While many colleges across the country are now becoming test-optional for entrance, nearly 1.6 million high school students took the SAT and the ACT in 2010. According to Akil Bello, a college and graduate test preparation expert and owner of Bell Curves, LLC , (http://www.bellcurves.com/), with proper planning and practice students can greatly maximize their SAT and ACT scores. Bello recommends students:
Plan ahead. Take your first SAT or ACT test no later than May of your junior year in high school. “I recommend that juniors take their first official test in either March or April. I like March for the SAT and April for the ACT because they are far from the AP tests and other year end pressures,” said Bello. “College counselors and parents need to work together to make sure juniors don’t finish the year without taking a test. Without a baseline score it is going to be difficult to create a target college list.”
Don’t guess. Take both the SAT and ACT practice tests late in sophomore year to help determine which test to focus on. Students can get official practice tests from the testing companies themselves. SAT practices tests are available at http://ow.ly/3GbCa and ACT practice tests are available at http://ow.ly/3GbDp . In order to figure out which test a student did better at compare both scores at http://professionals.collegeboard.com/data-reports-research/sat/sat-act.
Also, make sure to take the practice test in as realistic a setting as possible – without distractions and any multi- tasking. Start at the beginning of the practice test and work your way through without any interruptions. Compare your baseline practice results against the ACT or SAT results for incoming freshman at the colleges you are interested in attending.
Don’t take either test more than 3 times. Bello recommends that students make sure they carefully study and prepare for the test but take them no more than three times. The CollegeBoard reports that most students take the SAT twice. Bello reported in 2010 40% of students who took the SAT took it twice and 41% took it three times.
Make a study preparation plan and stick to it. According to Bello, the amount of time needed to prepare effectively depends heavily on each student. “The further a student is from their goal the more time that is needed. Test preparation is not magic. The SAT and the ACT require baseline knowledge that covers 3 to 5 years.”
Ideally, Bello recommends that high school juniors, who are planning on taking the March or April test, make a preparation plan in December and start studying for the test in January. Instead of studying for a targeted number of hours each week, Bello said students should construct their study preparation plan by setting weekly goals.
“The preparation plan is based on how you prepare. If you choose a course or work with a tutor the schedule is done for you. If not, and you are studying alone, you need to learn the topic and or question type on Monday. On Wednesday you need to practice what you have learned and on Saturday you need to take a timed section. And then repeat the following week.”
Get outside help if possible. “If you can’t afford a tutor, look into free or cheap options in your area for test preparation or look into applying for a discounted program at one of the big test preparation companies. If money is still an issue, invest in good SAT or ACT preparation books and make sure to take the tests,” said Bello. “Also check out school teachers, churches and other community based organizations that might offer classes or tutoring.”
Check out online resources and applications. There are a multitude of online test preparation programs –both paid and free- but Bello warns students and parents to be cautious, “before using a free online site, you should look at real SAT and ACT questions and compare them to the site. If you can tell a difference, don’t use the site.”
Bello likes the idea of the SAT applications and other mobile and computer based aids that are now available but “remember the test is still paper based.” Bello recommends the following web sites for test preparation:
Stay Calm. One of the best things students can do for themselves is to learn their optimal pacing. You don’t need to answer all your questions to get a great score. And finally, try to stay calm. For almost all colleges, the score you received on either the SAT or ACT is just one piece of the information they assess when looking at you as a future freshman.