Standardized Test Prep Made Simple: Tip Sheet for Preparing for SATs and ACTs

SAT ACT Cover Dr YoPreparing for high-stakes standardized tests like the SAT or the ACT is not EASY, but it is SIMPLE. What I mean by that is much of the work is psychological: you need to make a decision to invest the necessary time, plan your work, and then work your plan.

For years instructors at CollegePrepExpress have been helping students get high scores by showing them that preparation for these behemoth exams is really the same as that for any other test: it involves TWO basic activities: studying the material covered on the exam and taking practice tests to give you facility with strategies and diagnosing how much of the material you actually know at any given time.

Study. Practice. Study. Practice. That’s the whole drill. And it’s not at all different from what an athletic coach might tell you about soccer or field hockey or basketball practices: we’ll scrimmage to see where we’re strong and weak (that would be your practice tests) and then drill on areas where we’re weak (that would be your studying). As I said, it’s not easy in terms of how much time and effort you’ll need to devote, but it IS simple in terms of what you actually need to do :-).

So here are some steps to lead you up the path toward rocket high scores:

  1. Put yourself on a plan and stick to it. PERSEVERANCE, STAYING THE COURSE, is critical. For juniors at the beginning of the school year, 30 minutes a day will suffice since you’ve got a full year and many opportunities to test. For juniors in the spring or, gasp, seniors in the fall, you’ll need to carve out an hour a day since you have less time and fewer chances remaining. Yes that’s a lot of time, but these things, for better or worse, count a lot at most schools (happily, there is a growing list of test-optional schools). See also, How Much Time Should I Spend Studying for Standardized Tests?
  2. To learn the bodies of material—for SAT that’s vocab, math, grammar, and essay-writing strategies; for ACT that’s math, grammar, and essay-writing strategies— purchase CPE’s ACT Prep Pack (relax, it’s only $5.99), SAT Prep Pack (also $5.99) or both ($9.99), which includes all the strategies for each section, including Writing, as well as all the math, grammar, and essay-writing material, strategies and tips. For vocab for the SAT, all you need are these free vocab tools.
  3. Alternate study sessions and practice tests. MOST students only take practice test after practice test after practice test and their scores go up only modestly. The true secret sauce is LEARNING NEW MATERIAL covered on the exam between each practice test. One of the documents included in both Prep Packs is a DAILY TO-DO Checklist, which instructs you to alternate study and practice sessions and tells you exactly what to study (i.e., within the bodies of material covered on each exam).
  4. Buy The Official SAT Study Guide Second Edition and/or The Real ACT (CD) 3rd Edition for practice (3rd party companies cannot legally publish ACTUAL SAT and ACT items, so these are really the very best and only books to buy for practice). Then take practice tests, simulating the game-day experience as closely as you can (meaning time yourself strictly, use the bubble sheets, do it sitting down at a desk and in silence, use a #2 pencil, have your calculator—all common sense stuff if you think about it) and learn from every item you miss. Teachers in school can prove helpful here. So can your brainiac friends. So can CollegePrepExpress 😉  Score your tests carefully and chart your progress (Progress Charts come as part of the Prep Packs).
  5. Wash – rinse – repeat. Keep looping steps 3 and 4 until you get the results you’re looking for.
  6. Take at least one full-length practice, to build stamina, at least one week before Game Day.
  7. About a week before Game Day, review our blog, 12 Tips for SAT/ACT Game Day and please follow the advice! It’s worked for countless others 🙂


See also these CPE Blog posts:

Dr. Yo’s Short- and Long-Term Steps to Higher SAT Scores

The Secret Magic Formula for Cramming for SATs and ACTs

Taking the ACT this Weekend? Here’s Your 5-Point Checklist

Why the ACT is just as Important as the SAT5-Point Checklist to Prep for the ACT in a Week…or Less!

SAT and ACT Prep: Peaking at the Right Time

Slow and Steady Wins the Standardized Test Prep Race


Listen also to these “Prep Talk” Shows, all available free on iTunes:

Beating the ACT

All About the ACT

Prepping and Cramming for the ACT

Prepping and Cramming for the January SATs

About CollegePrepExpress

The primary purpose of CollegePrepExpress, LLC is to help students get into their top secondary schools, colleges, and graduate schools and to reduce stress surrounding the entire admissions process.

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