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 as part of your college application, they will likely be a factor the admission committees consider when determining whether or not to accept you. It’s therefore essential that you put your best foot forward by preparing for the test to get the highest score you can. But what’s the best way to prepare for the SAT and ACT exams? How do you practice? Does tutoring make sense? How can you bulk up your vocabulary? These are just some of the questions you may have as you think about taking the test and what you can do to increase your chances of acing it.

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

Step one should be deciding which test you will take and that requires understanding the differences between the SAT and ACT to determine which is a better fit for you.

Once you’ve made that decision, familiarizing yourself with the test structure, instructions and type of questions you will be asked will save you valuable time on test day. You can find these and other details on the SAT and ACT sites.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice

Set aside time to take actual, 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 through all the questions. After finishing a practice test, check your answers and devote ample time to reviewing the questions you skipped or got wrong.

You’ll likely take the PSAT—the preliminary SAT—during your sophomore year in high school and possibly a second time in junior year. If you’re planning to take the SAT exam for college applications, use your PSAT test results to estimate what you’d like to hit as a target score and then create a study plan. If your school does not offer the PSAT, you can take a practice SAT test online to gauge your score and to help guide your study 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’ll perform on the ACT test, and there isn’t a pretest. If you’re planning to take the ACT test, go to and take a full-length practice test. 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 a number of 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 guide, and the College Board® offers the SAT Study Guide. If you’re curious about other helpful resources you might buy, ask your high school counselor for recommendations.

4. Take a Prep Class or Hire a Tutor

If you find it challenging to study on your own, you may want to consider signing up for 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’re struggling to understand an answer or grasp a concept, having a live instructor available to explain it can make a big difference.

For even more focused personal attention, working with a tutor may be a better choice for you. By identifying your areas of weakness, tutors can hone in on exactly what you need to improve your test score, but this kind of individualized instruction can be expensive.

5. Work Your Memory

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

6. Boost Your Vocabulary

On top of taking practice tests, you can strengthen your vocabulary and comprehension skills by reading challenging books and articles. The College Board publishes a list of suggested reading that could serve you well when it comes to the test’s reading comprehension passages. Whenever you come across an unfamiliar word, highlight or underline it and then look up its definition. This habit can help improve test scores—and will pay dividends throughout your life.

7. Study on the Go

There are several SAT and ACT prep apps available. That way, wherever you go, you can access lessons in the palm of your hand and continue to track your progress. Practice only pays off if it’s done consistently, so do what’s necessary to stick to a regular schedule of test prep—no matter where you happen to be.

If you start planning early for the SAT or ACT exams, allow yourself plenty of time to study and heed some of these tips, you’ll be well-prepared to face the tests head-on. Good luck!


SAT® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

ACT® is a trademark registered by ACT, Inc., which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

College Board® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

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