10 ways to study for the ACT and SAT

people studying in the libraryIt’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. You’re at the testing site. Are you prepared?

Not preparing for standardized tests is like going to your basketball tournament without your uniform. Sure, you can still run in jeans and flip flops, but you’re not going to win the game that way.

Getting ready for the SAT or ACT should definitely have a spot on your to-do list. Everyone has different study habits, so I’m going to give you a few ideas on how to study for these dreaded tests:

Do well in school. Hopefully you’re doing this already. If you are, you’ve already taken the first step in your standardized test prep! Ultimately these tests are trying to tell colleges how ready you are to handle their work. If you do well in school, your test scores will probably match.

Study vocab words. This is especially crucial if you’ve decided to take the SAT. Unless you’re an English brainiac, the critical reading section might be very daunting without getting familiar with more vocab.

>>Studying vocab words doesn’t have to be boring - check out our suggestions.

Buy a book. If you’re motivated to study on your own, reading and doing exercises from a test prep book will be one of the cheapest options. Each company teaches in a different way so don’t buy the first book you see. Flip through several books at a bookstore or take a look inside books you order online (Amazon has this option for many books). Does it fit with your learning style? Is it easy to understand? The most important question is, will you be motivated to study this on your own? If you answer “no” to that last question for all the books you find, it might be wise to consider a different option.


>>Check out SAT study guides and ACT study guides

Go to the library. Your local library probably has a range of test prep books that you can use for free. One downside is you can’t write notes in the books or fill in bubbles on practice tests. However, if you don’t mind taking notes in a notebook, this will be an excellent alternative to buying books.

Depending on how popular your library is, the books might be checked out frequently or on reserve. If a book is on reserve, you won’t be able to take it out of the library. Even if you want to buy your own, you could check out several types of books and decide which one you’d like to buy after spending some time with them.

Take a test prep course. This will be like taking an extra class a couple times a week. Your school might offer one or you could choose a test prep program like Kaplan. One-on-one tutoring is also available if you’d like to go at your own pace. If you’re not motivated to do exercises on your own with a book, this would be the best way to prepare.

Online test prep course. If you’d rather take a course from the comfort of your own home, Peterson’s offers an online course. One advantage is online courses will only cost a fraction of the face-to-face ones. It is a good option for students who want additional exercises or a more dynamic learning experience. If you think you won’t take online work seriously, you should stick with traditional test prep courses.

Computer program. If you want a little more active learning experience, you could try SAT or ACT prep software. This will probably be similar to taking an online course, but it will be a lot cheaper.

Practice tests.  If you don’t want to take a course or read a book, at least spend time taking practice tests. Even if you’re smart, you could waste a lot of time figuring out directions or re-reading questions if you are unfamiliar with the test. Taking practice tests is the only way around this. You can find free tests online through Peterson’s or Princetonreview.com, or you could get a book of practice tests.

In order to fully prepare yourself, take the practice tests as if they were the real thing. Time yourself. Don’t take breaks until you have a designated break time. Use the calculator you’re going to bring on the testing day. Sit in a desk or at a table – not in your bed or on the couch. If you can, get up early on a Saturday morning just like you will be doing on the test day.

SAT board game. This should definitely not be your only form of studying, but it could be a nice break from vocab drills or practice tests. You can’t play alone, so it’s great to bring to a study group or to play with your family. I haven’t been able to test it out for myself, but it's worth a try: Conquer the SAT - an Educational Board Game by Study Works.

iPhone apps. Like they say, there’s an app for that. And it includes studying for the SAT. At some point you’ll want to simulate your test environment, so this shouldn’t be the only way you study. But it’ll be very interactive and there are several to choose from. Kaplan, PrincetonReview, and others have created various apps to help you study on the go.


>>How to achieve your best score on the ACT or SAT


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