and reduce your nerves on the day of the exam.

Take it Multiple Times

Taking the test more than once is beneficial for a few reasons. Firstly, it can give you the opportunity to score higher each time. As you study and practice more in between tries, it’s likely you will improve. We suggest spacing your attempts out by at least a few months to make sure you have plenty of time to improve before trying again.

Secondly, some schools give you the option of “super scoring.” This means they get your best section scores from all your tests, which will likely make your overall score higher. Not all schools allow for super scoring, but we recommend checking this list for the ones that do.

Which Test is Right for You

The SAT and ACT are viewed equally by schools, because they are both made with a high degree of rigor. However, the ease of testing is subjective to each student. Here are some aspects to each test that a student may want to consider before beginning to study for a test:

  • ACT includes a science section, while the SAT does not
  • SAT focuses more on vocabulary
  • ACT tests more advanced math concepts

If you have not yet started studying and you’re unsure about which test would be best for you then try to take a practice test of each and see which one you felt more comfortable with.

Each test has its particularities and features, so whichever one you pick, make sure to dig down to the best tips and tricks.


It’s normal to be worried or nervous about taking your ACT/SAT for the first time, or second or third. But with plenty of studying and practice, both tests are completely learnable. Make sure to start practicing early, allow enough time between retests and focus on the why behind the right and wrong answers when you review. If you would like a coach or tutor to take you deeper into the test and hold you accountable, please reach out to us at collegetutors.com.

Happy Studying!