How to Study for Standardized Tests: The SAT and the ACT

As a high school student, you have probably experienced common core throughout your academic life. The standardized knowledge you have received in school has ensured that you and your peers are on the same level, academically. However, if you want to go to college or university, these institutions need a way to score your standardized learning, which they do with standardized tests like the SAT and ACT.

The SAT and the ACT are arguably the most important standardized tests you will take while in high school. A good score on the SAT and ACT can help your chances at admission from a good college or university. A great score can open up doors at schools you never thought you would be able to attend, like Harvard, Yale, or West Point. However, the SAT and ACT are written and graded in such a way that you cannot just walk in and achieve your dream score. You must study efficiently, effectively, and for a significant period of time in order to achieve the score you want.

In this article, we will be providing you with a template study guide that will help you achieve a great score on these standardized tests. To further increase your ability, consult with an academic coach today to design a unique testing guide that matches your individual learning style and preferences.

The New SAT

The current format of the SAT is comprised of three sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. There is an optional section as well, where you will be required to write an essay. If you choose to write all four sections, including the optional essay, you will be required to take the test in 3 hours and 50 minutes. It may seem daunting right now but, rest assured, we can break down each section into smaller sections, allowing you to study effectively against this seeming behemoth of a test.

The knowledge required to take the SAT and get a good score is nothing new. You will have 60 minutes to complete the Writing section and will be tested on word usage, grammar, and word diction. If English is your second, third, or even fourth language and you feel you struggle sometimes with the language or syntax, you may require additional help from an academic coach or tutor. However, an excellent Mathematics score can offset an average score in the Writing section, so keep that in mind when preparing for your SATs.

Test-takers are only allowed 70 minutes to complete the Mathematics section of the SAT. You will be tested on numbers and operations, geometry, algebra and functions, statistics, data analysis, and probability. Even if math is not your strongest subject, you will have time to improve your knowledge and ability in it before writing the SAT. Learning mathematics is the same as any skill. The more time and effort you spend on improving your skills, the better you will become at them.

Do not compare yourself to others who are seemingly better in mathematics or English than you. Compare your ability today to what it was yesterday. If you have improved, and you keep improving, you will soon become proficient enough in your studies to achieve a good score when writing the SAT.

The last section, Critical Reading, will test your ability in English. You will be tested on sentence-level reading, vocabulary, and critical reading. You will be expected to understand the difference word choice makes in a sentence, find the meaning behind passages provided to you in the test, and more. If you have trouble with critical reading in class, you should hire a tutor or academic coach to help identify your problems and then create a plan to overcome them. Critical thinking is an essential skill that will benefit you for your entire life and it is a skill that you want to keep sharp.

A fourth section, the optional Essay, is included at the end of the SAT. While it is optional, if you choose to complete it, you will have 50 minutes to complete the Essay section. To prepare for this section, you will have to feel comfortable when completing the Critical Readings and Writing sections of the SAT. If you are not able to critically understand an essay, or your use of the English language is sub-optimal, you may not achieve the score you want on the essay section. The new SAT essay asks students to analyze an argument, as opposed to the previous SAT in which students only had to create an argument.

Studying for the SAT

When not in class or being tutored, some of the best educational resources available today are found online or at the library. If your English-language skills are not up to par, consider reading more high-level books. Books from academic presses are a great resource to internalize and intuitively increase your understanding of English language conventions, grammar, syntax, and word choice. Read books by the great American authors like Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Mary Shelley, and James Joyce. If you need help with mathematics, Khan Academy is a great resource, along with S.O.S. Math, and Interactive Mathematics.

Every piece of knowledge you need when taking the SAT will have been taught to you from grades 9 to 12. However, most students opt to take the SAT during their 11th year, in order to prepare to take the test again if they do not achieve the scores they want. This is a crucial point that also applies to the ACT. You should take the tests earlier than you may want to, to ensure that a negative score does not blemish your college admissions package and to give yourself enough time to achieve a score that you are happy with.

On the other hand, if your grades are good and your resume is impressive, your college of choice may admit you with the requirement that you raise your testing scores. Whether you should take the test early, or repeat it, depends on your situation. Speak with an academic coach for more personalized advice and to find out what strategy is best for you.


The ACT varies slightly from the SAT. However, it is crucial you do well in this standardized test if you plan on including your scores in your college admittance proposal.

With the exception of a Science section, which the SAT does not include, the ACT similarly consists of an English section, a Mathematics section, and a Reading section.

You will get 45 minutes to complete the English section (75 Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)), 60 minutes to complete the Mathematics section (60 MCQs), 35 minutes to complete the Reading section (40 MCQs), and 35 minutes to complete the Science section (40 MCQs).

Compared to the SAT, it may seem easier to complete the ACT because every question is multiple choice, but it may not be for you. MCQs are simply a different type of question, which require a different kind of test preparation. For MCQs, you will need to know your concepts inside and out. Partial knowledge about something that is being tested may lead you to choose the wrong answer, due to your gaps in knowledge. While the ACT is not trying to trick you, you may not be able to accurately answer the questions on it without understanding the concepts fully beforehand and being able to recall them on the test.

While the ACT includes an optional Writing section at the end, which consists of an essay, you may be required to complete the essay and achieve a good score in order to be admitted to your college of choice. Colleges and universities may explicitly require you to complete this section. Even if they do not, you may want to complete it anyways because a good score will improve your college admissions package. Unlike the SAT essay, the ACT essay is based on persuasion, which makes it easier to write since the evidence only has to be effective, not factually accurate.

For more tips on how to prepare for standardized tests, as well as how to achieve a great score on the SAT and ACT, hire an student coach today.

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