There’s no other way around it when it comes to prepping for the SAT or ACT Tests. To properly prepare, you have to practice — and most importantly, practice properly. What we do mean?
If you were an actor, you wouldn’t show up on opening night without first having rehearsed the script and completely familiarized yourself with the play’s staging, lights, and sound issues. Similarly, by taking several practice SAT or ACT tests and simulating the testing environment and timing as closely as you can, you will walk onto the testing “stage” feeling more confident and prepared. Sure, there are always jitters on test day, but with proper practice, you minimize the unknown and maximize your chances for doing your best.
One of the best ways to get the feeling for the test day experience is to participate in a practice session at school or at a testing center. For instance, at Score at the Top, we offer free SAT and ACT test simulations that are proctored and timed and give students the chance to practice taking full-length tests under conditions similar to what they will find during an official exam. For now, because of COVID, many of these simulations, including ours, are being administered virtually.
Whether you’re taking one of our virtual simulations or working on your own at home, you can set the stage for success with some tips for practicing properly.
Work With Official Tests
You want to take an exam that exemplifies what you’ll actually see on test day. There are several books by the test makers, such as these for the SAT and ACT, as well as online resources that offer sample sections of previously administered official tests. Choose the most recent exams you can find, since their content will likely be most representative of the test content you’ll encounter.
Set Your Alarm and Wake Up Early
Not an early bird? Most high school students aren’t, but since the SAT and ACT exams start at 8:30 a.m. sharp, that’s when your gears should be ready to turn. The idea behind taking the practice tests is to get an accurate estimate of how you’ll perform, so treat your practice session as you would the official test. Get a good night’s sleep the night before, and in the morning give yourself enough time to shower, get dressed, eat a healthy breakfast, and wake up enough to feel alert and ready. If you’ll be driving to the test on the actual day, it’s also a great idea to practice getting up early enough to account for that extra “drive time.”
Mind the Time
Timing is one of the most important components of “proper practice.” In fact, timing is everything on these standardized tests and in your practices; you’ll be learning how to manage answering the questions within the allotted time. So, make it real by keeping time during your practice test. Since you won’t be allowed to have your phone on test day, use another kind of timer. You can ask a responsible person to keep the time for you or use an online timer or alarm clock. If you’re taking a virtual simulation like the ones Score at the Top offers, there will be an official timekeeper.
Choose a Quiet Place
Test prep is not the sort of work you can do with a TV blaring in the background or young siblings distracting you. Find a quiet place where you can sit undisturbed for the 3.5 hours the test requires. Any room where you can be alone and shut the door is good. Your bedroom is not always the best choice because of its inherent distractions, but if it’s your only option, do your best to create an environment where you can stay focused and on task. Of course, it’s also helpful to communicate to others in the household that you are taking an important test and would appreciate not being disturbed.
Dress for the Occassion
Comfortable is good, but you won’t be taking the SAT or ACT in pajamas, so choose a comfy outfit you might really wear on test day. Optimally, you should wear layers or have a jacket or sweater on hand because during the real test, the room temperature could fluctuate up and down.
Nutrition is Key
What you eat has a great effect on how you feel and how you’ll sustain energy and focus. Be sure to eat a healthy dinner the night before and choose a healthy breakfast the morning of the test. During the official test, you are allowed to bring a few snacks and drinks for the breaks, so as you practice, do the same, choosing some nutritional snacks – nothing too sugary – and hydrating with water.
Just because it’s a practice test, don’t get lax about preparing in advance. Gather everything you’ll need for the test the night before: pencils (at least 2), your calculator, ID, snacks, and water. Developing the habit of getting organized ahead of time will make it automatic for test day. That way, if anything does go wrong on the morning of the test (as it sometimes does), you’ll be less likely to panic, knowing that you’ve got everything you need packed and ready to go.
For success, practice is key and we’re here to help you do it right. Call us if you’re interested in participating in one of our free SAT and ACT practice simulations, or to learn how our experts can help you improve your test performance.