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8 SAT and ACT Exam Hacks From an Expert Tutor

By Priyam, IvyWise Master Tutor

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a key that unlocked all of the answers to questions on the SAT, ACT, and other standardized exams that can give students major anxiety? While there’s no one tip or trick that will help you achieve a perfect score, practice and a proper test prep plan can help dramatically improve students’ performance on college entrance exams. There are also some test-taking strategies and “hacks” that students can utilize to maximize their time and performance on these high-stakes tests.

Here are some of my top tips and strategies for students preparing for the SAT or ACT.

1. Know the Test Structure
The nice thing about these exams is that they are standardized and won’t change in structure, so you should spend time getting familiar with them. If nothing on the test comes as a surprise to you, you’ll feel much more relaxed. You’ll be able devote all of your mental energy to understanding the content rather than navigating an unexpected test format. Know the style, type, sequence, and number of questions on each section so that those aspects become ingrained in your approach to taking the exam. Here’s a breakdown of each section on the SAT and ACT:

ACT Sections SAT Sections
English Math
Math Reading
Reading Writing
Science Optional Essay
Optional Essay

 

2. Skip Hard Questions at First
After getting a feel for the timing of the individual sections of the exam you plan to take, whether it’s the SAT or the ACT, it is important to pace yourself carefully to avoid running out of time. If you come across a question that completely stumps you, don’t linger. Struggling with one question for too long can hurt your score because it takes up time you could have used to answer easier questions later in the section. You can always come back to the questions you skipped if you have time, but you shouldn’t prioritize one tricky question over getting through the rest of the section before time is called.

3. Use Process of Elimination
Process of elimination is the most effective strategy for answering multiple choice questions. It’s much easier to get rid of answers than it is to pick the correct choice out of the lineup right away. This is especially applicable to questions in the English and Reading sections which can be eliminated just by looking at the choices which have incorrect grammar or lack of evidence from the passage but may require additional steps to eliminate on the math section.

4. Choose the Most Concise Answer in the English Section

The essence of proper English and good writing is saying what you mean in the most accurate way without any extra unnecessary words. When you’re trying to decide between a few different phrasings for a sentence in the ACT English or SAT Reading sections, often the least wordy choice is correct. Of course, this is not always going to be the case as there are exceptions to this rule, but it’s enough of a trend that if you’re totally stumped by a question, picking the shortest answer can be a safe strategy in order to have the best chance of choosing the correct answer and get through the section in time.

5. Tread Carefully With “NO CHANGE” or “NONE” Answers
Many students are either too wary of NO CHANGE or NONE answers or too eager to pick them. Always double check before choosing these answers, but if you genuinely feel that it’s the right answer, try not to doubt yourself too much. NO CHANGE answers can make up around 25% of the correct responses when they’re presented as an option on the ACT English section, for example, so don’t assume that option is any less likely to be correct compared to the other choices.

6. Plug In Answers for Math Questions
The great thing about multiple choice tests is that the correct answer is always right there in front of you – all you have to do is find it.  This means that you can often work backward to find the correct answers to math problems even if you’re not sure of the actual solution method. This can take longer than just solving the problem the old-fashioned way, so it shouldn’t be your first move, but if you’re stumped it’s a viable way to solve problems successfully.

7. Memorize Important Formulas
Although the SAT provides a reference for the key formulas you may need for the math questions, the ACT does not, so you have to know the most commonly used formulas off the top of your head. Make sure you take a bit of time to review this list of formulas before the test.

 8. Read Your Favorite Subject First
In the ACT English and SAT Reading sections, the passage topics are always consistent. You can take advantage of this by determining the optimal order in which to read the passages beforehand. It’s best to start with the subject matter or writing style that you feel most comfortable reading because you’ll get through that passage faster than the others and probably won’t struggle as much with the questions.

It is important to remember that these strategies won’t fix major issues you have with the content of the test, so it is imperative that, in addition to using these exam hacks, students put in necessary prep time and in-depth studying to understand the content that will be tested.

At IvyWise, we work with students to help them perform their best on the SAT and ACT through our customized test prep programs. On average, students who complete 40 or more hours of tutoring with an IvyWise tutor increase their SAT scores by 200 points, but we have seen committed students raise their scores by as much as 650 points. The average ACT score improvement is 6 points with some IvyWise students increasing their scores by 14 points! Score improvements on SAT Subject tests average 120 points.

To learn more about our test prep services and how we can help you reach your goal SAT or ACT score, contact us today.

You can also watch our demo lesson below!