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5 Common ACT/SAT Prep Mistakes

This week we’re going to cover five mistakes that students often make while preparing for the ACT and SAT. These are “big picture” errors that apply equally to both exams. Avoiding these mistakes will help students of all skill levels to do their best on the ACT or SAT.


Relying Primarily on Unofficial Practice Tests

Unofficial practice tests vary greatly in quality. Some are very close approximations of the real ACT and SAT, but even the best unofficial tests can’t perfectly recreate a genuine exam.


Start with official practice tests from ACT, Inc or the College Board. These are tests that either have already been administered or have gone through a rigorous process certifying that they could be administered. Once you have taken a few official tests, use unofficial tests and workbooks to focus on your weakest areas. Read online reviews and spend some time flipping through prep guides at a bookstore until you find a set of tests and/or exercises that does a good job of accurately-recreating the types of questions and concepts you are struggling with.


Make sure to keep at least two official exams in reserve: one to take midway through studying and one to take as a “final exam.”


Not Taking Full Practice Tests

Treat your first, middle, and final practice tests as if they are the real thing. Take each of these mock exams in one sitting, observing all time limits and test rules. The ACT and SAT are long exams, so building up your test endurance is essential. Moreover, making these three exams as realistic as possible will show you how well you are really doing in preparing for the ACT or SAT.


Not Buying the Official Study Guide

There is no substitute for the official ACT or SAT study guide. Both books contain accurate test information, solid (if unspectacular) strategies, and most importantly, official practice tests. While neither The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2016 2017 nor The Official SAT Study Guide, 2016 Edition contains as many practice tests as earlier editions, they should still be your first test prep-related purchases. In addition, both guides come with access to online resources that you can use alongside unofficial tests and guides to target your weak areas.


Not Strengthening Underlying Concepts

The two keys to ACT/SAT success are understanding test content and understanding test format. Ask yourself the following as you are grading your first practice test: if this question was formatted differently, would I have gotten it right? If your answer is “yes,” you need to work on understanding how the test presents that information. If, on the other hand, your answer is “no,” you need to review the fundamentals of grammar, reading, or math that underpin the question.


Not Self-Assessing

Taking practice tests and completing targeted exercises are only part of preparing for the ACT or SAT. To continue to improve, you need to understand where and why you have gone wrong. Go through incorrect answers one at a time and try to identify why the correct answer is correct. Do this before looking at the answer explanations. Once you have at least a rough idea, check if your reasoning matches that of the explanations.

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