By UEA Tutor and licensed teacher Laurie

1) The best time for students to take their first SAT or ACT may not be spring of junior year, as traditionally recommended. Since the math sections of both the SAT and the ACT cover material up to and including Algebra II (and even a bit of pre-calculus/trigonometry), an ideal time to begin taking these tests is when the student has just finished Algebra II. For many students this may be as early as the end of freshman or sophomore year.

2) If your student receives extended time accommodations in school, apply to both ACT and SAT well in advance of the registration deadline. It often takes 7 weeks to receive approval after submitting documentation. Extended time, especially on the ACT, gives students a huge advantage in answering more questions correctly.

3) On the SAT, one correct answer generally increases the score on that section by 10 points. So, just 10 more questions answered correctly can raise a score of 500 to a 600! In regards to scholarship money and college acceptances, the difference between 500s and 600s (total score of 1000 vs 1200) is considerable. The ACT, while it uses a different scoring system, has a similar relationship between questions answered correctly and score jumps: just 1 or 2 more correct answers will bring the section score up one point. Even a small amount of test prep can help a student gain some extra points.

4) There is no penalty for taking the ACT or SAT multiple times as there was in years past. Many colleges and universities now “superscore,” meaning they will take the best scores from each subsection over all tests the student has taken and combine them into the highest possible score. Contrary to what the testmakers would like us to believe, these tests can be learned. With practice, students can become experts, gaining points each time they take an additional test.

5) Yes, there are tips and tricks that allow savvy test-takers to earn more points than the unprepared student. Although exact questions are not repeated on SAT or ACT tests, the same concepts are tested over and over again with different numbers or words (hence the term “standardized test”). Here is just a taste:

  • Proper use of a colon appears on every SAT or ACT. A complete sentence must precede the colon, and no, it is not always followed by a list.

  • Knowing how to use SOHCAHTOA will get you a point or two on every math section, and knowing the 5-12-13 Pythagorean Triple will save precious seconds during the test.

  • The dreaded ACT Science section does not require specific science knowledge but rather the ability to locate information in tables and graphs.

  • The reading passages can be made less intimidating by reading the questions first and reading actively (circling, underlining, making notes as you read).

  • The essay for both the SAT and the ACT has a specific format which can be practiced, perfected, and applied to any topic the student is given on test-day.

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