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Standardized Test Taking Strategies for the Digital SAT & ACT

a student plays with a yellow pencil while studying for the SAT

Preparing for college entrance exams like the ACT and SAT can be daunting. However, with the right strategies and mindset, you can navigate these tests successfully and improve your chances of getting into your dream college. 

If you are applying to schools that require standardized tests, here are some essential test-taking strategies you need to know.

Understand the test's structure

First and foremost, you need to be familiar with the structure of the test you'll take. 

If you're taking the SAT after March 2024, the test will be all-digital, covering much the same material but allowing more time per question. This new digital test has two sections: reading/writing and math. You'll have 64 minutes to complete the reading/writing section and 70 minutes to complete the math section. That means the test will take a total of 2 hours and 14 minutes.

There's also an all-digital version of the ACT now, so you can choose to take either the traditional paper or digital exam. The length of the ACT exam is the same, no matter the version you take. There are four sections on the ACT: English, mathematics, reading, and science. There is also an optional writing test which will not affect your composite score.

Develop a study plan

Creating a personalized plan is the first step in your preparation as you begin to study. Start by assessing your strengths and weaknesses with a practice test. Then, when you know where you need to put in your study time and effort, you can create your plan. 

Break out each area needing your attention, and then find resources and strategies to develop and master the subject. Set aside specific time for each of the areas, too. And retest once you think you've mastered the material.

Studies consistently show that practice and review lead to significant score improvements. How much time do you need to set aside to study for the test? That depends on how you did on your practice test, how far out you've scheduled your test, and the kind of score you want to achieve. Kaplan says that, on average, students put in 10 to 20 hours a week while preparing for the SAT.

Master time management

Both the ACT and SAT are timed exams, so your ability to manage time is a critical skill. Practice with timed sections to get a feel for the pace you need to maintain. Learn to identify questions you may need more time on quickly and those you can answer rapidly. 

Remember, if you find yourself stuck on a question, it's better to guess than leave the answer blank. 

Take a prep class

Consider asking your academic advisor or school counselor for test-prep suggestions. Organizations like Kaplan Test Prep and The Princeton Review regularly host test prep classes. 

Or, if you can't take a formal test prep class, then check out the free test prep resources at Khan Academy. 

Practice frequently

Periodically, you should take official practice tests to get used to the exam format and question types. Taking these practice exams under timed conditions can help build your stamina and reduce test-day stress. 

You can find a practice SAT test here. Or, download the Bluebook™ testing app to take full-length SAT practice tests. 

You can find free practice ACT tests here.

Learn test-taking strategies

You should also master test-taking strategies. For example, being sure to read each question thoroughly or learning to eliminate wrong answer choices can improve your chances of answering difficult questions correctly. 

Take care of your health

Never underestimate the power of a good night's sleep, especially before test day. Eat a nutritious breakfast to fuel your brain and stay hydrated. Regular exercise can also improve your mental clarity and reduce stress.

Stay positive and confident

A positive mindset can greatly impact your test performance. Visualize success, and approach the test with confidence. Remember, preparation is key, and by following these tips, you're setting yourself up for the best possible outcome.

Prepare for test morning

Gather your things the night before the test so you won't scramble the morning of the exam. The more prepared you are, the less likely you will panic when it’s time to take the test. 

See what test score you need to get into your dream colleges

The ACT and SAT are challenging exams, but with the right preparation and mindset, you can achieve a score that reflects your potential and opens doors to college opportunities. 

To learn more, click the button below. You'll be able to see the average test score for all the colleges on your list. 

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