4 Easy to Overlook Tips for the ACT and SAT
By Richard, IvyWise Master Tutor
The college prep process can often be complicated, and the complexities of this journey can make it easy to overlook a few key tips that have a great record of helping students raise their ACT and SAT scores and pave the way toward long-term success.
Here are four SAT and ACT tips that students often overlook when trying to reach their goal scores.
You Get What You Put In
When it comes to preparing for the ACT and SAT, it can be easy to forget that you get out what you put in. One of my former students graduated from Harvard last June, and this was his favorite piece of advice for younger students who were trying to follow in his footsteps. At the end of the day, your results will be directly proportional to your efforts and this is sometimes an easy idea to forget. But if put in the steady effort you will be taking a huge step down the path that leads to success on the SAT or ACT. This works not just for test prep is but also with many other things that are part of your educational and college prep journey – from doing your best in school to any complex skill that requires long-term practice.
Sometimes Less is More
Strategy is key! Why? Because not all questions are equally valuable to the individual test-taker. For example, if you’re scoring below about 650 on either section of the SAT (or the equivalent on any subject of the ACT), then you will actually want to skip some of the questions in that section – at least at first. A hard question that takes four minutes or more is only worth the same 1 point as an easy or medium question that might only take a minute. This means the hard problem is actually less valuable to most students who are still working on raising their scores because they could do about three questions in the same amount of time and get 2-3 points instead of just 0-1 from the hard question.
This idea that “less is more” means students should give themselves permission to skip a few of the most difficult and time-consuming questions on the subjects where they are still improving. Then, once they have finished all of the other questions, they can go back and work on the harder questions they skipped. When you save time consuming problems for later, this means you have more time per question for the easy and medium level questions, so you can get more of them right and, with practice, eventually you will have time to complete all questions on the section – including the hardest ones.
Don’t Cram Before the Exam
This is another example where “less is more.” During the last school week before an official ACT or SAT exam, students often need to be reminded that they shouldn’t study too much. Why? In order for students to get their best scores on the ACT or SAT, their ability to concentrate mentally will be much more important than how much they have learned during the last week leading up to the exam. Well-prepared students have a specific checklist that they use during the last week of the exam to ensure that they are not studying too much for the exam. Cramming the week before the SAT or ACT can cause students to go into the test mentally exhausted, when they really need to be rested and ready to concentrate. This is why the previous weeks and months leading up to the SAT or ACT are even more important than many students realize. Students need to use that time to improve their scores effectively so that they are as prepared as possible for the official test day.
The ACT and SAT are Mostly Reading Exams – So Read!
Sure, there are math questions that don’t have too many words, but for the most part, both the ACT and SAT are testing how well students can read and interpret ideas on every subject. How? Remember that question that looked easy, but instead of asking for the piece of information you thought they wanted, the test was asking for its metaphorical neighbor –not x, as you thought, but 3x? Often, part of the problem with “medium” and “hard” questions is that the questions are worded in a way that is difficult, intricate, or obtuse. There are short-term and long-term approaches to the reading comprehension challenges contained on every section of the ACT and SAT. But the best ways to get better at reading are to:
- Build a long-term habit for reading.
- Work to build reading comprehension even more than reading speed.
The more a student reads and then applies that reading practice to test prep practice, the more they will improve at every section of the exam, and eventually build up reading speed. Being able to catch tricks in the different sections often depends on a student’s skill as a reader, and the better your skill as a reader, the more you can improve your test-day performance.
So, in summary, the path to score improvements will:
- Depend on the effort the individual student puts in
- Require sometimes counter-intuitive strategies depending on where students are in their test prep process
- Require a different kind of plan for the last week before the exam
- Depend on having an effective reading plan
Fortunately, when students are ambitious and start to apply this, and other overlooked tips, with the support of an experienced tutor, the sky is the limit!