How to Reduce the “Yuck” in Preparing for the SAT & ACT

The SAT and ACT are unlike tests students see in high school.  First, teenagers will need to be awake at 7:45 am on a Saturday morning, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, knowing the score will play a role (although how large is unknown) in determining their competitiveness for admissions to colleges of their choice.  Second, teenagers will need to sit in one place for 3 hours and 45 minutes of testing time alone, as well as concentrate for the entire time, to answer the test questions, while listening to the kid in the corner sniffle with the end of her cold and the other kid behind sighing every 30 seconds, while the proctor reads through a monologue of instructions.  Lastly, preparation is most effective when students start weeks in advance, rather than days or the night before.  

Preparing for the SAT or ACT can be unlike preparing for a test in a high school class.  For classes, students know to review the most recently presented ideas and concepts–memorizing them so they can appropriately answer the test questions.  High school classes tend to test content, or the ideas and concepts that are presented; whereas, the SAT, in particular, challenges students to demonstrate their thinking process  Plus, students have an understanding of the teacher’s thinking, how the material is presented and what emphasis the teacher has placed on particular concepts.  Students can reasonably deduce the information that will be tested, as well as how the teacher will format the test questions. The day-to-day experience, as much as their preparation in the day(s) before the test, can be helpful to earning a higher score.  However, in a timed, standardized, multiple choice test, this same preparation strategy may not serve them as well.  For the SAT and ACT, the students do not have an opportunity to interact with the test writers in person.  At best, students prepare with specifically designed SAT/ACT prep classes, online guides or books–all secondary sources–that help them become familiar with the test and format of the questions.  Also, the straightforward content driven type questions they’re familiar with aren’t necessarily how the SAT or ACT words questions.  Plus, the timed nature of the test means that pacing and test taking strategy are as important to practice, as is reviewing concepts. Therefore, student’s preparation in the weeks before the SAT and ACT test dates will need to account for the differences in their current test studying process.

The more a student and their family understands about the purpose of the SAT and ACT scores within the college admissions process, as well as can separate their “regular” test preparation strategies for everyday tests in high school classes from effective techniques to prepare for the SAT and ACT, the more a student can focus their limited time to practice for the SAT and ACT. Admissions to a college isn’t determined solely by one’s SAT and ACT scores, as the entirety of a student’s application–the application essay, GPA, classes taken during high school, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, admissions interviews AND SAT and ACT scores–will be considered.  Having a more realistic perspective of how one’s SAT and ACT scores will help a student seek admissions to colleges of their choice can reduce the pressure on their performance.  Students and their parents should also keep in mind that applicants can retake the SAT and the ACT as many times as s/he prefers, through December of their Senior year. SAT and ACT test preparation will help students gain familiarity with the test format and questions, to give them greater confidence on the test day. Between his/her confidence and the familiarity with the test questions and content, students will know s/he did all possible to be ready for the test, which in the end is all one can do.

For an individualized strategy to prepare for upcoming SAT and ACT test dates, contact Jill at Creative Marbles Consultancy–(916) 457-4090.  She’ll tailor her advising to the test taking skills and content a student most needs to improve.