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SAT, ACT and PSAT Preparation


SAT and ACT Tips

The acronyms ACT and SAT tend to evoke some very uncomfortable feelings in senior high school students across the country every year. As students reach their junior year of high school, they are faced with the onerous* task of sitting for at least one, if not both, of the college admission tests. The uncomfortable feelings they are experiencing are generally a fear of the unknown (and possibly an awareness of their lack of preparation). Then, throw in new formats to both tests, and the anxiety compounds. This article has been provided to shed a ray of hope to those students, who actually read this, in their dark hour of need. (If you haven't noticed, the author is being facetious*).

The first step in overcoming the "queasies" when approaching these villains of college admission is "perspective." It is important to keep the tests in perspective. They are just one part of the admissions criteria that most colleges use to select students. Some of the other factors which colleges look at and evaluate are class rank, GPA, essay, extracurricular activities, etc. So all of these areas, not just one, will be considered in the admissions decision.

The second step is to become familiar with the tests. Know the content and how the tests are set up. This is one area where the tests are quite different. The SAT (Doesn’t stand for anything) is made up of a math section and a critical reading section and a writing section, designed to measure your verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities. These abilities are developed over time and improved through the work you do in school and on your own. Each edition of the test will contain two - 25 minute Critical Reading sections plus one - 20 minute section; two - 25 minute Math sections and a 20 minute section. And finally, what you’ve all been waiting for; one – 25 minute written essay, two – 25-minute multiple choice Writing Sections and one - 10 minute multiple choice section.  The SAT will also contain one - 30 minute experimental section which is not included in your score. Total testing time is 3 hours and 45 minutes. The ACT (American College Test) is made up of four separate tests, each of which is designed to measure academic achievement in a major subject area of high school study; English - 75 items, 45 minutes; Mathematics - 60 items, 60 minutes; Reading - 40 items, 35 minutes; Science - 40 items, 35 minutes. There is also an optional Writing Test which is 30 minutes long. Total testing time is approximately three hours.

The third step in tackling the test is to develop your test taking skills. The following is a list of strategies that are applicable to both tests:

  • Take an actual test. There are samples of actual tests in the booklets that are provided with your registration packet. Take them. They give you a better idea of what the tests cover and let you identify your weaknesses.

  • Learn to pace yourself. Once you become familiar with the content, you will know which areas you will need more time for and which will require less. The key is practice.

  • Guess wisely. On the SAT, there is a penalty for incorrect answers (except for the Grid-in questions of the Math Section), so it is important to narrow down the options before you guess. If you can eliminate one or more of the answers on the multiple-choice, your chances of guessing the correct answer improves.  It's okay to omit questions, you don't have to answer every question correctly to do well on the SAT. On the ACT, you are not penalized for guessing. But it is wise to go through all of the questions in each subject test and to answer all the items you can, then go back through and make your educated guesses. Remember: Try to provide a response for all of the items in each test on the ACT.

  • Know the test directions. The directions on the SAT are always the same, don't waste time reading them during the test. For the ACT, it is important to understand the directions and follow them. Some of the tests ask for the best response and the mathematics test asks for the correct response.

  • Be prepared the day of the test. Have your current official Photo ID, your admission ticket, at least three No. 2 pencils with erasers, a watch without an alarm, and an acceptable calculator - if you wish to use one. Arrive a little early, dress in comfortable clothing, and be well rested.

These tips, as well as specific strategies for approaching the different parts of the SAT and ACT, are available in various study books which can be found in your guidance office or from ETS. There are also workshops available to students through local high schools, universities, and community groups at little or not cost. ETS offers a free workshop in the fall and spring every year for its participants. If you want to become involved with ETS refer to the page on how to get involved.

There are also coaching courses which can be very expensive, and the potential gains are limited. The best preparation is to take challenging course work and read voraciously*.

*These words have been included to challenge your vocabulary. If you aren't sure of their meaning...LOOK THEM UP! Have fun!


Tips for Completing the SAT Grids

  • Place your answer anywhere on the grid. In order to avoid errors, it is best to place it flush left or flush right.

  • Enter no more than one value in each column.

  • Leave blank ovals in unused columns.

  • Fractions do not have to be reduced. They must be reduced only if the numeral is too large to fit in the grid. If it still won't fit, enter the decimal value.

  • You are not penalized for guessing on these questions, so GUESS! You have nothing to lose.

  • Use your calculator only to the extent you are comfortable. If you don't like using it, you don't have to.

  • Remember, incomplete erasures may be read as intended answers. If you erase, do so completely.

  • If your answer is a decimal, remember to enter the most accurate answer. If the answer is 1.333, enter 1.33 not 1.3.

  • Remember, zero is excluded from column 1.

  • Mixed numerals such as 2 1/2 must be gridded as decimals (2.5) or as the fraction 5/2. If 2 1/2 is gridded, it would be read as 21/2 (10.5).

  • The largest number that can be gridded is 9999. The smallest number is zero. Negative answers are never correct.

  • The machine that scores your exam reads the answer gridded in. It does not read the numerals you have hand written.

Internet Sites 

College Board Online - Contains PSAT information and other information on college planning.

Testprep Preview - Check out the vocabulary lists! - Practice exams are available, but there are links to many for-profit resources.

Majortests - Complete the sample practice exercises. This site is entirely free (as of today, anyhow) and does not require registration. This is the newest site we have located to help you prepare, so try it out!

Varsity Tutors - Visit this page to link to numerous practice sets for the SAT and/or ACT. Quick and simple practice at your fingertips!