When the ACT and the SAT roll around, it can seem like four years of club meetings, volunteering, school functions and exams all boil down to a few digits in an envelope. No matter how sharp your number two pencils are, these are tests that require much more than wishful thinking.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, the ACT and SAT really matter a lot for scholarships and other things like that,” says Tom Pabin, president of Class 101, a national college finance and planning company. “These scores have a lot weight for colleges.”
A few points higher or lower could mean the difference between getting into an underwhelming safety school and that dream school you’ve had in mind all along. A good score could also land you thousands of dollars in scholarships.
As daunting as the ACT or SAT may seem, have no fear, pre-collegiettes! HC is here to make your scores college-ready.
1. Set a goal
Before you even think about memorizing flash cards and conquering problem sets, think about your ideal score. A few steps you should take:
- Make a list of your top college choices and research what range your score needs to be in for you to receive that magical acceptance letter. This will give you a solid idea of what kind of score to aim for and how much time to devote to studying.
- Consult this chart of the average scores for incoming freshmen from a huge list of colleges to get a general idea. Sometimes, setting a goal gives you the perfect motivation to improve your score and really focus on studying.
- To gauge your progress, you can also visit StatFuse, which is basically a superhero site for college planning. It has a fantastic tool that allows you to calculate your current chances of getting into a specific college by plugging in your ACT or SAT scores, GPA and extracurricular activities. Just fill out all your information and instantly see your collegiate possibilities!
2. Memorize math formulas
Just reading the title of this step may make you cringe, but knowing formulas really is crucial for the math section—particularly if you’ve been taking higher-level classes and haven’t had to use the simpler formulas in school in a while.
“You might’ve learned it in eighth grade, so when it comes up on the test you know it, but you don’t remember how to do it,” says Pabin.
Check out StudyPoints, a site with a clear chart comparing the SAT and ACT’s math sections and how to prepare for them. Another easy online tool is this quizlet (a virtual set of flashcards) on ACT math formulas.
3. Do free trials from major test prep websites
Why pay the big bucks if you can get a sample of the real thing for free? After you’ve taken the test once or twice, Pabin suggests focusing on your weakest section or type of question to improve.
“Figure out what areas you really have to focus on to improve your score. Knowing how you test is really important,” he says.
Kaplan’s website free online practice tests for both the SAT and the ACT. Barron’s also offers a great free trial for SAT test prep, and Princeton Review does as well. Another online test prep site, Number 2, provides in-depth free courses to prepare you for the ACT and SAT, including user-friendly tutorials, practice sessions, a vocabulary builder and more.
4. Sign up for a question of the day
A tool we love at HC is the question of the day. SAT or ACT questions of the day feature sample questions similar to what you’ll see on the tests, but are not exact replicas of test questions. One collegiette used this in her college application days and owes a lot of her success on the tests to the habit!
“It just shows up in your inbox each day, so it’s a quick method to remember studying without really thinking about it or making an extra effort,” says Erica Howes, a senior at Miami University.
These questions help you to become familiar with the wording and difficulty of the test questions in a small dose every day, which Pabin says can help you to realize how simple improving your score can be.
“Every six questions you get right, your ACT score goes up one point,” he says. “So if you get six more questions right each time you take the test, you’re already getting quite a bit better.”
5. Buy a test prep book
Although buying a book requires spending a little bit of money, it’s a great way to get all the best tips directly in your hands. You can also order online versions of each prep book.
The official SAT test prep book is $31.99. You can buy it on their website and even receive a 20 percent discount if you buy it before December 30. You can also order The Real ACT Prep Guide ($30.95), which includes five practice tests from old tests.
With all these tips in mind, getting a #winning score on those tests is definitely in reach. So circle that test date on your calendar and set aside a few minutes every day to work on getting a brilliant score!
“Once you become a mature tester (meaning you’ve taken the test a bunch of times and you know what to expect) and [you] follow a few basic tips, that’s all you need,” says Pabin.
Before you know it, you’ll be a collegiette with the stress of the ACT and SAT far behind you!