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SAT & ACT: SIX LETTERS YOU DON’T HAVE TO DREAD

170 – 215 questions. 4 – 5 hours. The Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Testing exams may not be the most fun you can have on a Saturday, but they are important for college entrance. So, here are some tips for tackling the tests and scoring your best.

Pre-test Tips

1. Prep early
Think of the Official SAT Study Guide as your new best friend and
start reviewing it a few months before the exam, for an hour or more every other day. Last-minute cramming is not advised.

2. Practice, practice, practice
Before you take the real test, do practice ones to familiarize yourself with the questions and directions for each section.

3. Mind your p’s, q’s, x’s and y’s
Practice tests also help you plan your attack; you’ll see which questions and areas gave you the most trouble. For math, hit the Algebra I and Geometry books. For multiple-choice writing, review basic language principles. For essays, don’t sweat the small stuff: focus on supportive facts.

4. Read? Word!
Study "SAT words" by reading them in context. SAT-level writing (such as The Wall Street Journal) is great for looking up words you may not know. Try learning 10 new words a day and review them weekly.

5. Tutor help?
One-on-one and group tutoring is available through private teachers and companies like Kaplan, but at about $125+ per session (once per week for several months), well, do the math. You may find inexpensive study guides the perfect alternative.

6. SAT or ACT?
There’s more than one test in town! Although both exams are accepted by most schools, there are differences:

  • If you rock at science and numbers, ACT has a science-reasoning exam and trigonometry in its math section.
  • Vocabulary/writing whiz? You may do better with the SAT, which favors vocabulary and essay writing.
  • Grammar cop? ACT tests English grammar; SAT does not
Contact a college directly to see if they accept either exam or have a preference.

7. Sleep on it
Be well rested for exam day, but don’t barricade yourself in your room, studying for weeks. Your body needs exercise, too, so lose any pretest jitters by keeping up with your favorite activities.


During-test Tips

1. Don’t get bogged down
The ACT exam has graphs and articles in its science section; if you take this exam, read the question first before taking time to examine all the graphs. Use them for reference only.

2. Draw a blank or guess?
The SAT deducts points for incorrect answers, so, if you’re feeling clueless, leave a question blank. Exception: if you can narrow down choices, go with your gut response. Guessing can pay off on the ACT exam because you won’t lose points for wrong answers.

3. Pay attention
Watch out for subtle word tricks up SAT’s sleeve, especially in its math section. You may have the calculation right, but if you read the question wrong, your answer could be wrong, too.

4. Breathe
Hair standing on end? Starting to panic? Remember to breathe! Inhale and exhale, slowly and deeply. This can help ward off panic.

5. Spare time? 
Use it! Double-checking answers is a great way to improve your score, especially on difficult questions.

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