The idea of taking a four-hour test that influences whether you get into the college of your choice is harrowing enough. Preparing for that test is sometimes an even scarier prospect. It’s the age-old question: how do you study for the test that has everything? Do you make flashcards, study vocabulary, memorize math equations? Here are the essential do’s and don’ts of preparing for the SAT or ACT from someone who’s tried them all.
Do: Know how the test works. If this means taking a class to get acquainted, filling out practice tests, or simply researching online, make sure you know what you’re getting into. In timed tests, reading instructions is a waste of precious minutes; know what you’ll have to do for each section before you begin.
Don’t: Think the only good prep costs money. Reading builds vocabulary; math homework adds to your problem-solving skills; paying attention to comments on English assignments improves your writing and grammar. If getting tutored or attending a class isn’t a possibility, you can still study and practice for standardized tests without the help of a professional.
Do: Know the strategies. One of the most helpful SAT prep classes I took was one that simply told me what kind of answers the test was looking for. By just knowing the basics of how the test you’re taking is made, narrowing down answer choices and organizing an essay will be that much easier.
Don’t: Overload yourself with prep classes. A few classes are definitely helpful if you have access to them, but maxing yourself out before taking the test won’t do you any good. Don’t let tutoring take away from your schoolwork—GPA matters in college acceptance decisions just as much as test scores do.
Do: Play to your strengths. If you’re a math whiz but your scores were average, try again. Super-scoring means that taking the SAT again can only help you, and you can wait until after you receive your ACT score to send it to schools.