Anyone who has ever been a college-bound high school student has his or her own memory of the application process. Every college application requires an SAT/ACT score. While GPA is definitely important, it may be inflated; some high schools may be tougher than others. Therefore, the SAT/ACT score is a way for colleges to “verify” the intellectual qualification of the candidate and be able to screen through thousands of applications.
The SAT focuses on mathematical and English skills whereas the ACT is a more well-rounded exam that also includes a Science section. Taking these exams cost both time and money and while no one likes to take “extra” exams, we recommend that you consider taking both the SAT and ACT. You may possibly score better in one of them (which will increase your chance of college admissions). Do note that the SAT is more widely accepted (not every school accepts an ACT score). Thus, be sure to check what your programs would accept or prefer.
So… how exactly do you prepare for one of the biggest exams blocking your way to higher education?
Prepare for the Critical Reading
Read a book. Pick up any book among your favorite genres. Read everyday. Once you enjoy the process, try to select classical works. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter has a lot of vocabulary typically used in entrance exams. Jane Austen is another good author to pick up. If novels aren’t your thing, you can pick up “Best Essays…” books. Also read the news, particularly The New York Times and The Atlantic.
Prepare for Math
Khan Academy has an excellent lecture series: Click here and start practicing Math! The key is to practice, practice, practice. You need to be able to start recognizing patterns so you can arrive at the answer faster. Remember, it’s a timed test.
Prepare for Writing (optional for ACT)
In order to write timed essays well, the first step is to form an outline. Read the entire prompt thoroughly to develop your interpretation of the question. Write a skeleton of the essay so you don’t lose focus of what you are trying to accomplish. An essay should always be clear and concise with a guiding thesis and strong supporting paragraphs. Conclude your essay by rewording the thesis and briefly restating your supported claims. Click here for some example essay prompts! A guide with tips on effective writing is forthcoming. Meanwhile, we are happy to provide feedback on your writing prompts’ responses.
Prepare for Science (ACT only)
Again, we refer you to Khan Academy for fundamental knowledge in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.
Practice Full-Length Exams
Make sure you take at least three full-length exams before taking the real thing! It is ideal to study and take the practice exam the same time as your registered exam. This way, you are wiring your brain to be more alert and focused at a certain hour of the day. Be sure to mimic the testing environment – no noise, no distraction. Take a test before you begin your preparations to see where you are at “baseline” and identify areas that need the most improvement. Equally important is to understand the rationale behind every answer.
Here are sites with free practice SAT exams: 4Tests | College Board | Kaplan | Princeton Review | Number2
Here are sites with free practice ACT exams: 4Tests | Kaplan | Princeton Review | Number2 | ACT practice questions
The exam takes four hours. You bet it will be mentally draining! Make sure you give your body sufficient rest and nutrition. Do not study, review, or take a practice exam the night before. Just sleep. On the day of the exam, drink apple juice instead of water to give yourself an energy/glucose boost. Stay away from coffee unless that’s your everyday routine (don’t change life habits on the day of). Eat an orange before taking your exam. Oranges are a great source of folate, which boosts recall and information processing. Vitamin C in oranges also reduces your stress hormones so you won’t be as nervous. Breathe deeply. Take a moment to do relaxation exercises if you need it.
You will do well! Best of luck!