Checklist: SAT and ACT Tests

The SAT and ACT Test are standardized tests used for college admissions decisions. The tests are also used for awarding merit-based scholarships. You might be asking yourself, “Do I need to take both tests?”. I’m glad to inform you, that you don’t need to take both tests. In fact, most colleges do not prefer one test over the other. This checklist helps you prepare for your SAT and ACT to get the best possible score.

Advanced Preparation for the Test

Taking early practice tests have proven to result in higher test scores.  Your freshman year in high school is not too early to start preparing for the ACT and/or SAT. Here are a few recommendations for increasing your chances of getting higher test scores:

  • You should consider taking either test the summer between your freshman and sophomore year. Most high schools offer PSAT practice test during your freshman and sophomore academic year. The PSAT were established with the purpose of giving you a better idea of your testing strengths and weaknesses. With this information,  you will be able to know which area(s) you should focus more on.
  • Take a prep course, preferably in person. Many schools offer their own prep courses for little or no cost, so check with your guidance counselor. Also, search for local institutions that might also offer prep courses. Research indicates that this is more effective than online testing because of the accountability factor. However, if you think taking an online test prep suits you best, consider utilizing Khan Academy Free Test Prep.
  • Have you tried the practice test and think you need extra help? Don’t worry! There are hundreds of private SAT tutors. Companies like Study Point promote the significant improvements students who had a tutor showed.

Fun Fact: Many test prep professionals recommend studying the practice exams online and studying SAT vocabulary words because it helps in almost every section of the tests. Both the College Board and ACT offer free questions of the day on their websites.

When is a great time to take the test?

Summers are a great time to focus on your test preparation since you will have enough time to study. Though, most students take the tests in the spring of their junior year. If your scores aren’t what you were hoping for, you can take it again as many times as you want or on the first testing date in the fall of your senior year.

The Night Before

Though it may seem counterintuitive, last-minute cramming generally doesn’t help your final score. In fact, it could lead to more stress. Instead, take some steps to plan out the next day in detail:

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  • Make sure you wake up on time. Set an alarm and backup alarm in case something goes wrong with the first
  • Eat something. Whether you’re taking your class really early in the morning or later in the day, it’s important to have some nutrients in your body. Taking the test on an empty stomach can lower the student’s concentration levels
  • Place all the items together. Gather everything you need to take with you in one place, so you aren’t rushing around in the morning trying to find anything. That list includes:
    • Your testing ticket
    • Your identification
    • No. 2 pencils
    • A calculator (preferably with new batteries)
    • Your watch
    • Snacks for breaks
  • Choose your departure time wisely. Decide what time you will leave in order to get to the testing site 20 to 30 minutes early. Leave plenty of time for traffic and other delays

Once you have everything ready to go, all that’s left is getting a good night’s sleep. Don’t stay up too late. You should try to aim for at least 7 hours of sleep. A good night’s sleep helps the brain do its job effectively.

Day of the Test

  • The old adage is correct; Don’t skip breakfast, because your brain needs fuel. A high-protein meal is best
  • Dress comfortably, but take a jacket to the test with you just in case your testing room is cold
  • If you have a few extra minutes before the test, walk around, stretch, and take some deep breaths

When the day finally arrives, you will have everything under control. The long hours of studying and preparation will finally pay off. Just do your best and don’t give up. When I say don’t give up, I mean don’t leave any questions blank regardless of how “Incorrect” the answer might be. If you get nervous to the point where you can’t focus, try taking deep breaths and counting to 10 or focus on your breathing. Study shows meditation relaxes your muscles and stimulates the human brain. Focusing on your breathing is a perfect way to meditate. If your test scores aren’t the best, you can always take it again. In fact, most people do better the second time around.