How to Study for the SAT or ACT

8 Tips and Tricks

Written by tutor Anne G.

Taking the SAT or ACT is probably one of the most important milestones in high school. Yet, many students make the same mistakes and become victims of their own indecisiveness. Here are some tips from an expert tutor, to help you conquer the SAT or ACT while avoiding common mistakes.

1. Plan ahead

Most students need at least 6-8 weeks to properly prepare for the SAT or ACT. Students who have deficiencies in specific subjects on the test may need more time. Scores are released about three weeks after the test, which means that is the earliest a prospective college can add them to an application. So, when should you take the test? Most students take the test either in the second half of their junior year or the beginning of their senior year of high school to ensure enough time for the score to reach their school and to allow themselves the opportunity to take the test more than once, if necessary.

2. Consider taking a practice test before you begin studying

Having a baseline score will let you know which areas need the most improvement and will help focus your study efforts. Generally, the more points you need to obtain your goal score, the longer you will need to prepare. With that in mind, try to take the first practice test at least a few months before you intend to take the actual test.

There are several ways to obtain a practice test. Many high schools offer practice tests through various test prep companies. You do not need to sign-up for their tutoring program in order to take a practice test! Taking the test through a test prep company will offer a realistic test environment and a free (or relatively cheap) analysis of your practice test. Another option is to purchase a test prep book (available at any bookstore or online) and take one of the many practice tests offered in the book. This is an appealing option because it requires little to no forethought. However, it will be up to you to accurately time and later, score your own test.

3. Find the proper materials

Find the proper materials. All test prep books are not created equal! If you are studying with a tutor to guide you though the material, you can get by with virtually any book. However, if you are attempting to study alone, choose a test prep book that includes strategies for beating the test, content review and several practice tests. Practice is key to success on the test, so make sure purchase a book that contains at least 5 practice tests.

4. Know the test

You should not have to waste one second of time during the actual exam reading the instructions. Before you take the SAT or ACT know the rules and instructions for each section so you don’t spend valuable time reading the rules. The SAT and ACT are not IQ tests and incredibly smart students can fall into one of the many tricks on the test. Be prepared by studying strategies to answer questions in the most efficient way.

5. Break the test into manageable sections and stick to your schedule

Studying for something as immense as the SAT or ACT can be overwhelming. Be sure to create a study plan that covers material on the entire test. There are sample study plans available online, or take the time to create your own. Once you have a realistic study schedule make sure you follow it.

6. Take practice tests

There is no way to exactly replicate the environment of the SAT or ACT. However, the only thing that comes close is full-length practice tests. Ideally, take at least one, half-way through your study schedule. Do the entire test in one sitting and strictly adhere to the time limits. Then, use that score to determine which areas you need the work on in the remaining time before the test.

7. Master the time element

Students often spend the majority of their time studying the technique and content of the test and completely forget that managing to complete all the questions within the allotted time is one of the most difficult, possibly the most difficult, part of the test. Don’t let the time conquer you! Start timing when you do practice problems from the beginning. Try to do one section of the test as “homework” and adhere to the time limit. If you don’t have time to do an entire section in one sitting, give yourself a proportionate amount of time to complete the number of problems you can accomplish. For instance, if you are going to do 10 SAT math problems, give yourself 10 minutes.

8. Consider hiring a tutor

It is entirely possible to study for the SAT or ACT on your own. However, it is much easier to do so with an experienced test prep tutor. The right tutor does much of the work for you. A great tutor is an expert on the test. A tutor will develop a study schedule based on your needs, teach you the techniques you need to master the test, analyze your practice tests and custom tailor a tutoring program to your individual strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, a tutor will hold you accountable and make sure you stick to a plan to achieve the best possible score.

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