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It often feels like our entire future hangs in the balance of an ACT or SAT score. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on standardized test-taking skills. And, while this may seem like a daunting prospect, here’s the good news. Test prep has been chiseled down to a pretty smooth science.

If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and rock the ACT or SAT, then we have 10 tips that will take you to the finish line. Let’s get right to it.

1. Taking Practice Tests will Prepare you for Test Day

This may seem pretty intuitive. Taking an ACT or SAT practice test will familiarize you with the format and flow of these exams. But, it’s not enough to just lightly skim through one or two practice tests.

Rather, take several practice tests and treat each one as though it was the actual test day. Mimic test day procedures by setting aside three-hour chunks of time and working straight through with minimal breaks.

Why? Studies continue to report that students who take the ACT or SAT more than once end up with higher scores and, ultimately, higher college enrollment rates. So, the more you practice even before your first test, the better chance you have of scoring well.

2. Use Official ACT or SAT Practice Questions

Here’s another test prep tip that should be rather obvious, but here’s the catch. If you plan on investing in test prep books, beware. You need to be certain their questions are from a real past ACT or SAT.

If they don’t appear to be, then you could be studying with test prep questions that are easier or harder than the actual exam. Studying with questions that are too easy will leave you ill-equipped; studying with questions that are too difficult will only discourage you.

3. Annotate Your Struggles

Do at least one practice test in which you create a record of your struggles. Keep a sheet of paper by your side and jot down the questions or subjects that you were uncertain about or do this in the test booklet.

These notes will help you discern the sections or topics that you need to go back and review the most. There will be questions where you breeze through with confidence and sections where you’re a little bit more hesitant.

Once you can hone in on your problem areas, you’ll be able to strengthen those sections with further review.

4. Try Reading the Questions First

In an ACT or SAT Reading Section, there will be a series of passages and questions you must answer. This may seem counter-intuitive, but a good methodology here is to read the questions first, then read the passage.

This will help you know what to expect and which portions of the passage will come up in the subsequent questions. Then, when you return to the questions again, they won’t be so foreign and, hopefully, you’ll be able to seek out the answer quickly within the passage.

5. Master the Math Section

Master the SAT Math Section

In the ACT and SAT, no matter the difficulty, you receive a point for each right answer in every section no matter the level of difficulty. While “difficult” is defined differently for every student, the good news is that all the math questions have the same value. So, use the same annotation strategy when prepping for the Math Section. Jot down the questions that you were hesitant about so you can circle back to them. Then, learn the skills that you’re lacking so that you have an improved chance of confidently getting more questions right on test day.

6. Power up Your Punctuation

As for the Writing Section, you don’t want to lose points for grammar and usage when you can beef up on these skills before test day.

For example, with quotation marks, remember when quoting someone, the punctuation always lies within the quotation marks, not outside. And, if the sentence is going to continue after the quote, use a comma, not a period.

Commas are quite tricky, too. They come with a wealth of different and varying rules. Still, you can review the standard procedures for this punctuation mark and, at least, become more familiar with it.

Start with this notion: if you were reading that sentence aloud, where would you pause? It’s in those spaces that you’d do well to place a comma.

Colons, semi-colons, periods, and question marks tend to be a bit more straightforward. So, you can review these punctuation marks as well. But, try to focus on quotation marks (because they’re often misused) and comma usage.

7. Grade Your Exam Carefully

Grade Your SAT Exam Carefully

If grading your own exam seems tedious, consider this. With every section you grade, you’re pocketing new golden nuggets. 

It’s important to jot down the sections that worried you the most during the actual test. But, it’s your official answers that are going to reveal the most. 

Perhaps you were confident in one section, but you actually answered a few questions incorrectly. That’s okay! It’s much better to know that now, as opposed to later. Take note of the areas that produced low scores for you and begin to focus on those sections more. 

Outside of the official practice exams you take (with an allotted three hours, etc.), you can review singular sections on nights and weekends until you feel your confidence rise. 

8. Invest in Test Prep 

With all the resources out there today, it’s possible to go it alone or ask your parents for help. But, investing in a test prep tutor means you’re not alone anymore. Sometimes, merely learning how to prep for the ACT or SAT is what’s required. 

well-reputed company will have qualified tutors on staff with a range of specialized skills. If it’s Math you struggle with, your tutor will be able to teach and/or refresh the skills in which you’re lacking.

If it’s Writing or Reading, a tutor will be able to assess your current standing and offer the right study skills tips to help you strengthen those sections. 

In the end, you’ll see that you feel less stressed, have more confidence, and can rely on your very own support system.

Test anxiety is a real thing and that’s why going it alone can be difficult. With a supportive tutor by your side, they’ll be eager to see you through successfully, from start to finish. 

9. Find Out What Others Think

Consider this step as research. Speak to older siblings, friends, and classmates who have already taken the exam. Ask them what the hardest part was for them (from test prep to test day). 

Find out if anything surprised them, threw them for a loop, or worried them. You can use this information to remove any unforeseen circumstances on your official test day. 

See if there’s anything your elders would have done differently. And, remember, with each exam, your scores are likely to increase. So, see if each person took several practice tests or even retook the official exam a time or two. 

10. Treat Yourself Right

If you research study skills for high school you’ll find that, across the board, treating yourself right is key. For example, if you’re staying up all night eating junk food and playing video games, something’s quite amiss.

Teenagers and adults alike need to focus on getting eight hours of sleep per night at regular intervals, drinking plenty of water, and eating brain-boosting foods like fish, berries, broccoli, oranges (and even a little dark chocolate from time to time).

Those who walk into the auditorium on test day feeling rested, hydrated, and refreshed are already a leg up and stand a very strong chance of employing all their college study skills.

Improve Your Readiness for the SAT or ACT Today

A large part of proper study skills is weeding out your weaknesses. There will be portions of the exam that you breeze right through. But, there will also be sections that leave you a little unsteady on your feet.

That’s perfectly normal. The point is, it’s better to know now where you need to invest your time so that, come test day, you’re on fairly level playing ground.

Building in your own support network with well-educated tutors is kind of like pulling out an MVP quarterback when you weren’t sure if you could win the game.

Here at Tungsten Prep, we provide standardized test preparation services for middle and high school students. Our support is high-quality and tailored to the learning style of each student.

Feel free to schedule a consultation with us today. Together, we’ll pair you with the right tutor and help you pave the way to all your collegiate dreams.