Home / Blog / Study Tips for the ACT and SAT

Study Tips for the ACT and SAT

Small Logo on Transparent BG

In this post we’ll cover some strategies for preparing for the ACT and SAT and making the most effective use of the resources available. Whether you decide you need the help of a Learning Island tutor or are determined to go it alone, your success on the ACT or SAT is entirely proportional to the amount of time you devote to preparing for the exam. You’ll want to begin seriously studying for the exam at least several months in advance. These tips will help you to make the most effective use of that time.

Practice, practice, practice!

This one may seem obvious, but there’s really no substitute for taking practice tests. The formulaic nature of the ACT and SAT means that cramming before either exam just isn’t very effective. It doesn’t take long to learn the format and the ways each test tries to trip up students, but being able to apply this knowledge successfully comes only through repetition. Practicing also helps you to improve your time management skills. While you will probably finish the multiple choice sections that cater to your strengths without any additional practice, you may struggle to finish sections that you are weaker in before the clock runs out.

It is also vitally important that you practice for the essay sections. Even if you’re already a skilled writer, your expertise won’t necessarily translate to success on the ACT or SAT. Much of what makes for a “good” ACT/SAT essay does not accurately reflect high school or college writing standards. (Check out our previous essay-related blogs for some of the more glaring examples.) Furthermore, you’ll only have 30 minutes to write your essay for the ACT (25 for the SAT). This means that you’ll need to practice until you can consistently crank out an exam-style essay in less than half an hour.

Set up a study schedule

Along with not cramming immediately before the test, you’ll want to avoid studying too much at any one time. Instead, set up a regular study schedule and stick to it. I recommend practicing a few days a week for at least 30 minutes but no longer than an hour each day. This is one of the few ACT and SAT study tips that is also applicable to test-taking in general. Studying for any exam in small but consistent amounts is simply more effective than doing so in longer, more spaced-out sessions.

Buy the official study guide

The official ACT and SAT study guides contain real exams that real students have taken in the past. The mock exams found in third party guides vary widely in quality. Some are very accurate recreations of the ACT/SAT experience, but others play fast and loose with test format and content. A few even contain outright errors. These unofficial practice exams can still be a useful source of supplemental material, but I strongly recommend practicing primarily on the official ones.

Be wary of the “official” strategies

While the official guides contain the best practice exams, you should approach the strategies they suggest using with a certain degree of skepticism. Some of this “official” advice is indeed useful, but both books operate under the assumption that the tests always measure what they are intended to measure. This is simply not the case. Each exam contains its own set of quirks and unwritten rules that have resulted from (among other things) trying to create a standardized test for subjects that don’t really lend themselves to such a format. An unofficial guide is more likely to provide strategies that accurately reflect how the ACT or SAT truly functions simply because it is under no obligation to paint either exam in a favorable light.

Take the exam twice

If you have the time and money, seriously consider taking the ACT or SAT before you begin studying for it. A “dry run” at the exam (along with the detailed score report) will give you a clear idea of what you need to focus on while studying. It can also highlight potential problems that just cannot be replicated on a practice test. Both the ACT and SAT now let you choose which scores are sent to colleges, so there’s absolutely no downside to taking an exam more than once.

Tags: , ,