By IvyWise Master Tutor
For many college bound students, the fall SAT or ACT will be the first standardized test they will take. It’s important to take these tests multiple times to give yourself plenty of opportunity to improve your score with each test. Remember, most colleges will superscore your results, so taking the SAT or ACT multiple times will help boost your chances of achieving your goal score!
Test Prep Tips To Keep in Mind This Fall
While preparing for college entrance exams at the tail end of summer break may not be appealing to many students, it can be a great opportunity to reach that goal score before diving deeper into college prep later this fall. Students are also getting back into “school mode,” so transitioning from summer break into test prep may be smoother for some than jumping straight back into a heavy course load.
Here are some tips to help students aiming to take the fall SAT or ACT balance the new school year and test prep:
Take Practice Tests
There’s no substitute for taking practice tests in the weeks leading up to the test date! Don’t get hung up about any one practice score – it’s much more important to be aware of how you are progressing by taking several practice tests over a longer period of time. Chart your progress over three, four, or five practice tests to see what areas you need to work on. Taking practice tests is not only mental work, it’s physical work, and the more time you put into practice tests, the better physical stamina you’ll have for test day.
The SAT and ACT are not only tests of knowledge – they are really tests of mental endurance. Not only do you have a minute or less per question, the entire test will run around four hours including breaks. Definitely a marathon rather than a sprint! Train yourself to get used to the time constraints as much as possible by taking timed practice drills. Develop your mental stamina by taking timed practice tests or sections regularly, over the period of a month or more.
Break Down Prep Into Small Sections
The thought of taking several full practice tests a week can be exhausting and unrealistic due to schoolwork, and there will definitely be weeks where it’s hard to find the time to devote to test preparation. Rather than completely putting off your test prep during tough weeks, break down the test sections into smaller portions and complete each part instead, timing yourself appropriately.
For example, break up the ACT math section into three 20-question, 20-minute increments. This is a practical way of developing your ‘internal clock,’ knowing just how much time you should be spending on a question before moving on.
When you complete timed practice sections or tests, it’s vital that you spend at least double the time reviewing missed questions than you did answering them. A lot of times it’s not the most pleasant work to go over missed questions, but this is the most important part of test preparation, and it’s also the one activity that will increase your score the most. Reviewing test questions is as important if not more important than taking test questions.
Take the time to really review mistakes – often times, there will be multiple ways of getting to a correct answer, so it’s important to understand not only how to answer the question correctly but also quickly. This is true for every section of the SAT and ACT – there are always ways to improve your pacing on certain types of reading, math, or English questions, to look for patterns in the question types that show up on every practice test.
Hone Your Test-Taking Habits
Keep working on good test-taking habits: manage your time wisely, do your work on paper, utilize process of elimination, and save difficult and time-consuming questions for last.
Some students can get away with skipping or avoiding some of these test habits and still get the scores they want; still, it’s really important to practice sticking to these test habits because it will produce the most consistent test scores.
Having really good test habits means that even if you face unexpected challenges on test day, you will have great test habits to fall back on that will help you deal with a really confusing reading passage or cryptic math problem.
Practice Getting Up Early
The SAT and ACT tests are as much tests of physical stamina as they are mental stamina. Whether you are a morning or night person, the test can be really physically exhausting. Practice getting up early on Saturday mornings and dedicate at least an hour or several hours to timed practice work, because that’s what you will have to do on the official test day!
You can’t control what sort of reading passages will be on the test, or what sort of geometry or algebra questions, but you can control your mental and physical readiness for whatever new and unexpected challenges come up on test day. This is especially important for night owls – you want to be at your very best, so get used to those early Saturday mornings!
Seek Help If Needed
Reviewing your work is really critical in spotting test habits that need to be strengthened or changed, and so is planning a regular schedule for taking practice tests and being extra aware of following good test habits. If you feel like you’re having trouble figuring our the best and easiest way to work through test questions or want to develop better test habits, working with a tutor can be really helpful. At IvyWise we have a team of test prep experts who can help you identify areas where improvement is needed, and develop a plan to help you reach your goal score.
In the end, developing a test prep plan, taking practice tests, taking the time to review your answers and mistakes, and preparing mentally and physically for the ACT or SAT is critical in ensuring you’re ready for these intensive tests come exam day. There’s just no substitute for this sort of hard work!