The standardized entrance exam has become a major requirement in the college admissions process. While hundreds of colleges are becoming test optional, thousands still require that you submit the SAT or ACT as a part of your application. It’s important that every high school student create a test prep game plan.
Depending on your college admissions goals, you could take the PSAT, SAT, PLAN, ACT, AP, IB, TOFEL, or some other acronym. Most students will take one or two of those exams. The Pre-SAT (PSAT) is the only one with its own scholarship. The PSAT is administered to sophomores and juniors to become familiar with how the test is structured, but it does not count toward college admissions. It’s just for practice. However, juniors who score a 200 or higher will generally qualify for a National Merit Scholarship offered by the College Board. And most colleges offer scholarships (up to full tuition) for finalists!
Your test prep game plan should include taking the SAT and ACT at least once. The SAT measures your aptitude and overall reasoning abilities developed in primary and secondary school. This test covers critical reading, math, and writing. If you haven’t heard the SAT format is changing in 2016. If you’re good in math, you may want to take the SAT since math counts for 33% of your total score. However, guessing or marking wrong answers will count against you.
The ACT measures your achievement which is directly related to what you have learned in high school. You’ll be tested on English, math, reading, and science. So if you excel in science, be sure to take the ACT. They also don’t count wrong answers against your score.
After you take both the ACT and SAT during your junior year, I recommend retaking the test you scored higher on as a senior. For the colleges that use test scores for admissions, scoring higher will not only improve your chances of earning additional merit aid, your scores could also improve your chances of being admitted. You’re showing progress.
Along with your high school GPA, the standardized tests are used to help college admissions officers decide if you are a good academic fit for their college. While test scores will not predict how successful you will be in college, they may predict your academic success as a freshman.
High school and homeschool students should contact a guidance counselor or independent college planner for guidance finding quality test preparation resources. If you live in a metropolitan area, you can access personal tutors, group tutoring sessions, as well as online tutoring. If you live in the country, your best bet will to use online resources or connect with a high school teacher. Personal tutors will charge by the hour, but some places may offer free resources, sessions, or books.
Some free online sites that offer SAT and ACT test prep include, Number 2, Spark Notes, and Free SAT Prep. Free sites will not be full-service and may have lots of advertisements. Businesses that offer test prep for a fee include ePrep, Barron's, and Sylvan Learning. Although some companies will promise a 300-point SAT increase and a 3-point ACT increase, the results will be up to you – the student. What you use and how you prepare is important.
As you can tell, to prepare for the college entrance exams, you need test prep game plan. So during winter break, spring break, or over the summer, work on your plan. Earning higher test scores will not only improve your chances of earning additional merit aid, it could also have a significant impact on your chances of being admitted. And one of the most important regrets a high school senior has is not spending enough time preparing for the standardized tests.
Here are some final suggestions. Remember that free sites will have limited resources but can still answer some questions and check your work. If the free site does not have current material, the test questions may be outdated.
Paid sites will offer a diagnostic tool that will allow you to customize your curriculum so you can focus on what you need to learn. You should also take the quizzes, practorials, practice tests, and real tests. Some programs offer test taking strategies that may help you in high school as well!
Some also have a challenging but fun vocabulary section. Use it! The more you read, the more you know. (I bet you’ve never heard that one before.)
Too many students spend too much time studying for the test. I recommend a simple 3-4 plan. Three to four months before your scheduled test, study 3-4 days a week for 30-40 minutes per session. Balance your time between each section of the test. Studying in chunks of time will improve your results.
Once you find a test prep tutor or service use it! Determine to do your best to improve your chances of acceptance and merit aid.
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.