Like most things in education, SAT and ACT scores have a lot to do with practice, planning, and preparation. Some students may have an automatic advantage, but well planned effort can help bridge the gap and any student can get a great score.
Take Challenging Math Classes
When you’re a high school freshman, you might be given the option to repeat math courses that you took in middle school. Skip pre-algebra and head right to geometry if they let you! It is commonly agreed that students tend to get their best math SAT scores immediately after taking geometry. If you’re taking geometry in your freshman year, you’ll want to take the SATs and ACTs for the first time over the summer after 9th grade.
The Latin language isn’t exactly spoken fluently anymore, but the word roots and variations influence a lot of modern English, Spanish, French, and Italian. Latin words are also a big part in the origin of scientific terminology, so this could help you out in the science sections of the ACT and any science or technology classes you take. Students tend to do best on the verbal sections of the SAT after they’ve been in high school for several years. Read a lot of books, study vocabulary, and make sure to schedule SAT and ACT tests near the end of your junior year.
Take the SATs and ACTs Multiple Times
If you take the tests several times, most colleges and universities will allow you to combine your best scores in each section toward your best total score. Also, the more you take the test, the more familiar you will be with it – and students tend to do a little better each time. Don’t overdo it though, if you take the SATs and ACTs 10 times and only get a mediocore score, the admissions department of your chosen school may be skeptical of your ability. Aim to take each test about three times – once after your freshman year and then at the end of the next two years also.
Take Practice SAT Tests and/or Prep Courses
If it is affordable, sign up for an SAT or ACT Preparation Course. A good class will cover many hours of instruction, practice, and personalized assistance for your particular needs. These courses were included at my high school for the PSATs, and I would recommend them for anyone else who is hoping to get a competitive SAT score.
If the cost of a SAT/ACT prep class is out of reach, spend a few bucks on a study guide with practice exams. These days, many of those types of books will include online or CD-ROM based practice tests.
Heck, “these days” you can just download the ACT and SAT prep software straight to your iPhone, iPad, or Android smart phone. Instead of lugging books around and trying to keep track of paperwork, you can have all your test preparation needs in portable, digital form. Click here for more information about Test Prep Courses on your iPhone, Android or iPad
Stay Calm, Well-fed, and Rested
With clubs, tests, finals, and essays, its easy to think that sleep is something that can be cut out. NO! This is one of the best-kept secrets of education: You think better and are more productive with your time when your body is happy.
Relax. The test isn’t everything. Schools still care about your GPA, activities, awards, and job experience. If you can stay calm, you’ll be able to devote more mental energy into the actual test questions.
Eat a good breakfast. Bring snacks. High fat, high protein breakfasts have been shown to increase mental activity throughout the day. However! Too much grease and fat can make you drowsy, especially if you’ve been cutting back on sleep. Egg whites and lean meat would make a great SAT-morning breakfast – stay away from the drive through.
The brain also needs simple sugars to function. I’m going to let you in on the biggest food-related secret of my SAT success: Chocolate covered raisins. Trust me on this one, try it out. Bring some to snake on, but be aware you might need to leave them in your car or in a locker. Food is not allowed inside of the testing room, but it is a long test and you need something to get you through it. It might sound silly to focus so much on diet, but this does affect how you feel and perform.
Sleep! The worst I ever did on the SATs was my sophomore year. I signed up for the test and forgot the date I had scheduled for. So I ended up getting tickets to a Megadeth concert the night before. Thinking I could “do it all” I went to the concert and stumbled into the SAT test the next day, half-asleep. While most students go up on their 2nd time through the test, I ended up going down about 30 points. I had finished more advanced math and I had been practicing the test for a whole year, but just being tired was enough to counter-act all that preparation.