6 ways to prepare for the SAT or ACT

6 ways to prepare for the SAT or ACT


As you’re gearing up to prepare for college applications, you’ll need to devote time to getting ready for the SAT (or ACT in some cases). How thoroughly you’ll need to prepare will depend on the student, but regardless of your test-taking abilities, taking the time to prepare for standardized tests for college is important. If you’re nervous about your approaching test date (or even if you’re not), these six steps will increase your chances of getting the best possible score.

1. Take the PSAT or a practice test.

By taking a practice test either after your sophomore year or in the early months of your junior year in high school, you’ll learn where you need to improve. Your initial score will reveal your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can begin targeting specific subjects or problems in your studies. Knowing how you need to improve will save you a lot of time when preparing for the test.

2. Research your college’s middle range.

Even if you don’t know exactly where you want to go, start looking at the median standardized test scores of the schools you’re hoping to apply to. After your first practice test, you’ll know how much higher your score needs to be. College Prep estimates that for a 0-30 point increase, you’ll have to study for 10 hours, whereas a 200-330 point increase requires 150 hours of study.

3. Create a study schedule.

If you enroll in a SAT or ACT prep class, you will likely be provided with a suggested study schedule. For those who are studying on their own, carve out a set number of hours per week — at least three months prior to the test — and stick to your schedule! It’s important to maintain consistency when preparing for an exam like the SAT or ACT.

4. Know the SAT or ACT test format.

For the SAT, there are two sections with 800 possible points — Math, and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. For the ACT, you receive a composite score between 1 and 36 after completing four tests in English, Mathematics, Reading and Science. Understanding a little bit of the test’s format will help you mentally prepare for how to navigate it. And don’t neglect to study formulas and grammar rules — the better you know them, the more quickly you’ll be able to move through the test.

5. Study vocabulary.

Many sources will suggest you learn thousands of new words for the SAT or ACT. Instead, we suggest making a SAT word list and shuffling through (and using) 10 new words a day. You’ll be able to work through reading comprehension on the test with greater ease by understanding these words in different contexts.

6. Learn SAT or ACT test strategies.

Time management, guessing skills, process of elimination, and knowing when to skip a question are important strategies for increasing your score. If you’ve already memorized the right math formulas and are familiar with grammar, start focusing on the questions that take you the most time.


Preparing to take the SAT or ACT can be a stressful process — but the more prepared you are, the more at ease you will be. Once you decide to sign up for the standardized test, take the steps necessary to set yourself up for standardized test success!