Common sense tips to help raise your SAT/ACT score

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.


Bumping for students taking the ACT this weekend.

1 Like

Great tips. Thanks! Testing was a stressful thing for my S20 and I am aiming to take the pressure off of his younger brother. Oh, the poor firstborn!

Thanks @Lindagaf !I only wish that D21 had time to go back and review some questions on the ACT! Lol!

I think the single best tip we read was to focus on your mistakes. Take the practice tests and then see every mistake as an opportunity to bump your score higher the next time.

My daughter also marked any questions that she wasn’t positive about, or - for math - questions that simply took too long. She then looked up the questions on YouTube and found free explanations. In some cases, she was solving the full math problem when the solution was MUCH simpler (and faster.)

Hey, I also have a tip!
So I took the test 3 times, first I got a 31, then a 32, then a 34.
Basically if you treat the science section as a reading portion, it becomes way less daunting and easier to tackle. All the info you need to get the answers down are on the page, so it’s not like you have to do too much to solve for it. Also, a basic tip for any section is to cross off common sense stuff that you know is wrong. If you have any extra time, just fight off how tired your brain is and go through the packet a second time and check all your answers. But don’t check too much or you might begin to change too much, and change stuff that was right before.
Hope this helps :slight_smile:

Great tips! I used many of these and they definitely helped raise my score.

1 Like

I recently posted this on another thread:

I’m a test prep tutor and I’ve seen a lot of high GPA kids do poorly on these tests.

For many kids, it’s not that they don’t understand the questions or content. It’s that they repeatedly do silly things that tank their score. It doesn’t necessarily indicate a learning disability.

I watch what kids are doing when they are taking a timed test section. For example, yesterday I worked with a super smart guy who hovered with his pencil near the right answer for seconds before circling it. That’s a time waster. He circled correctly, and then went right back to look at all the answer choices again. More time wasted.

Then he moved on to another question, crossed out one choice, skipped that and moved on to other questions. He eventually went back to the question where he had crossed out only one answer, and then circled that answer! It was, of course, wrong. He should have spent more time eliminating answers on that one question, then moved on. The net result was that he ended up rushing to complete the section, and rushing isn’t helpful.

This is pretty typical behavior of a lot of students who, IMO, overthink these tests. They think the tests are harder than they are. So they do okay when they do practice tests at home, but come test day, they do let the pressure get to them and it’s probably silly test taking “hygiene” that prevents a higher score on test day.

Students need to understand that these tests are not like regular tests. They are designed to confuse.

Parents and students would do well to understand that these tests may be standardized, but are not true indicators of ability or intelligence. One student I know is probably the smartest kid I’ve ever met. He applied TO to a school well-known for that. He majored in something a lot of CCer’s would possibly turn their noses up at (think along the lines of medieval studies, etc…), won an international award in a highly competitive intellectual pursuit, graduated summa cum laude, won a nationally known postgrad scholarship opportunity, and got a great job at a fantastic creative company.

These tests aren’t about intelligence. They are about trying to put students into groups of percentages.

1 Like

Hello, do you think you can help with SAT (reading, writing), I am sorry I cant pm you.

Great points! Also its very helpful to use a stopwatch, especially if its already built in to a digital watch. That way you are able to know exact times instead of spending time guessing/figuring it out

I’d add one more. Check your calculator. My kid took the SAT and the function key was on. Took a while to figure out something wasn’t right.