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.