Last-Minute SAT and ACT Prep
By Chris Diehl
Test day is almost here, but there’s still time to study. Whether you’re well-prepared, semi-prepared or not at all prepared, we have several last-minute prep strategies that can help you boost your score.
Note: SAT deducts points for incorrect answers but there is no penalty for questions left blank. The ACT does not deduct points for incorrect answers. What this means for you: On the SAT, if you don’t know the answer to a question, just leave it blank. On the ACT, if you don’t know the answer to a question, you are better off guessing than leaving the question blank.
Your Preparedness Level: “SAT? What SAT?”
Obviously, there’s no time to take a prep course. But don’t give up – you can still maximize your chances of a decent score.
- With limited time, the best way to prepare is to use an SAT or ACT review book (available at bookstores or your guidance counselor’s office). These books usually have at least one sample SAT/ACT, as well as actual test questions or realistic simulations. They also provide explanations for the correct answers.
- Take a sample SAT or ACT test before you begin studying. This will give you a base score to measure your improvement against. It will also point out your strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to focus your study efforts. Take notice of the concepts, format and directions required for each section.
- Create a detailed study schedule that outlines the sections you will cover each day. Plan to review one to two sections each day. Allow at least one day prior to the test for focused review on your weakest areas (for example, sentence completion or geometry).
- Take at least two more sample tests before the actual test day. Pay attention to the types of questions you’re spending the most time answering. On test day, you should consider answering those questions last. Tip: Don’t spend more than four minutes on any single question.
Your Preparedness Level: Studied a Bit, but Could Use More Help
- Several days before the actual exam, take a sample SAT or ACT, and review the explanations for those questions you answered incorrectly.
- Make flashcards for common SAT/ACT vocabulary words (lists are available online at a variety of Web sites) and basic math formulas and concepts. Keep the flashcards with you and study whenever you get the chance – waiting for a red light, standing in line at stores, lunch break.
- Practice the “process of elimination.” Test questions always have one to two answers that are clearly wrong. A test prep book will explain how to spot the obviously incorrect answers. If you don’t know the right answer to a question, recognizing the wrong answers can improve your odds of guessing correctly.
Your Preparedness Level: Been Studying Hard
Here’s how to keep up your study momentum as the big day approaches:
- Several days before the actual exam, take a sample SAT or ACT. Pay attention to the types of questions on which you spend the most time, and devise a strategy for tackling them on test day. Do you want to spend one minute solving it before moving on? Two minutes? Or do you want to skip it entirely and go back to it after you’ve completed the rest of the section? Figure out your strategy now – don’t wait until test day.
- If you took a test prep course, review any notes you made that can help you on test day.
Before Test Day:
- Confirm the test’s starting time and location. If you’re not 100 percent sure where the test center is located, call and ask for directions. (Do this during the week; on the weekend, there might not be anybody answering the phone.)
The Morning of the Test:
- As a warm-up, answer about 10 questions on a practice test; it doesn’t matter which section. This will help you relax and get you into the test-taking mode. DON’T try to study or cram, however – that will only stress you out more.