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How to Prep for the Spring ACT

As most families preparing for the college admissions process are already aware, the SAT as we know it is now gone. Apart from students who get a makeup examination because of test-day weather, the last administration of the SAT in its current form was in January. Now, juniors preparing to apply to college must choose: Take an unfamiliar SAT in March or take the ACT instead. At IvyWise, we’re advising students to take the ACT, and we have some tips to help you prep.

Why not take the new SAT?

There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the revised SAT, which we will refer to as rSAT. Students who take the rSAT in March will have to wait until after the May test is administered to receive their scores, as the College Board needs to calibrate their scoring by comparing the two exams. This will leave students with little time to prep if it turns out they need to take the June test to improve their scores. This can put a lot of pressure on students, especially those hoping to apply early to their top choice college. It’s also important to remember that scoring delays are possible, as the College Board has run into significant issues delivering PSAT scores this spring, and there was a big problem with the SAT last summer. There are also fewer official rSAT test prep materials for students to use, while the ACT has a plethora of sample tests and resources available. For more info on the rSAT, read Part I and Part II of our “Everything You Need to Know About the New SAT” series.

Benefits of Taking the ACT This Spring

All colleges that accept the SAT also accept the ACT, so there’s no one test that schools “prefer” over the other. While we usually advise students to take the test that best suits their abilities, because of the uncertainty surrounding the rSAT, it’s best if current juniors go ahead and prep for the ACT. Juniors who take the ACT this spring will receive their scores in a timely manner, and will be in a better position to determine if they need to retake the test before the fall. This is especially beneficial to students who plan to apply early to their top-choice school, as they can get their testing out of the way before any application deadlines.

How to Prep for the ACT

  • Take practice tests. We can’t stress this enough! Taking timed practice tests will help you become familiar with the test format, learn how to pace, and determine how to best utilize certain strategies (featured below).
  • Utilize official resources. The official ACT website has the most accurate sample tests and test prep resources. There you can find sample questions, test tips, and more. Also get a copy of the official ACT prep guide, which has actual retired tests for students to practice with.
  • Seek test prep help if needed. If you’re still struggling to bring your score up, having trouble mastering the material, or just not able to complete the test in time, seek help from a test-prep professional. Experienced tutors can help you better understand the material and offer pointers on how to approach certain questions.

Test Taking Strategies

  • Use process of elimination. This is stressed on any multiple-choice exam – if you don’t know the answer right away, narrow it down by using process of elimination. If you’re used to the SAT, this will be a nice surprise: Instead of five answer options the ACT only has four.
  • It’s ok to guess. Those who are familiar with the SAT have always been cautioned against guessing because of the ¼ point deduction for a wrong answer. While that will be changing on the rSAT, the ACT has never had a penalty for guessing. If you don’t know the answer, skip the question and come back at the end. If you’re still not able to determine the answer using process of elimination, guess by choosing the answer that you think is best.
  • Work backwards on the reading section. This is a huge time saver. Instead of reading the passage then answering the questions, save time by first reading the questions then make note of the answers when reading the passage. By knowing what to look for first, you can better skim the passage for keywords and phrases.
  • Plan out your essay. The new ACT writing test debuted last fall, and, instead of the classic persuasive essay, students must now write more complex essays evaluating different perspectives on a topic and how those intersect with the student’s own perspective. If you take the ACT with writing, make sure to take some time to effectively plan out your essay so when you’re ready to write, you have a clear picture of your thoughts and how you want to present them. Don’t just wing it.
  • Manage test-day anxiety. Don’t let nerves get the better of you on test day. If you struggle with testing anxiety, take steps to manage your stress. Learn calming techniques, practice tuning out distractions, and make sure you get plenty of rest.

It’s important to remember that, while important in the college admissions process, ACT and SAT scores are not the only components that colleges consider. Don’t spend so much time preparing for the ACT that your grades, extracurriculars, and other activities suffer. At IvyWise we have a team of expert counselors and tutors that can help you reach your goal score and also advise you on the colleges that are the best-fit for your needs, goals, and abilities. If you’re struggling with your test scores, contact us today for more information on our tutoring and counseling services.

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