ACT and SAT Tips to Improve Your Score

Periodically we put up guest posts from trusted sources who offer what we think is good advice for our readers. Here's one from our friends at Magoosh Test Prep. Enjoy!

Are you taking the ACT or SAT? Or have you not decided on which test to take yet? Either way, I have some tips that can help you do well on either of America’s two undergrad college entrance exams.

Take Full Length Mock Test

What’s your current  test performance like? And what do you still need to study? Maybe you’re planning the start of your test prep, or maybe you’re mid-prep and trying to figure out what to do next. In either case, a full-length practice test is the best way to go. Try this free mock SAT on for size, or go for this full-length practice ACT as the case may be.

And don’t just stop at one. The ACT and SAT both offer official mock tests in their official guides and on their official websites. Take advantage of that! Be sure to take multiple practice tests during prep, so you can gauge your progress regularly.

Know Your Math Content

Math on the SAT and ACT is all about content. To give one example, you should know specific math operations, such as FOIL, the multiplication of the first, inside, outside, and last numbers to get the value of a quadratic. (Also know what a quadratic is!) Know formulas as well, whether it’s the formula for calculating statistical mean or finding the area of a circle. While skill is important in SAT and ACT Math, without committing a lot of academic content to memory, your skill won’t get you far.

Build Your Reading Comprehension Skills

In contrast to the math of these two tests, ACT/SAT Reading are really about skill and strategy rather than content. Learn to skim and scan passages for important information. Memorize words only to a certain point; it’s far more important to know how to infer the meaning of words than to simply know the dictionary definitions of words. Pay attention to pacing and develop good approaches to time management; a full passage on one of these exams can eat up your time far more easily than a word problem or equation can.

For ACT English or SAT Writing & Language, Balance Instinct with Knowledge

If you are native English speaker or an advanced ESL student, you’re ready for ACT English or SAT Writing & Language. These two very similar test sections are really designed for students who are comfortable with English and have some intuition about what “sounds” right in a sentence.

Remember, however, that your instincts can trick you. We all speak or hear English far more than we write or read it. The rules for written English and the very structure of English writing are not the same as those for speaking. So when something “sounds” wrong to you as you read it in your head, treat that as merely the first step toward deciding if it is wrong.

Learn how to attach specific rules to your instincts for good and bad English sentences. And if you can’t find a specific reason a bad-sounding answer is wrong, be open to marking it correct. Sometimes your language instincts can misfire on these exams, and a good knowledge of the rules is the best way to test your instincts.

Author: David Racine is an SAT and ACT expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau. He has been teaching K-12, university, and test prep classes since 2007, and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life.