With fall flying by, the SATs and ACTs are very much on high school juniors’ minds. The exams are a major source of stress for students, which is why Millennial expert Chelsea Krost weighs in, discussing her experiences and insights on the standardized tests. From choosing which exam to take to preparing, Chelsea shares her perspective on how to take on the tests without feeling consumed by them.
Guest Post: Tips For Surviving The SAT And ACT Tests
I can still remember the night before I took my first SAT test. As I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed, I could start to feel my heart thumping in my chest, my clammy hands gripping the toothbrush. Red hives suddenly appeared all over my chest.
I had studied with a tutor for months, yet I was petrified about taking the SAT. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I had been in school for over 10 years and so little of what I learned was going to be on the actual test. The fact is, I was never a good test taker. Projects, papers, and presentations were always more my speed. I kept thinking, “How can college acceptance be determined by a SAT score? That’s NOT fair.”
The next day, my nerves got the best of me and although I managed to get through the test, I did not do as well as I wanted to. The great thing about the SAT is that you can take it several times. After I received my score, I knew I needed to do something different the next time around. I started to educate myself on the ACT and soon realized it was a much better fit for me. It is very important to educate yourself on which test is right for you. The SAT is wordy and requires test takers to have a high level of vocabulary knowledge, whereas the ACT is the more straightforward of the two and the questions are easier to understand after the first read. With the SAT on the other hand, you may need to spend time figuring out what you’re being asked before you can start answering the problem.
The SAT, is broken up into 10 sections with intertwining subjects, and there’s a required essay at the beginning. When choosing between the SAT and ACT, ask yourself if moving back and forth between content areas confuses you or keeps you energized. The ACT has an optional writing section. Moreover, if science is a strong subject for you, the ACT may be a better fit as it includes science, where the SAT does not. In addition to basic arithmetic, algebra I and II, and geometry, the ACT tests your knowledge of trigonometry, too. However, the ACT math section is not necessarily harder. These two tests are just set up differently and, as I mentioned, the ACT offers more straight-orward questions compared to the lengthy ones often found in the SAT.
College admissions officers care about how you did on each section of the SAT. On the ACT, they focus their attention on your composite score, meaning, if you are weak in one subject area but strong in others, you could still end up with a very good ACT score. This worked to my benefit; after taking the ACT twice and learning key tips along the way, I finally got the score I wanted. I decided that I wasn’t going to let the test “take me,” rather I was going to take the test. With that being said, I studied and took several practice tests, and learned key tips to help me nail the score I needed.
For students who will be taking either test, I suggest you take as many practice exams as you can. Get yourself a copy of either The Official SAT Study Guide 2nd Edition, or The Real ACT Prep Guide (CD) 3rd Edition. These books use actual test questions from prior exams. For those of you who excel with private assistance, you can find a personal SAT/ACT tutor who can work with you leading up to the test. There are also many programs that you can find online to help you as well: Huntington, Sylvan Learning, and Kaplan Test Prep to name a few.
When taking the test, use your time wisely. It’s easy to get stuck on an individual question and lose valuable testing time. If you find yourself particularly stumped on an answer, skip the question and return to it later. Make the most of your time by concentrating on the questions you can answer easily. The SAT’s scoring formula was created to penalize you for incorrect answers. You will lose more points for answering a question incorrectly than you will for not answering it at all. It is important to answer all of the questions in each section of the ACT exam. Students are awarded points for each question they answer correctly, and no points are deducted for incorrect answers. Even if you feel the need to guess on a question, remember, you will not be penalized if you get it wrong. I was taught to skip over the questions that I had the most trouble with, then at the end of the test, quickly check what letter I bubbled in the least for that section, and then pick that letter to bubble the rest of your blank answers.
Be mindful of the clock, but don’t let it cause you to get the jitters during the test. Be aware of how much time you have during each section. You want to make sure to fill in every question that you may have skipped. As simple as this piece of advice may seem, it can make a big difference in your test score. Make sure to read the directions for each question carefully. Each question could ask for you to do something different, so be sure to pay attention to what it is asking.
Make sure to eat “brain food” for dinner and breakfast. You need to fuel your brain in order for it to work best. Foods like blueberries, salmon, mixed nuts, coffee, avocado, eggs, dark chocolate, and peppermint are highly effective for the brain and will help improve memory, mood, concentration, and overall clarity. Definitely do not skip breakfast the day of the test! You will also get a twenty-minute break during the exam, so make sure to pack a snack to reboot your brain.
Last, but certainly not least, remember the most important thing is to take deep breaths. As it turns out, deep breathing is not only relaxing, but it also has been scientifically proven to positively affect the heart, the brain, digestion, and the immune system. It is common for some people to hold their breath during a time of stress or anxiety. I actually spoke to myself throughout the entire time of preparing for and taking the test, and it is okay for you to do so as well. You have to be your own support system and source of strength to get through this challenge.
When all is said and done, I highly recommend that you try to remain quiet about your test scores. It may become a source of competition and jealousy amongst your friends, so it is best to keep the results to yourself and be happy with your own hard work. Before you know it, you will be looking back at your experience of taking the SAT or ACT and feeling accomplished.
Good luck and remember…don’t let the test take you… you take the test!