When I took the SATs way back in May of 2000, the only preparation most of my friends and I did was taking the practice exam our guidance counselors handed out. The night before the test, instead of reviewing vocabulary and getting a good night’s sleep, I saw the movie Gladiator on its opening night in theaters.
And on the way to the test center the next morning, my friend Tony passed along his foolproof strategy: “If you don’t know the answer, always guess B.”
Luckily SAT and ACT preparation tactics have come a long way since then. Whether you’re entering senior year planning to take a fall exam, or a younger student getting a head start, summer is the perfect time to work on improving your score.
Your high school might offer a test prep course over the summer, usually at a much lower cost than private programs. If not, look around at local private schools to see if any offer a summer program that’s open to other students.
Boarding school summer programs often include SAT/ACT prep courses in addition to other academic enrichment options and recreational activities. The summer session at The Hun School of Princeton offers separate courses in SAT Math and Verbal/Writing, in addition to credit-bearing and enrichment options in other basic subjects. Cushing Academy’s five-week program includes SAT prep as part of a college advising workshop.
Other formal test prep options include Kaplan or Princeton Review classes in your area and private SAT/ACT tutors. But don’t worry that you need to spend a ton of money to ace your standardized tests—if you're willing to work hard, there are plenty of ways to improve your scores over the summer at little to no cost.
I was about to recommend checking your library or bookstore for an SAT/ACT prep book full of advice and practice tests. Those are great, and you’ll probably end up with a ripped physique from lugging one around all summer. But if you’re not into heavy lifting, last year The New York Times tracked down some of the best SAT and ACT prep apps for your iPad, iPhone, or Android phone. Even better, most of the apps recommended are free or under $10.
The College Board’s SAT section and the ACT test prep site offer free daily practice questions, and you can print out a free, full-length practice SAT. (You can take the test online, too, but it can’t hurt to practice filling in those bubbles . . . especially for those of us who always had trouble coloring within the lines.)
If you want to help end world hunger while preparing to ace the SAT, check out FreeRice.com. The site provides multiple-choice questions in a range of subjects, and for every correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated through the World Food Programme. We wrote about this previously in the Test Prep section.
It’s easy to get stressed about the SAT and ACT, but it could be worse: you could be one of those Chinese kids who hook themselves up to IV drips of amino acids to help stay up all night studying for college entrance exams.
American standardized tests aren’t quite as high stakes as Chinese exams, but they’re still a significant part of the college admission process. So study up this summer, and remember: What we do in life echoes in eternity.