Whether you’re about to take the SAT or ACT for the first time or have decided to retest for a better score, you’re probably devoting a lot of time to test-preparation and study. While performing well on the ACT or SAT does take a lot of time and dedication beforehand, there are a few simple strategies you can use to prepare for and take your test in the most effective and efficient way possible:
1. Brush up on Your Vocabulary
It’s hard to answer a question that uses unfamiliar vocabulary. The easiest way to raise your score is to learn words that are common to your specific test. A study guide or quick internet search will show you the vocabulary terms you should focus on.
2. Take Practice Tests
You should find full-length practice versions of the ACT or SAT and take them. There are several books and websites created to provide thorough exam preparation for students with practice tests based on actual ACT and SAT exams. This will help you get a feel for how you should time yourself during the actual test, and you’ll become familiar with the instructions for each sections and the structure of the test as a whole. Time yourself, just like you would be timed during the actual test, to find out if you need to speed up your problem-solving in one section or can afford to take more time in another.
3. Don’t Fear Guessing
If you’re having a hard time with a question on your practice test, guess the answer. Practice educated guessing so you won’t be so stressed out when you take the actual test. You’re not penalized for having the wrong answer, so don’t leave anything blank. There is no guarantee that you will know the answer to every question on a test, and an educated guess is usually better than several minutes of wasted time on a question you can’t answer.
4. Don’t Forget Your Calculator
You’re allowed to use certain calculators during the test, so it’s a good idea to borrow or buy an approved calculator. Become familiar with the functions on your calculator beforehand, so you won’t spend valuable testing time trying to figure out how to operate it. It’s a good idea also to figure out what sort of questions require a calculator so you don’t waste time plugging in an equation that you could have solved in your head.
5. Write Essays
The only way to get better at writing essays is to actually write essays. Pick a subject likely to be on the test—politics, ethics, and science are good candidates for this—and write essays on topics within it. This trains your brain to think outside the box, adapt quickly to new prompts, and produce thoughtful essay content on demand.
6. Memorize Formulas
Memorizing formulas—especially algebraic ones—is your best shot at getting a great math score on the ACT or SAT. Practice different problems using the formulas you memorize until you’re comfortable with quickly "plugging and chugging".
7. Read, Read, Read!
A significant portion of your test will involve reading comprehension. Even the math and science sections of your test will require a certain level of comprehension to perform well on. Read from many different sources: newspaper articles, magazines, books, etc. Ask yourself what’s happening in the reading material, who’s talking, and if there’s a deeper meaning below the surface. This reading training will pay off when you test, allowing you to identify the important points within the text that you’ll be asked about.
It’s never too early to start studying for these important tests. Remember, though: if you don’t do well the first time around, you can always take it again, so don’t stress about it too much.