When you're applying to colleges, you want each school to see the real you: all the passions, achievements, and strengths that make up a complete picture of who you actually are. But the sad truth is that this holistic picture is always going to be overshadowed by a handful of numbers that are supposed to sum up your academic potential. You need those numbers to be telling the same story you want colleges to see.
How do you make that happen?
Choose Your Best Test
In theory, you could keep taking both the SAT and ACT over and over again throughout the year and then send your best scores to colleges. However, because these two tests are so different, it's better to choose one to focus on. If you've already taken each test or a reliable diagnostic mock test, you can compare your results. While the score scales are quite different, you can easily use percentiles to determine which test you're performing better on.
If you're doing better on the ACT, don't get distracted by trying to bring up your SAT score at the same time. By all means, experiment with both tests at first, but once you've determined which one gives you a better shot, go all in on it. Learn the strategies and techniques appropriate to that test, and practice as much as you can!
Practice in a Simulated Environment
You don't want test day to feel like a scary, high-pressure event. You want to walk in confidently, knowing exactly what it's going to be like.
If you do all your test practice lying in your bed at home, or answering a few questions on your phone in between TikTok breaks, you're not going to be prepared for the reality of the 3-4 hour mental marathon you're about to undertake.
Don't get me wrong, working on practice problems without time pressure can be helpful, especially if you're taking the opportunity to look at each problem from multiple angles and figuring out the most efficient method.
But if you never take full timed practice tests under simulated conditions, you'll risk having an unrealistic approach to problems that require speed, and you won't be prepared for the test of endurance.
At the very least, you need to take 2 full timed mock tests under realistic simulated conditions within the 2 or 3 months before the test.
Focus on Your Weak Spots
We often hear that mistakes are actually learning experiences. This is only half true; they're learning opportunities.
Let's say you're playing Fortnite. (For the sake of this example, it's okay if you've never played it. I actually haven't either, but I figure I know how video games work, so I'm just going to BS my way through this example.) You're exploring, staying on the move, trying not to get killed, when across a broad clearing, you see a rocket launcher. Cool!
But if you never actually go over there and get it, you still don't have a rocket launcher. You've just got, what, pruning shears?
In the same way, making a mistake on a practice test is an awesome opportunity, but only if you follow through. If you figure out exactly why you missed that one problem (Vocabulary? Dropping a negative?) and start practicing the habit or concept that you're missing, then you won't make that same mistake again, and you'll probably add points to your score.
Don't leave those points on the table. Keep an organized list of every reason why you've missed a problem in the past, and make sure you're practicing consistently in those areas.
hIf you think about test day as the end-all-be-all of your whole future, you're not going to do your best. Take it easy! Yes, this is important, and that's why you're putting so much effort into preparing. But listen, it's not life or death (even if your parents say it is).
Test day is not an all-or-nothing, one-shot event. You can take the ACT or SAT again! And for a lot of schools, you can mix and match section scores from different test dates to present only your best results.
Try to go into the test with a spirit of detachment: whatever happens, happens. Paradoxically, the less you care about your score while you're testing, the better you're going to do.
Now I know that's easier said than done. You can't just magically forget how much the score really does matter. But you can shift your attention to other aspects of the experience. Believe it or not, test prep is not just an exercise in jumping through pointless hoops. It actually has a lot of relevance to real life, and if you've done it right, you've learned key problem-solving skills like lateral thinking and structural analysis.
As you take the test, monitor your own thinking and notice yourself using those techniques that you've learned over the past months. If your focus is on celebrating your own success, you can relegate your anxiety about scores to the background and just drop into the flow.
If you're following these guidelines for effective preparation, you're going to get the best score you can!
We'll keep sharing more ideas and encouragement as test day approaches. Check back in soon or like us on Facebook to be sure you don't miss out.
Again, you can actually still register later, but why pay $50 extra?
It will take about half an hour to complete the registration. The SAT photo requirements are similar to those for the ACT.
Register at collegeboard.org.
October 1 - FAFSA opens for application
This isn't a deadline, but you should pretend it is. Filing early means that your scholar may get access to more aid, since some colleges award aid on a first-come first-serve basis. They'll also receive their Student Aid Report earlier, so you'll have a clear sense of where they stand.
(The one caveat here is that if you know your 2020 income will be substantially less than it was in 2019, you might need to contact the schools' financial aid offices to have your true current income considered.)
Here's a poem to inspire you:
Don't wait till June of 2021.
Just grit your teeth and get the FAFSA done!
Of course, there's a lot more to it! The SAT and ACT are offered throughout the year. And there are plenty of other activities along the way, some of which can be planned more flexibly (such as visiting colleges, meeting with counselors, and enrolling in test prep).
A good way to stay aware of these activities and other deadlines would be to like our Facebook page. We'll be sharing current information and insights all year!
So you got your PSAT score back, and don’t love it. You know that next to your GPA, the most important thing for getting into the college you want and getting scholarships is your SAT score, and you’re not sure this number is going to cut the mustard.
Please don't worry. Your PSAT score does not seal your fate. It’s a fairly accurate prediction of how you will score if you don’t lift a finger to prepare between now and March 14.
But you’re going to lift a finger. In fact, you’re going to lift your whole hand right now, fist clenched and shaking at the sky and vowing to the high heavens that you WILL see at least a 100 point increase in your score. Say it with me: “I can and will crush the SAT in March!”
Here’s the plan:
Drill the Skills
Compared with the massive truckloads of information that gets unloaded on your poor brain in high school, the list of skills you really need to do well on the SAT is pretty manageable. In math, you won’t need to differentiate any functions or calculate any inverse cosines or do any of a hundred other things you learn in precal. In English, you don’t have to identify any quotations from Shakespeare or (blech) journal your “responses” to literature.
There is a finite list of core skills that you need to know, and you’ve probably been exposed to every one of them before at some point. Maybe you didn’t learn all of these perfectly when they were first introduced, but with a few hours of consistent, structured practice every week, you can master them.
Remember, this is all stuff you’re almost certainly going to actually use, not just on the SAT, but in your high school and college classes!
Know How to Practice
The only way to get better at taking the SAT is to keep taking the SAT.
Luckily, that doesn’t mean you have to sign up for every test date from now to December hoping to get better each time. There are ten full, official practice tests available online or in the very inexpensive Official SAT Study Guide (which you need to get ASAP).
But just taking these tests one after the other isn’t going to help. You need to use them intelligently. Trial and error only works if you take the time to process the errors and actually change your approach the next time.
Every improvement you make in your skills and your approach to the test will come by recognizing a weakness and turning it into a strength. But first you have to see the weakness.
So don’t move on to the Practice Test 2 until you’ve analyzed every question you missed on Practice Test 1, and can honestly explain why you got the wrong answer and state in very clear and specific terms exactly what you need to do differently next time. The answers in the back of the Official Study Guide can (sometimes) be very helpful in this process!
Once you know what you need to change, make a list of positive, specific, repeatable actions that you will apply to the next practice test. This is your Green Light list and you'll have it with you as you take the next practice test. It might look something like this for the reading section:
Your list might be different. Maybe it will have fewer skill-based Green Lights (like #2) and more psychological ones (like #4). Maybe it’ll be a longer or shorter list. It’s unique for you because it’s your own personal guide to exactly what you need to change.
Quick and Dirty "Secrets"
Purveyors of fat, expensive test prep books would like you think that there’s a black book of sneaky secrets that will effortlessly add hundreds of points to your score.
Yes, there are a few simple tactics that can make a significant difference. But you probably already know the most important ones, and if you don’t, you can find them via a simple web search. Things like avoiding extreme statements, using process of elimination to make an educated guess, and trial and error using the answer choices—none of these things are actually secrets.
And you’ll hit a point of diminishing returns on this approach pretty quickly.
Don’t get overwhelmed wading through hundreds of finicky, conflicting “secret keys” to the test. Just focus on those proven techniques.
Don't Go It Alone
The idea of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” sounds brave and noble until you actually think about the image. Just consider the physics: when you lift something, you’re also pushing down against your point of leverage by that same effort. So if you pull up on your own bootstraps, you’re not going anywhere.
You’re trying to overcome your own limitations. And that’s not something to be undertaken without help.
You make progress only through a consistent, repeated cycle of commitment, accountability, and reality. A trusted ally can be your point of leverage for all three. If you make a promise to someone else that you’re going to follow through on this, that’s a much more powerful commitment than a promised made to yourself. If you’re in it together, they’ll be there to hold you accountable. And when you can’t see past your own strengths and weaknesses, they can give you that dose of reality to help you see the next steps.
Maybe it’s a study group. Maybe it’s a tutor. Or you can team up with a reliable partner.
“Reliable” is the key word. Think of your most dependable friend and invite them to join you on the way. Tag or email them with a link to this page and let them know you’re excited to get the killer score you know you can accomplish.
Now go get that score!