the low-down on college admissions tests

Posted : September 4, 2003
Last Updated : August 22, 2013

the low-down on college admissions tests

SAT this. ACT that. Throughout high school, you are repeatedly bombarded by teachers and school counselors telling you how important these tests are to the college admissions process. Well, your teachers and counselors are right; you have to take the SAT and/or the ACT in order to be accepted into most colleges. So, since the SAT and ACT are so important to your future as a college student, here is some information that will help you better understand and prepare for these college admissions tests.

The SAT and ACT are standardized tests that allow colleges to see where you stand academically in relation to other students. The SAT measures critical reading, writing (requires a mandatory writing test), and math reasoning skills. The highest composite score for this test is 2400. The ACT measures English, math, reading, and science reasoning (and offers an optional writing test). The highest composite score for this test is 36. Both tests can be taken as early as your junior year of high school. The SAT assesses critical thinking and problem solving skills, while the ACT is more content-based. Since most colleges now accept both the SAT and ACT, this may be the deciding factor for you to choose between the two. You may even want to consider taking both tests at least once.

Preparing for the SAT or ACT
You can't cram for the SAT or ACT like you may for other tests because these standardized tests measure what you have learned over the course of many years. However, you can still prepare yourself for success by following these guidelines:

  • Review. If you have kept class material throughout your high school career, pull this material out and start reviewing. Even if you haven't kept notes from previous years, you probably have a friend who has old homework assignments and notes and doesn't mind if you study with him/her. Focus on the areas that you didn't understand the first time around. You may even want to visit previous teachers to see if he/she can shed new light on those areas now that you are older and wiser.
  • Read. Reading a variety of books will better your reading comprehension and expand your vocabulary. You will be tested in both of these areas on the SAT and ACT. Read all your class assignments and ask your teachers to recommend books for you to read during your free time.
  • Practice. Both the SAT and the ACT have practice tests on their websites. Kaplan also offers free SAT and ACT practice tests. These tests will give you an idea of what to expect beforehand. After you take a practice test, you will be more apt to identify what your weaknesses are so you can focus on those areas. Also, check around for workshops and/or classes that offer test preparation services. Many public high schools offer a free prep class during the school day or on Saturdays, and Kaplan offers a variety of SAT and ACT prep courses.

Test Day Tips
After you have spent so much time preparing for the admissions tests, you don't want to blow it by not being prepared on the day of the test. Follow these tips when test day finally arrives:

  • Get plenty of sleep. Don't stay up too late the night before you take the SAT or ACT. You will need plenty of rest so you will be alert on test day. Allow yourself at least eight hours of sleep the night before.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast. You will need energy in order to do well on the test. Eating a healthy breakfast will give your brain the fuel it needs to stay alert.
  • Dress accordingly. The temperature in the room where you are testing may not be set to your liking. If you are too hot or too cold while taking the test, you may not perform as well. Be sure to dress in layers to give you control over your own body temperature.
  • Bring the necessary items. You will need to bring several items with you on test day to ensure that the process goes smoothly. In order to take the test, you will have to bring your test center admission ticket and proper identification. You should also bring three No. 2 pencils with erasers, a watch, and an acceptable calculator. Be sure to review the SAT test day checklist or the ACT test day checklist before your scheduled test.
  • Read the questions carefully. If you just scan over the questions to save time, you might misinterpret what the questions are asking and give incorrect answers. Make sure you understand each question before choosing an answer.
  • Pace yourself. The SAT and ACT tests are timed, which means that you have a limited amount of time to spend on each question. Don't waste too much time on questions to which you don't know the answers. Instead, skip ahead to easier questions and come back to the harder questions later.
  • Guess wisely. If you don't know the answer to a question, make sure you guess wisely. The ACT will not penalize you for guessing, but the SAT will penalize you for incorrect answers. It is to your advantage to answer every question on the ACT even if you have to guess. On the SAT, if you have no idea what the correct answer is to a multiple-choice question, you should leave it blank.
  • Review your work. If you have time remaining after you have finished the test, go back and review your work. This will allow you to catch any mistakes that you may have made along the way.

Taking the SAT and/or ACT can be stressful but as long as you are prepared, you should do well. Don't panic because you cannot study all the material covered. These college admissions tests evaluate the knowledge and abilities that you have gathered throughout your high school career. You will find that you know more than you think. Relax, be prepared, and do your best. Good luck!

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