Updated: Feb 10
The kick-off article for AlumniAngles. If you have advice on an area of expertise or experience you want to share about, sign-up to write an Angles article here.
The SAT and ACT are ominous terms that we’ve heard across the board - from books to TV shows - and they are always referenced as something that causes stress and something that is extremely difficult. Students are trapped by this narrative, that the SAT or ACT is “impossible” and that you need professional help to tackle it. Students are also promised admissions into prestigious colleges as a result of high scores. None of these things are true.
By definition, a standardized test is something that has to have a predictable pattern. The test has to be equitable along all instances of it, so it must follow a formula. This is what corporations like the Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Barrons have realized, and it is why their strategies work. However, no one knows the test as well as someone who took it a few months ago, used no formal help other than textbooks, and developed their own strategy and routine. Additionally, as a fellow student, it suits you to listen to me, since I know about high school schedules, and difficulties that high schoolers face better than any faceless corporation. And finally, I get no incentive if you listen to me. Corporations get money, I simply get the satisfaction of helping you. I want to start a free small group to help students prepare their way to a perfect score. If you are interested in joining, please fill out this form. For now though, read the article…
In this article, I will walk you through how to generate your self-studying plan. Onward!!
Step 1. Determine what test you want to take.
Or more accurately, which test you are best suited to take. This is not as black and white as many prep books and corporations make it seem and is often not given enough consideration by the test taker. The common indicator is if you are a “reading person” you should take the ACT and if you are a “math person” you should take the SAT. Lies. I am the president of the Math Club, and the ACT was the test for me. Here is the real way to determine if you should take the SAT or ACT:
For context, the SAT has 2 Math sections, a Writing/Grammar section, and a Reading section. The ACT has a Reading section, a Writing/Grammar section, a Math section, and a Science section (which is really just a glorified reading section).
Determine whether you have strong reading comprehension
It is true that there are more “reading” based sections of the ACT, and while you do not necessarily need to be a literary enthusiast, if your comprehension is not strong you may struggle.
Determine if you have strong math skills
If you do not have strong math and problem-solving skills, getting a mediocre score on two easier math sections might be better than getting an atrocious score on the more difficult singular ACT section.
Are you a fast worker?
If you work fast, have a good amount of stamina, and would prefer more easy questions, the ACT is the way to go. If you would prefer to take your time on fewer but harder questions, shoot for the SAT.
Do you make silly mistakes?
If you do, not to worry, you can miss 1 - 5 questions on the ACT and still get a perfect score. On the SAT you can miss 1 maybe 2 if you are lucky to get a perfect score. The ACT is more forgiving of silly mistakes, but the questions are more than the SAT.
Yes, the curves are real.
And one more myth: both tests have to be prepared for extremely differently. This could not be further from the truth. For reading and writing, the prep is the exact same! Sure, there is a slight difference in math content, but the prep for the science section is the same as prepping for the SAT reading. In general, the SAT is considered the “test to take” because it is better known. However, many people are better at the ACT, and those typically aiming for a perfect score are often better equipped to take the ACT.
Cheat code: to get a perfect on the ACT, you need a 36 average. You can get a 35 35 36 36 and still get a 36 overall. Therefore, determine what you are aiming for, and prepare accordingly.
Step 2. Gather your resources
It is entirely possible to spend $0 on your SAT and ACT prep. To use completely free resources, here are the ones I would strongly recommend…
It doesn’t matter if you are prepping for the ACT or SAT, the skills needed are the same.
The hands down best way to study math
They often have the QAS released, and provide practice tests
Released Practice Tests
Practice as much as possible!!
For paid resources - which I used a few of - these are the ones that are a staple of any textbook based studying routine.
It doesn't matter if you are studying for the SAT or ACT this is the book to use to master reading. It brought my reading score from a 29 to a 36!
Options for Writing…
I personally used A and C but have heard many good reviews on book B. Again, it does not matter what test you use. One thing - do not use Khan for writing.
A big book of practice tests
ONLY needed if you are planning to take so many tests that you run out. Here are a few realistic ones…
NOTE: I used these to study for both SAT and ACT, so it does not really matter
Step 3. Devise a Schedule
Everyone’s plan of action is different, but I would recommend taking practice tests often (!!) and practicing consistently. Setting aside a block of time every day will help you get into a routine easier and make the decision to sit down and study more of a habit than a task.
I personally set aside weekends for practice tests and used weekdays to read my textbooks. Of course, everyone has their commitments, so do what works best for you!
Step 4. Test Day Tips
The generic stuff is pretty accurate and useful but here’s some things I depended on:
Do not check your phone the morning of the test.
EAT A SNACK - glucose helps you think.
If you are stuck on a question - PLEASE MOVE ON - even if you are going for a perfect score. You are more likely to get a perfect score if you move on.
Figure out what silly mistakes you commonly make and be extra wary of that.
HAVE FUN! - (I know you just rolled your eyes but think of it more as a competitive quest against the nameless corporations rather than a mind numbingly boring standardized test; it helps, I promise.)
I hope you found this article helpful and please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions. Again, I am trying to put together a small group of students that are aiming for a perfect or relatively high score together. If you are interested or have any questions about anything in this article--please email firstname.lastname@example.org!
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