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Best ways to prepare?

curethevoid17curethevoid17 Registered User Posts: 26 Junior Member
I’m currently a freshman in high school and needed advice on how to best prepare for the ACT, and/ or SAT from here until junior year as I really want to get atleast a 34 on the ACT and atleast 750’s on the SAT’s in order to boost my application for elite colleges. Any programs or books or anything you can recommend to me? I need some academic stuff to study over the summer.

Replies to: Best ways to prepare?

  • CaesarAutNihilCaesarAutNihil Registered User Posts: 17 Junior Member

    Just to preface, the thing that will increase your score the most will be your progression through high school classes. This is especially true with math, as the more classes you take the better your math score will be. Before you decide which one to take, take a practice SAT and ACT to see what you prefer/score better in. The following information is about the ACT.

    As far as what you can do now, I suggest using ACT Online Prep (actually from the makers of the ACT). It is about 50 dollars (I believe) and lasts a year, but you can keep extending it for 20 dollars before it expires. The ACT Online Prep is very good because it has lessons on the topics covered and has over 2000 practice problems. It increased my score from 21 to 30 in nine months. This was from the summer before freshman year to the spring of my freshman year. Since then I’ve raised it to a 32 and will probably raise it to a 34/35 on my test tomorrow.

    Another crucial (and easy) way to increase your English and Reading score is to read. Since you have the whole summer, shoot for reading two hours a day. It can just be free reading, but it will really help. You will be used to reading correct grammar and understanding texts.

    The Science section mainly tests you on your ability to analyze data, both in small passages and in graphs. Very little outside knowledge of science terms is necessary, so you can start practicing this section now. The hardest part of science is the timing, so make sure timing is part of your preparation (for all sections but science specifically).

    I hope this helped. I will try to answer any more questions if you have some. Just remember that unless you are intrinsically an idiot, you can get a 34+ through determination.

    Another note: make sure you are challenging yourself in your classes. I assume you know a decent amount on elite admissions, but if not I’ll touch on the subject. You have the rest of high school to show colleges you are pushing yourself to the limit. Take classes that will just barely not be too much for you. This requires you to know your own limits. If you take most/all AP classes, make sure you can get at least an A- in them or it is not worth it. Something that isn’t commonly said is that unweighted GPA is very important. Don’t take AP classes if it will hurt your unweighted GPA. Don’t forget to challenge yourself more each year.

    Lastly, extracirriculars are very important. Only do things you actually care about and then work for leadership positions in those. Don’t join six clubs and be a slug.

    I think that’s all I have. Just remember to enjoy what you do and spend time with family and friends also. Good luck!


    A rising senior
  • okapilionokapilion Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    When I was a freshman in high school I took the tests as a talent search candidate, so I can tell you what helped me even without having all of the material learned. The ACT really tests test-taking above all else, and taking practice tests is the best way to hone these skills. I used the books put out by the ACT and some section helping books. The key to using practice tests well is going over them. A practice test takes 3 hours to take, but even more time to review mistakes, answers you were unsure of, and how your timing was in that particular section. If you continue to struggle with the test itself I would recommend looking at the resources on Prepscholar's blog or getting the ACT Black Book (you need the "Red Book" produced by the ACT for this to make sense).

    As said above reading is honestly the best way to prepare for this section, but when I was a freshman and struggling with grammar rules that had never been taught to me before Erica Meltzer's Complete Guide to the ACT English really helped me. It raised me from about a 29 to a 34.

    This test is really all about timing. Practice, practice, practice is the only way to ace this section. I want to say I took 6 official tests for reading (I focused on this section) in the year before my test and it paid off (that's how I got a 36). I really like the advice outlined in Prepscholar's Guide to ACT Reading and their guide to getting a 36 (good for any high score).

    Again mostly timing and practice. Most of the prep you do for reading will help for science and vice versa, just make sure that you study both. The key here is to not get bogged down in complex graphs. It helps to just make note of really basic overarching trends and not focus on the nitty-gritty unless asked (I strongly doubt you ever would be).

    This will be the hardest for you to study this early. Some of the material will be unknown to you. Probably the best way since you're not going to be taking the test each year would be to take PSAT practice tests at the appropriate level and then as you approach your junior year putting more ACT practice tests. I liked Corn's Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT.

    Bottom Line:
    I would utilize the official online prep resources from the college board (don't buy their book) for the SAT and the official books put out by the ACT (especially the 3rd edition as many books/online prep sites are based on this edition). I would hold off on getting a specific section book until later on. It also might not hurt to take them your freshman year. I know it qualified me for a summer program that I really loved (depending on where you live lookup CTY (Johns Hopkins), CBK (Colorado School of Mines), or TIP (Duke)). My regional equivalent really helped prepare for college and put me in contact with so many talented, motivated kids.
  • ChezCurieChezCurie Registered User Posts: 175 Junior Member
    This is some of the best advice I've seen over the years on CC for how to prep for the SAT/ACT, @CaesarAutNihil and @okapilion! You're both obviously articulate, bright and deserving of your high scores. Even though I am not the OP, I thank you for taking the time to be so detailed and thoughtful in your responses.
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,267 Senior Member
    @CaesarAutNihil , wow. You are basically implying that anyone who doesn't score 34+ is an idiot. I'm a test prep tutor and I can tell you with 100% certainty that you are WRONG. Great way to encourage people. When you get your 34+, come back and talk about it. Right now, you have a 32, so what does that say about you? Luckily, I am pretty sure you're not an idiot, but I don't know why you would make your false and unsubstantiated claim.

    @okapilion gives generally good advice, however, it is pretty much universally acknowledged by prep tutors that everyone, regardless of which test they take, needs the official ACT or SAT prep books. You can choose to print all the official SAT tests for free, but honestly, it's probably easier and certainly less wear and tear on your printer to buy the book. @ChezCurie , I suggest you look for more advice before you take the advice given here as gospel.

    Furthermore, no one needs to push themselves to the limit to get into a top college. You can have a great high school experience by pushing yourself as much as you want to, not necessarily "to the limit" for the slim possibility of getting into Harvard. That's a great way to burn yourself out and go grey at the age of 17. Do the stuff you are interested in. Keep your grades up. Do the best you can because you want to, not out of fear that if you don't, you won't get into a school with a 96% rejection rate. Even with a magical score of 34, your odds of getting in are slim at best. Is it worth 4 years of stress for the overwhelming chance you will be denied? Up to you to decide.

    @curethevoid17 First of all, you really should not begin prepping for the test right now. Why? I believe that the best practice material by far is to use only official ACT tests. There are not that many official tests out there. If you go through them all now, while you still have a lot to learn, you are not going to have enough official practice material when it comes time to start actively studying for the ACT. If you really do want to start, use unofficial ACT tests just to get a general idea.

    Additionally, you are a rising sophomore. You have a whole year more of reading and math to get through. Learning real subject material at this point is more important than prepping for a test you won't be taking for over a year.

    You CAN ensure that you have a good grasp of math basics which will be tested on the ACT, and punctuation and grammar usage that will be tested. In addition to the official study guide, Tutor Ted publishes a good basic ACT prep guide which is designed not to be boring and covers what's on the test. Barron's is also very good for the ACT. When you get ready to study in earnest, I highly recommend saving your money on prep courses and instead having a few sessions with a private tutor if you can afford it. I do think that is money better spent. If you can't afford it, investing in an online program might be useful, but get the prep books and try those first. I suggest you start after sophomore year.
  • okapilionokapilion Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    Everything @Lindagaf says is correct. Unless you want to participate in a talent search program or something similar it really doesn't make sense to me to start prepping this early. Really if you take the PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 (in my state they are required of all students, but CO is weird that they require all SATs to graduate) I think that's the best prep you can do and it is of lower importance (many selective colleges require that you send all SATs, but don't require PSATs).
  • CaesarAutNihilCaesarAutNihil Registered User Posts: 17 Junior Member
    Update: I got a 34 on my June ACT and still stand by what I said.

    The key word was can. People have the potential to get a 34, but it doesn’t mean that they will or that it is actually realistic. I don’t understand how you could misinterpret that. 100% certainty that I am wrong is you saying your opinion is right and mine is wrong. Just because you are a tutor doesn’t mean your advice is inherently better than other people’s advice. They are opinions and I was giving my advice. I never said it was the only advice nor that it was the best advice. Of course they should take everything with a grain of salt. I started preparing the summer before my freshman year because I needed the ACT to get into a dual enrollment program. Also, for some people it takes that amount of time to get the score they want. It did for me. So there are reasons to start this early.
  • CaesarAutNihilCaesarAutNihil Registered User Posts: 17 Junior Member
    Also, the benefits of pushing yourself to the limit are not limited to college admissions. Challenging yourself just because you “want to go to Harvard” is wrong. Challenging yourself is for personal growth. I said to OP to challenge themselves yes because it is good for admissions, but mainly because it is rewarding. Getting an A with minimal effort is underwhelming. Getting an A when you know there was nothing more you could’ve done is one of the best feelings in the world. For me, I need to borderline struggle before I’m proud of any of my accomplishments. What’s wrong with that? It’s about pushing yourself to meet your full potential. Pushing yourself as much as you want to instead of to the limit does not indicate that you will reach your full potential.
  • integralbattleintegralbattle Registered User Posts: 17 Junior Member
    In my opinion, it depends on how self motivated you are. If you need a rigorous structure and someone telling you what to do, invest in a tutor or tutoring center. However, if you are self motivated, use Khan academy and supplement that with either Barron's or princetons. Take loads of practice tests! Best of luck.
  • s31415s31415 Registered User Posts: 28 Junior Member
    Practice tests (I used CollegeBoard) are extremely useful, in that you will begin seeing patterns in terms of questions asked, etc. after a while.
    If you aren't a strong reader, I would recommend reading often to improve your focus. Try harder, denser books in order to make the SAT passages feel easy in comparison.

    Practice tests (I used Barron's and CollegeBoard), along with DiagKNOWstics (online platform).
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