high school students sitting in a classroom taking a test

How to Prepare for the SAT and ACT

Just the combination of letters “SAT” and “ACT” can fill high school students with anxiety. They are terrified of taking the tests, or they obsess over getting the highest score possible, or they believe that the exams will determine the rest of their lives. But there’s an easy way to dispel these fears: learn how to prepare for the SAT and ACT.

Related: Not sure whether you should take the SAT, ACT, or both? Read this before you make any decisions.

Why You Need to Start Studying Early

Although everything you learn in high school is preparing you for these exams, you still need to make sure you have a proper academic foundation. It’s never too early to build that foundation – but there is certainly a time when it’s too late to build a true wall of academic knowledge.

You also have to get used to the SAT and ACT testing formats. They are designed to trip you up in order to test your ability to think critically, rather than repeat concepts in a familiar format.

Basically, start early.

Students can start preparing for the SAT and ACT as early as the 7th grade. The sooner you start studying, the more confident you will feel on exam day.

Younger Students: Use these resources to start studying early and get ahead of the curve.

Pre SAT for students in grades 8-9: PSAT 8/9
Pre ACT for students in grades 8-9: PreACT 8/9

How to Prepare for the SAT and ACT: Consistency counts.

Ideally, you should study for at least 10 hours per week, blocking out similar times every week to prepare for your exams.

It’s important to note that “studying” is not the same as aimlessly flipping through SAT/ACT prep books.

You have to consistently study the right way.

There is an old saying that “practice makes perfect.”

But the truth is that practice makes permanent. Whatever you do repeatedly becomes habit, even if you do it incorrectly.

So even if you consistently practice for your exams, it won’t mean much unless you study in the most effective ways possible.

The best way to practice for the SAT and ACT is to simulate a testing environment:

  • Set up a quiet, well-lit testing area
  • Use old exams to become familiar with the format
  • Eliminate all distractions when practicing
  • Time yourself like it’s the actual exam

Related: Read more about how to effectively create an SAT test environment.

Prepare for the SAT and ACT with a study group.

Get a few motivated friends together and form a study group.

If done correctly, study groups are known to help students with information retention. There are a few strategies that are particularly helpful during study groups:

  • Discuss all of the answers (even the incorrect ones)
  • Ask as many questions as possible
  • Create flash cards and quiz each other
  • Create charts and other graphic organizers to provide visuals
  • Use songs and mnemonic devices to remember facts, formulas, and processes
  • Play educational games to mix up your study methods and stay interested in studying with others

Take an SAT/ACT prep course to motivate you.

It’s hard to motivate yourself to study. The longer you wait for the motivation, the less likely it is to show up.

And while friends can be an external source of motivation, they can’t make you study. (They might even have trouble convincing themselves to study.)

So get some tried-and-true external motivation in the form of a test prep course.

You will be (kind of) obligated to study, and learn testing strategies while you’re at it.

Consider an online test prep course to give yourself the most flexibility while still providing study structure.

Related: What are the benefits of online tutoring?

How to Prepare Your Body for the SAT and ACT

Like many students, you may be inclined to stay up cramming information into your brain before the test.

You might also focus so much on what’s going on in your mind that you forget to listen to your body.

You must fuel your body adequately.

Just like a car needs gas, your body needs proper nutrition to fuel it.

While it’s good to reward your successes, and completely normal to reach for sugary foods during periods of stress, your body needs a variety of fuel sources, including fruits, vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrates.

Eat all of these in moderation, and your body will serve your brain well.

If you’re not sure what to eat on the actual day of the test, here are some ideas for a filling (but not fatiguing) pre-test breakfast.

You need rest, probably more than you realize.

Studying when you haven’t gotten enough rest is actually counterproductive. You don’t retain as much information, your body is more prone to stress, and lack of sleep can interfere with your immune system.

And if there’s anything you don’t want during testing season, it’s to get hit with a cold.

Instead of sleeping in sporadic intervals, trying to cram, or having a classic late night Netflix chill session, commit to an appropriate sleep schedule.

Not only will your mind and body thank you – you’ll also dodge being known as “the kid who fell asleep during the exam.”

Everyone has the ability to do well on the SAT and ACT.

All you have to do is prepare your mind and your body to endure hours’ worth of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

It will all be worth it when your scores help you get into your dream school (then your dream internship, and then your dream career.)

If you need some extra help studying for the SAT or ACT, or just specific sections, enroll in our online group or private tutoring sessions.

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