How can I maximize my standardized tests scores? By Azusa Ueno

You might feel like your SAT or ACT is looming right around the corner. What to do? First, don’t panic. Second, read ahead for some tips to maximize your success, regardless of which of these two standardized tests you take.  


General Tips: Practice makes permanent!


Plan ahead and schedule your practices

Schedule tests regularly but carefully plan out the number of mock tests that you have. You don’t want to go into the last month of practice with no fresh tests left. Below is a sample 4-month plan leading up to the test. You may need to adjust it based on your needs and timeline. Just remember that consistent, meaningful practice is key. 


4 months from test date: Bi-weekly mock

3 months from test date: Bi-weekly mock

2 months from test date: Weekly mock

1 month from test date: Weekly mock



Review thoughtfully

After you’ve taken each mock, review your answers rather than just marking them as right or wrong–this is crucial so you don’t wind up practicing wrong methods (and making those permanent). Here are some helpful questions that can guide you. You may want to create your own practice log with them:


  1. What type of question(s) did I get wrong? Is there a perceptible pattern of questions that I keep missing?
  2. Which reading passage did I find really hard or struggle with?
  3. Did I actively use the process of elimination and cross out specific incorrect words and phrases in each answer choice?
  4. Did I make careless errors (didn’t read carefully) or more fundamental ones (didn’t comprehend the question, concept, or answer choice)?


Actively use the answers to these questions to figure out what you should work on and be aware of the next time around. 


SAT Reading Tips


Questions are generally asked in sequential order of the passage: 

Keeping in mind that the questions appear mostly in order will help you narrow down your search for textual evidence. 

Aside from the first couple of questions about the passage as a whole, the rest of the answers to the questions will generally appear by line order of where the answer appears. For instance, if the answer to question 3 is in line 18, then the answer to question 4 is probably going to be found after line 18. We can apply this idea on a larger scale, too. If you’re looking for the answer to the last question of a passage in the first couple of paragraphs, then you’re probably looking in the wrong place.


Don’t stress over not understanding every phrase: 

The SAT reading is designed to be challenging. It’s almost never worth your time to attempt to completely understand every single phrase in the passage. Instead, get a good idea of what’s going on generally and then only search for a deeper understanding when a particular question asks for it.


Find the right articles to read outside of the test itself: 

Don’t know where to start? Go to the introduction of each passage! SAT will always cite the author and book/article from where an excerpt is taken. You can read other parts of these articles or the entire ones–this might familiarize you with particular writing and passage styles. 


SAT Grammar Tips


Know the concepts and how to apply them

You should get to the point where you can determine right off the bat what concept(s) each question tests. Once you do that, you will have a path forward to see what specific rules have been violated and how to rectify the issues. Here are some of the most common issues tested:


  • Sentence Structure
  • Punctuation
  • Pronouns
  • Transitions
  • Add or Delete
  • Sentence Placement


And what about the ACT?


Remember that about 95% of the concepts tested overlap between the ACT and SAT. (The grammar sections are identical; reading and math sections are fairly similar).  The most obvious differences are the following: 


The ACT is only offered online 

There are no paper tests administered any longer outside the U.S., so make sure you practice online. Here are some options:


  • Try a computer-based simulation here
  • Obtain a PDF copy of a mock ACT, but do not print it out. This will not simulate the actual testing conditions as closely as the option above, but it will at least get you used to looking at the test on a computer screen.
  • Find more practice sets here


The ACT has a science section that the SAT does not have

When we say science, we really should say “science”–it is more a combination of reading and graphical analysis skills as well as time management. You really don’t need to know anything highly specific about subjects like Chemistry, Physics, or Biology to master this section. Instead, get a grip on the general format as well as how to quickly and accurately locate information in a graph or table.