SAT practice test takers at Academic Achievers’ Santa Monica facility
by Deanna, Academic Achievers tutor
I actually like standardized tests. Granted, I certainly didn’t like them when I had to take them, and I see the stress and anxiety they cause both my students and their parents. Nonetheless, preparing for the SAT or ACT is really about preparing for life as an educated, intellectually curious and exciting mind that the world will want to meet.
Here are 10 tips for the standardized test taker in your life (thanks to my colleagues at Academic Achievers):
1) Decide which exam to take. The ACT offers more straightforward, content-based questions, while the SAT features more logic-based questions. It’s best to take practice tests for both to figure out which exam feels better to you.
2) Select a great tutor. You don’t prepare for the Olympics without a coach, and you don’t prepare for the most important standardized test you’ve ever taken without one either. A great tutor not only understands the tests themselves, but also understands your individual learning style and how you best absorb and process material.
3) Sharpen your critical reading skills like a samurai! Train your mind to question as you read your English and History homework each night: Where is this author going? What tone is coming across? How did that last paragraph fit into the author’s larger point? By honing the instincts of your own curious mind, you’ll become an ace critical reader, able to conquer the most challenging of exam passages.
4) Expand your vocabulary every day of your life—not just because it’ll help you on your exams, but also because it will make the world realize how smart you are! Get a dictionary app on your phone and get into the habit of looking up all the wild and wonderful new words that cross your path. Keep a flashcard pile on your desk, and add to it. Challenge yourself to throw in a new word at the dinner table or with your friends. You’ll enjoy the response; sophisticated language can enliven the most “normal” of conversations.
5) Become a selective expert. My colleague Dan S. recommends that students become “wiki-experts” on six or seven topics in preparation for the essay portion of the SAT. “Students should know the main points that would be included on the Wikipedia page, significant themes, events, characters, etc… so instead of scrambling to find examples, they can calmly and proactively sift through their six or seven topics to find instances that suit the question.”
6) Strategize: work smarter, not more. For Math, as my colleague Jake says, “Take advantage of the multiple choice format. You can save time by plugging the answer choices into the problem rather than solving the problem by hand.” For Science, remember that the ACT is not actually testing science knowledge; it’s testing your ability to interpret graphs and tables of data.
7) Practice, Practice, Practice. Take enough practice tests, and you’ll begin to notice patterns. Most Writing sections feature questions about parallelism and subject-verb agreement; most Math sections have a question about special right triangles. The more tests you carefully work through, the more of a master you’ll be.
8) Schedule it! The SAT’s this year will be 3/8, 5/3 and 6/7 (this is not including SAT II subject tests). The ACT’s are 2/8, 4/12 and 6/14. Once your chosen exam date is on the calendar, you can work backwards, creating a realistic schedule for yourself to review math concepts, expand your vocabulary arsenal, hone your writing skills, and take practice tests. You are busy! The sooner you know when your exam is, the sooner you can create the mental space necessary to fully prepare for it.
9) Rest, drink water, and eat healthy. I always tell my students to make sure they’re getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night every day the week before the exam. Eating right and hydrating properly will not only boost your brain, but put you in a confident frame of mind: you are giving yourself what you need to succeed. Take care of yourself like the mental athlete you are, and your mind will reward you on exam day.
10) When all’s said and done, keep it in perspective. Standardized test scores are one (1) facet of a student’s application to college. They are not the most important facet. They are not the primary indicators of how you will do in college, your chosen career path, or life in general. They will be gone soon, and you will not have to think about them again. Use the SATs and ACTs as an excuse to become the kind of scholar you always imagined you could be.
Cultivate your own intellectual curiosity every day of your life, and success on these exams will follow!