Originally Posted: May 15, 2017
Last Updated: Aug 4, 2020
A lot becomes clear to you by the time you graduate high school. For instance, come fall of freshman year of college, you’ll have a wealth of advice for taking standardized tests. I figured I should share the most helpful SAT and ACT tricks my friends and I learned in high school with those who have yet to experience these tests. Below is a list of helpful tricks for taking the SAT and ACT. They come straight from students who have taken these tests again and again (and again, and again…).
Take a full-length practice ACT and SAT—without preparing first
Whether you’re sure you know which test you want to take or you’re still trying to decide, take a practice shot at both the SAT and the ACT. I know that sounds like the worst. But here’s the thing: don’t study at all. But do time yourself, so you mimic the real test day as best you can. And don’t take both the practice tests on the same day!
Then, after you’ve scored both practice tests, see which one you did better on. Also think about which one felt better while you were taking it. That’s the admission test you should probably focus your study efforts on. This tactic works because it lets you see which test you naturally do better on so you have the most potential for success possible. For instance, I took the ACT and the SAT blind once each, got a better score on the ACT, took that one a second time after a lot of studying, and then improved my ACT score by two points.
Find a student tutor
Have an older friend (or even acquaintance) who got a great score on the SAT or ACT? 1. Good for them. 2. As a student, they probably need money. See if you can pay them to tutor you. Student tutoring rates are usually cheaper than adult professional tutors, so don’t hesitate reach out to your peer for help. Ideally, they’ll have taken the same test you plan to take, but you can probably still learn at least a couple testing tricks if they tool the other test. Bonus: setting up a tutoring session will force you to study for a certain amount of time.
Trick yourself into thinking test day is a normal day
Get up earlier than you need to on test day so you’re not rushed, but otherwise interact with other humans, and eat breakfast like you usually would. No big deal. Just another day, right?! Bonus points if you’ve set up a “calming routine” for yourself to really trick your brain into being cool with taking the SAT or ACT. (You’ll find an explanation of calming routines in this article about admission interviews.)
Psyche yourself up mentally
Just like athletes before the big game, some of the most important determinates of the outcome derive from what you do before you step onto the field…or sit down at the desk. The more prepared you are for your standardized test, whether it’s the SAT or ACT (or something else), the more confidence you will have when taking it.
Bring the stuff other kids forget
Preparing for test day means having everything you need—and I mean everything. Even if you don’t end up using it all, here’s a list of what you should bring to the ACT or SAT:
- A watch that does not beep
- Approved calculator (Graphing calculators are usually okay for the SAT, but you need a regular calculator for the ACT.)
- #2 pencils and erasers—at least three of them
- Admission ticket
- Photo ID (School IDs usually count.)
- Snacks and water (I say bring as many as you can carry.)
- Extra calculator batteries
- Pencil sharpener
- Sweatshirt or sweater (You don’t know how cold the testing room will be!)
Use the “three times rule”
Someone I met in college told me about their “Three Times Rule,” and even though I can’t go back in time to high school and use it, I think it’s pretty brilliant. Here’s how it works: if possible, go through the test (SAT or ACT) three times. The first time, answer all the questions that are easy for you and ignore the hard ones. The second time, spend a little bit more time on each question to see if they are actually as hard as they looked the first time—you may find they aren’t! The third time, answer the hardest questions you have left as best as you can.
Of course, this means you need to budget your time taking the test really well, whether it’s the SAT or ACT. Make sure you don’t spend too much time on any one question or section. You want to be sure that you answer the ones you have the highest chance of getting right first.
Good luck and test on!
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