How to prep, test better

It is not all about the tests, but standardized test results are part of the college admissions decision at most colleges. Many juniors will be taking either the SAT or SAT Subject Tests on June 1 and/or the ACT on June 8.

Here are some valuable tips to help you prepare:

1. Take the right test. Almost all colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT. The most basic difference is that the SAT attempts to test “aptitude”/your ability to learn, while the ACT attempts to test “achievement”/what you’ve already learned.

They test different things and require different test-taking strategies, so a student needs to know the better test for them. (For more information on this, see my column from Oct. 2, 2012 –

2. Know the testing guidelines for each of the colleges on your list. Does the college recommend or require SAT Subject Tests? Do they accept the ACT in lieu of SAT Subject Tests?

Do they “superscore?” Superscoring is a policy where a college will select a student’s highest sub-scores from multiple tests. Until recently it was much more common for colleges to superscore the SAT but not the ACT.

However as the ACT is gaining ground, more schools are agreeing to superscore. You can ask each college directly or you can google “What colleges superscore the SAT/ACT?”

3. Evaluate test preparation options. One-on-one tutors are expensive. Sitting in a classroom after school or on Saturdays can be boring. There are a variety of new online free and inexpensive test prep options.

4. Take as many practice tests as possible so you are familiar with the directions and the format of the various tests.

5. Simulate your test-day conditions. The (SAT) essay is 25 minutes, so it doesn’t matter that you can write a fabulous essay in 35 minutes, you will need to put your pencil down after 25 minutes. Be sure to time yourself specifically in each of the sections, especially since the ACT is a “speedier” test.

6. Learn the basic test-taking strategies. Knowing when to guess and when not to guess is an important skill. The ACT doesn’t penalize students for wrong answers, but students lose a quarter point (-.25) for each incorrect response on the SAT.

7. Arrive early and come prepared. Don’t forget the little things like getting a good night’s sleep, eating a solid breakfast, bringing extra pencils with erasers and remembering the calculator.

8. Boost your vocabulary. Of course reading more will help but so does the College Board’s “Question of the Day” It’s free and I recommend that both parents and students sign up for a little but important friendly family competition and an opportunity to discuss the questions.

9. If standardized testing is not your thing, consider researching an interesting range of colleges and universities that are test-optional. Visit for the most updated list.

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