Mastering the ACT/SAT the Second Time Around

You surrendered four precious hours on a Saturday and then twiddled your thumbs for weeks waiting for your ACT or SAT results. Finally, you nervously logged on to see how you fared. Perhaps your scores were close to your expectations—or perhaps you were disappointed. Even if you surprised yourself with a very good result, you may wish to see if you can improve your score further—and you absolutely can! How?

Commit the test structure to memory

There are a number of ways to elevate your ACT or SAT score. While these exams can seem intimidating and unconquerable at times, they’re not impervious to thoughtful preparation. But for your result to jump dramatically, you must accomplish a great deal between exam dates. The first step is to become perfectly acquainted with the test format.

In other words, ensure you know exactly what’s coming. For example, the SAT includes 10 sections, and the first portion is always the 25-minute essay. Next follows six additional 25-minute multiple-choice sections. The test concludes with two 20-minute portions and a 10-minute writing section. On the ACT, the optional writing portion is consistently last. Prior to the Writing section, you must complete sections devoted to English, math, reading, and science.

Also, make sure you remember what types of questions you’ll encounter. If you take practice exams, you may soon notice patterns; the problems are remarkably similar in structure across test dates.

Gradually build your confidence and endurance

Ultimately, your goal should be to feel bigger—and more powerful—than the test at hand. Start small. Complete a practice section without timing yourself, and stop only when you are confident that you have answered all the problems correctly. This includes understanding why your responses are right; it may require an hour or more to do so, but that’s perfectly fine.

Score your test, and if your result was unacceptable, don’t panic. This only serves as a way to demonstrate what specific material you’ll review next. Neither of the exams includes unfamiliar material, so it’s entirely possible to thoroughly review your weak spots. Take all the time you need in order to get to the point where you know you are capable of a nearly perfect score on a mock portion—then work to reduce your time spent per question.

The reality is that nearly every student is capable of mastering the ACT or SAT. It just takes most students much longer to reach that level than the time allotted on the exams. Proving to yourself that you’re capable of working at a higher level is key to your confidence. Once you’ve demonstrated that you can earn very high scores with additional time, the tests will become far less intimidating. And once you train yourself to move quickly, you may soon find that your second exam date goes far more smoothly than the first!


This article was written by Caleb Zimmerman

Caleb Zimmerman is a professional writing and test-prep tutor for Varsity Tutors. He graduated from The King's College in New York City in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in politics, philosophy, and economics.

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