I’m a test prep tutor. Much of what I do is just about watching a student when we do practice drills. I cover the verbal sections of the test, but much of this can apply to math on the SAT, or math and science on the ACT.
For Reading, does a student spend too much time reading a passage? That’s a waste of time, because he has to go back and read a lot of the passage again anyway when he’s answering questions. Set a steady reading pace, using your pencil to force your eyes along, and aim to read a passage in about three minutes.
In English, does the student actually plug the answer back in to ensure that it works? I’m amazed at how many don’t do this. This can also apply to Math.
Also in English, the student will get points by trying the shortest answer first to see if it works. It will NOT always be correct, but it’s a good place to start. The English section favors concise answers.
For SAT math, remember how to use your pencil to do basic things like multiply and divide. I’m surprised by how many kids have forgotten these easy skills.
For ACT Science, it’s often best to go right to the questions, which are primarily based on the data points provided. Skim the passage as needed.
Does the student spend too much time on one question? It’s time to move on. You’re missing chances to answer several easier questions when you get stuck on one hard question.
Does the student go back and check the answer when he’s already circled an answer? That’s a waste of time. I pause the timer to make them aware of that. The goal is to keep moving. Tough questions can be marked to review later, if there’s time.
Does a student focus on EXACTLY what the question is asking for? I can tell when they aren’t focusing on the main point of the question. I pause the timer and ask him to tell me what the most relevant words are in the question. That helps him pinpoint an answer more quickly.
Does the student simply put the pencil down when they fill in the scantron, and fail to review questions, or simply never mark any to review in the first place? That’s a good way of losing points. If you have enough time left over to sit around while others are still working, you have enough time the review answers.
The flip side of that is don’t overthink. If you felt confident when you answered, your instinct was probably right. Too many kids go back and change right answers to wrong ones. The trick is to not “justify” wrong answer choices.
Elimination is important. Think about why an answer is wrong, rather than why it’s right. If you can’t think of why an answer is wrong, you’ve probably got the right answer.
Having a guessing letter is a good strategy. Use the same letter, and never leave a blank. A blank is always wrong.
Definitely sleep well, eat breakfast, and bring nutritious snacks. I tell my students to bring protein bars, sandwiches and bananas. Bring a drink, but not soda.
Have all your extra pencils and batteries with you. Get a cheapy digital watch and use it, but make sure it’s not going to make any noise.
Perhaps most importantly, have a balanced perspective. These tests will not determine the course of your life. There are plenty of tests dates, and plenty of test optional schools. Going to college relies first and foremost on the student having a REALISTIC list of schools to apply to.
Being aware of these simple things can lead to a higher score and doesn’t rely on innate intelligence or hours and hours of test prep. Feel free to add your own tips.