Prepare for Taking the ACT or SAT Tests

No Substitute for the Three Rs

There’s a terrible misconception that I or anybody else can provide you with some secret information that will gain you easy access to high scores on your college entrance exams. There is no quick and dirty trick, no pressure point on the body that will magically unlock your brain on test day, and no secret cheat. However, there are some very successful tried and tested strategies that when practiced as part of your daily routine will almost certainly guide you to top entrance exam scores.

The adage, “Know yourself and your enemy,” is a loosely translated distillation of Sun Tzu’s famous book The Art of War. Written centuries ago, this treatise has come to be about so much more than warfare. Many modernists have applied Tzu’s wisdom and strategizing to almost every challenge one may face in life. In fact some of the world’s leading business moguls have attributed their successes to Sun Tzu’s principles.

Why not apply the same commonsense to your SATs?

Know Yourself: Early Preparation ASAP

Preparation for your college entrance exams essentially begins the moment you or your parents decide that college is non-negotiable. Some educational advisors suggest that parents who set college goals as early as elementary school for their children are better focused on college savings strategies as well as academic support and encouragement.

In fact, so much of the advice you get is centered around early preparation, but this information is almost too late for high school students, it’s over and done. This advice is best targeted to parents or the other adult role models that factor heavily in a child’s early development. Because really your chance for “acing” the college exams is in large part pre-determined by your early education and support system. This is not to say that a highly motivated academic misfit is unable to reverse his or her fortune with intense academic training, but in most cases this is unlikely.

What I Learned of Myself—In Hindsight

I performed poorly on my college entrance exams. Main reason: I just didn’t care enough. I lacked academic preparation, which was ultimately blamed on lack of motivation. My scores were not good enough to get me into a four-year college or university and instead I opted for my local community college. For me the outcome worked; I ultimately ramped up my academic scores in community college and transferred into a four-year college as a junior. Had I actually made it to a college campus as a freshman, though, my lack of maturity might have led me to disaster regardless. My study skills were underdeveloped and I had no personal infrastructure for time management and little self-discipline, both critical strategies for “acing” your exams.

Make Reading Part of Your Daily Life

The earlier you learn good study skills and put those skills to work in your life, the better set you are to prepare for your college entrance exams. Educational experts across the board urge students to become avid readers. Consider the fact that your entrance exams assess your reading, writing and math skills. Two thirds of the test are devoted to skills that could be gleaned from reading a variety of sources, from novels to short-stories, magazines to poetry. The SATs require you to consider grammar, structure and rhetorical reasoning. Your vocabulary, long an integral piece of the SAT, will already be expansive, thanks to a lengthy relationship with reading.

Test Preparation

By your junior year in high school you are prepped to take the PSAT, the lead-in to the SAT. By this point you should have well-defined study habits. The PSAT, while it will give you a good indication of your weaknesses, does not pre-empt previous study.

The College Board devises and delivers both the PSAT and SAT. The website is a veritable library of resources, including the particulars of each test, such as test dates and test locations. CB also outlines carefully the meaning of the scores and provides a very clear explanation of the exact skills you will be expected to know.

Know Your Enemy: Practice Tests

There is no substitute for practice tests. College Board provides sample tests that emulate in structure and content the types of information you will be assessed for. You can take practice tests as often as you’d like and use the score feedback to self-assess your skill soft-spots.

Advanced Placement Classes

Students motivated to challenge themselves with their high school academics might parlay that passion into Advanced Placement classes, often called simply AP. Most high schools offer a variety of AP courses, from English and Literature to Math and Science. Besides an AP class’s ability to deliver advanced curriculum, the material provides a higher degree of skills than those typically required on the SAT. In other words, AP classes can put you comfortably in the “A” category on your SATs.

Another appeal to AP level classes is the impress factor they provide on a student’s college application. Admissions officers far and wide have made it clear that students who even manage to take AP courses have a leg-up to their peers. Score well in AP classes and your overall GPA can get a big boost.

Test Strategies

Gain an edge on the SAT/ACT with proper test management skills. How and in what order you answer each section’s questions may factor deeply on your chances to ace the exam. There are basically three types of questions: those you know hands-down, those you’re not so sure about, and then the few you have not a clue about.

The time element inherent in the test means in order to score your best you must devote the most time to those test questions you know or are confident you can reason out. This means you skip over any others for this primary goal and revisit them later. The remainder of your time must be devoted to those questions your are not so sure about, but have a chance to reason out an educated guess. Multiple-choice questions often give choices that you know immediately are incorrect. With the remaining answers you may be able to make an educated guess as to the right or logical choice. And remember you are not required to give an answer if you don’t know it.

Test Day: Eat Your Wheaties

By the time the SAT or ACT exam rolls around you will likely feel as though you’ve been in training for a major sporting event. For all intents and purposes you have. The actual test takes about 5 hours from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you’re asked to put your pencil down in the final section of the test.

Students perform at their peak when they are well rested, have confidence in their skills and abilities, and know exactly what to expect on the exam. Oh, and don’t skip breakfast. In the end, there is more to Sun Tzu’s adage: “Know yourself and know your enemy and you will win a hundred battles.”