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SAT - SAT II - ACT | 5 Tips To Help You Ace Standardized Testing

By Katherine Scott - Harvard University - NextGenVest College Fellow - Montclair, NJ

Taking the SAT soon? These 5 tips will help you get your best score.

SAT season is upon us.  Whether you are a senior taking SAT II’s or a junior just beginning to think about these standardized tests, the following tips will make the studying and test-taking process much easier.

Explore Your Choices.

After researching both the SAT and ACT, I recommend taking a practice test for each, to see which one you’re more comfortable with. Which test you take also depends on the schools to which you are applying: West Coast schools for the most part want ACT scores, while the SAT is the preferred test for schools on the East Coast. I took both tests, and noticed that I was much more comfortable taking the SAT. My sister, on the other hand, had better scores on the ACT and took that one.

Start Studying Early.

This could mean the August before your junior year. The College Board suggests preparing from three to six months before taking an exam and gives study timelines. The SAT and ACT are not tests that you can score top marks on with minimal studying—you need to get used to the types of questions that are asked and how the test is structured–buy a book and start reading it, hire a tutor, attend a prep class. I started studying the winter of my junior year, about two months before I planned to take the test. Because I felt a little rushed, I dove in and did practice problems for an hour each night and took a practice exam every week.

Plan On Taking It More Than Once.

Try to take the test sometime in the winter of your junior year so you have enough time to take the test twice. Unless you scored 2400, you should take the test twice—most students do better the second time after getting acquainted with the test. Most colleges “super score”, which means that they take the best score from each of the three sections. I took the SAT once, in March, and was satisfied with my score. My friends, however, wanted to super score and took the SAT two or three times.   

Eat Before AND During.

By the second part of the exam you will likely be tired, hungry, and thirsty. Power through the last few sections of the test with energy from a small snack during your break. Your brain needs energy from the nutrients in food to perform at its best. Not enough food can alter the level of chemicals in the brain, causing limited brain function through decreased problem-solving skills and memory changes. Skip breakfast in your rush to the testing location or forget a snack and find yourself starving halfway through? This could mean failing to recall information you really do know or being unable to analyze simple problems with the necessary speed and efficiency, resulting in less correct answers and a lower score.

Prevent this scenario by bringing the right snacks.  Prepare a snack small enough to fit into a Ziplock bag—nuts, granola/trail mix, or a protein bar are non-fussy foods that are easy eat on the go and support cognitive function. These snacks are high in protein, keeping you fuller longer and helping you to concentrate. I remembered a snack for my SAT II tests but forgot one for the SAT. I remember struggling to concentrate towards the end of the SAT and being mentally fatigued by the end of the day. The SAT II’s were a completely different story—I was alert and ready.

Backup Your Backup. 

Put new batteries in your calculator the night before your exam and bring extras. You DON’T want to be in the middle of a calculation and have your calculator run out of power or malfunction. In addition, bring a fully charged back up because you will not be allowed to share or get another calculator during the test. My calculator died during the SAT, and, because I could not borrow one, I had to complete the next two sentences writing out the operations in the scratch-work area. I was able to do the work (all work can be done by hand), but I was crunched for time because it longer to figure out a problem by hand, where as other students took about ten seconds to solve the same problem with a calculator.