Just Breathe: SAT and ACT Taking Tips From a Senior

Ana Martinez, Online Editor-in-Chief

The summer going into my junior year of high school, my dad bought me three SAT study books and my stomach dropped. When I was a freshman and sophomore, I feared taking the SAT, but it was finally my time to take the test 1.5 million other students take annually

Using the SAT books, I studied multiple times a week and received a practice test score that I liked. However, when I opened my first official SAT score, I cried (from sadness): my score was 150 points below my typical at-home average. Capitalizing on my mistakes, I took the SAT four times and, after ten brutal months, received a score I felt confident in; however, I let the SAT define both me and my future. 

Here’s a little secret I learned: it does not.

Many students have stories similar to mine; many students have entirely different ones. Test taking was not easy for me and it may not be easy for you. However, if taking the SAT and ACT is something you want or need to do, here are a few pieces of advice that helped me throughout my test-taking journey. 

Find Out Which Test Works Best For You

It is vital to figure out which standardized test — the SAT or the ACT — works better for you. While college admissions evaluate scores equally, the tests have different formats: the SAT is approximately three hours, whereas the ACT is two hours and 55 minutes. Also, the SAT tests reading and math; the ACT tests reading, math and science in a faster-paced test. 

To determine whether you perform better on the SAT or ACT, try taking two full-length practice tests mimicking a real-life testing environment for the SAT and ACT, respectively, on two separate days. Wake up early, set a timer for yourself and download a practice SAT and ACT. After testing, score each exam according to the testing curve. Take note of the score difference between the two tests, as well as how you felt about each one, to decide which test you prefer. 

Create a Schedule to Study

After choosing a test to focus on, it may be a good idea to create a study schedule to prepare. Give yourself ample time — at least a month or two — to study the content tested on the SAT and ACT. For example, set thirty minutes aside each day, Monday through Friday, to practice. 

Pick What Strategies Work Best For You

There are numerous ways one can study for the SAT and ACT: taking multiple practice tests, zoning in on specific content sections (e.g. trigonometry or science passages), reading study books or receiving help from a tutor. While taking full-length practice tests is important, one can study for these exams via other means. Experiment with the ways you study to discover which methods work best for you.