College entrance exam requirements have been changing. Confirm testing requirements at the schools where you plan to apply. For information on test availability, check the SAT® and ACT® sites.

If you plan to submit SAT® or ACT® scores with your application, they’ll likely impact your chances of acceptance. Preparation can be the key to making those scores work in your favor. But what’s the best way to prepare? How do you practice? Does tutoring make sense? How can you bulk up your vocabulary? 

Read on for seven helpful tips and strategies that every test-taker should know to prepare for the SAT and ACT exams.

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Details

Understanding the test structure, instructions and the type of questions you will be asked will save you valuable time on test day. You can find detailed instructions for the SAT and ACT tests online. And it’s important to understand the differences between the SAT and ACT to determine which test is a better fit for you.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice

Set aside time to take real, full-length practice tests. Use a timer to get accustomed to the time limits, and try to pace yourself so you have enough time to get to all the questions. After finishing each test, check your answers and devote ample time to reviewing the questions you got wrong.

You’ll likely take the PSAT exam in school during your sophomore year and again junior year. If you’re planning to take the SAT exam, use your PSAT test results to estimate a target score and create a study plan. If your school does not offer the PSAT test, you can take a practice test online before you start studying for the SAT exam to help guide your plan. There are also sample questions available for free on the College Board’s website.

Unfortunately, the PSAT exam is not a good indicator of how you’d perform on the ACT test, and there’s no such thing as the PACT. If you’re planning to take the ACT test, go to and take a full-length practice test, including the essay. The site also has plenty of sample questions to give you an idea of what to expect.

3. Start Reading

In addition to online resources, there are books, complete with full practice tests based on actual exams from past years that can help you study. The ACT test offers an official prep book. The College Board also offers an extensive collection of SAT prep books. Stumped on what to buy? Ask your high school counselor for a recommendation.

4. Get to Class or Tutoring

If you find it hard to study on your own, you may want to consider taking a test prep class. Some schools offer remote or in-person programs or study groups, and you may also be able to find a privately run prep course in your area. When you don’t understand an answer, having an instructor by your side to explain it can be a big help.

If you want to work on your skills at your own pace or feel like you’d reap more rewards from personal attention, a tutor may be a better choice for you. Tutors are able to focus on exactly what you need to understand to excel, but this type of prep can be expensive.

5. Work Your Memory

The SAT exam lists some formulas for you at the front of each math section, but the ACT exam does not, so it’s important that you know all basic math formulas and concepts. With enough practice problems, you should be able memorize them, which can help save you time during the actual test.

6. Increase Your Vocabulary

On top of taking practice tests, you should also practice reading challenging books and articles. The College Board publishes a list of suggested reading that could serve you well on reading comprehension passages. When you come across an unfamiliar word, highlight or underline it, then look it up. This will pay dividends for your whole life, not just when it comes to a test score.

7. Study on the Move

There are several SAT and ACT prep apps available. With lessons in the palm of your hand, you can track your progress and prepare for the test wherever you go.

If you give yourself plenty of time to study and heed some of these tips, you’ll be prepared to face the tests head-on. Good luck!


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