You’re probably wondering everyone is making such a fuss about the ACT and SAT. You’ve had tests your whole life so why do you need to prepare for them any differently? Standardized tests differ from most tests in that they consist of a variety of subjects, including math, critical reading and writing. You are scored on your ability to analyze and solve problems by taking the skills you’ve learned in high school and applying them at the college-level. Because standardized test scores can make a difference in your application being accepted or denied at the college of your choice, it’s important that you prepare in order to do the absolute best you can. To help you do so, here are a couple of tips.
- Determine which test to take
Most colleges will accept either test, so you might want to take both to see which one you do best on. There are some schools that no longer require the ACT or SAT for admission and you can go to www.fairtest.org to see which schools fall into this category. Even at colleges where the tests are optional, it is still recommended you take them as strong test scores can give you an additional edge with admission officers.
- Find out how your scores will be used
Talk to your guidance counselor about how test scores are reported to colleges and whether or not one or more scores will appear on your transcript. If you are taking AP tests, find out what scores are required and how the colleges plan on using your test scores.
- Prepare yourself by studying
You are going to have to do some work. You didn’t mind doing it for your drivers test so don’t slack off on something as important as this. Putting effort into your test preparation will reward you many times over throughout your life if it helps you get into the college of your choice so just do it!
- Don’t spend a fortune on test preparation
What you elect to do in the test prep area is up to you but be aware that there is a wealth of test preparation information available that is free or inexpensive. Before you spend big bucks on test materials or courses, google SAT or ACT, or visit CollegeBoard.com. Other free sources include your guidance office, local library and friends who’ve already taken the tests.
- Take the preliminary tests
If you’re going to take the SAT and/or ACT, you should sit for the PSAT/NMSQT or PLAN first. These tests are designed to give you an idea of how you might perform on the real tests. Your results on the preliminary tests will help you figure out what areas you need to work on before taking the real tests.
- Prepare yourself for test day
The last thing you want is a stressful test-taking experience, so prepare for test day to make things go as smoothly as possible.
- Don’t be late! Get directions and do a practice run to see how long it takes to get there.
- Find out what items you need to take (such as your ID, a couple of #2 pencils, a calculator...) and pack them the night before.
- Get a good night’s sleep (it's only one Friday night of your life).
- Eat a healthy breakfast as the last thing you want is to be distracted by hunger pains.
- Leave the cell phone and any other banned items in the car.
- Take the test more than once
No matter how prepared you are, everyone can have a rough day. If you’re not happy with your score the first time, take the test again. Colleges will generally look at your highest score, so taking the test a second or even third time can’t hurt. Don’t over-test though; submit your best score and then concentrate on your coursework.