How to Ace the SAT and ACT

Simarn Regmi, CollegeFindMe Intern

It seems like people won’t stop talking about the SAT and ACT. For some reason a 1600 or 36 are the most important numbers for a high schooler, even though the numbers themselves don’t seem to make a lot of sense. That’s because these tests are not like any test you’ve taken before – but that doesn’t mean they have to be scary. Like most things in high school and college, these tests just require some practice, focus, and time management skills. Luckily, we’re here to share some tips we’ve learned along the way to help you prepare.

Try it out

It’s helpful to take the SAT, ACT, or pre-test before your senior year just to try it out. They’re big and challenging, but once you go through the real deal the first time, you’ll know what it’s like and won’t have to focus on the “unknowns” anymore. Also, when you get your score back, you can identify which subjects you’re strongest in, and which ones you need to work on.

Study consistently

Studying one time before the test will not prepare you. SATs, ACTs, and standardized tests do not measure your intelligence, but rather how many questions you can correctly answer in a short period of time. Often, they will try to trick you with their wording, so the best way to overcome confusion is to understand the test inside and out. Work slowly and steadily over several months to build up your understanding, rather than tackling it all at once. It can also help to take full length practice tests so you can build up endurance as well.

A really good tool to plan out your studying is Khan Academy, where they can help you understand what areas of the test you should focus on. The platform gives you freedom to plan according to your schedule and you can always sneak in a little practice whether you are on your way to work, school, on the train, etc.


It is proven that reading makes you smarter and exercises your brain, and it especially comes in the reading sections, which contain hefty non-fiction and historical texts that can be a lot to take in. Try to read more nonfiction articles and familiarize yourself with their structure so that when the big day comes, you’re ready to go.

Recognize your mistakes

After taking practice tests and seeing where you went wrong, it is crucial to not be discouraged by your mistakes, but to learn from them instead. On Khan Academy, when you get your results back, they break down the problem when showing you the right answer. Additionally, if you do not understand a concept, they have videos with tutorials and walk through examples that range from easy, medium, and hard.

Challenge yourself

When practicing, don’t just stick with the easiest questions. You definitely don’t have to dive into the “hard” section head-first, but you can work your way up each week or until you think you can handle more intense problems. You are doing yourself a disservice if you just practice with easy problems that you are already familiar with. When you push yourself to tackle advanced problems over time, you’ll be ready for any curveballs on test day.

Time management

On the SAT and ACT, every question is worth the same amount of points, so if you get stuck, move on. Focus first on the questions you can confidently answer to boost your score, and then come back to the tougher questions. Even if you still don’t know the answer, use process of elimination to get rid of wrong answers and improve your chances of guessing correctly.

You’ve got this!

Believe in yourself, even though it can be hard and you might not feel the best about these tests. Just know that at the end of the day, you are not a number. While we can’t ignore the seriousness of standardized tests, remember that in no way do they measure your intelligence or what you can achieve. Be ready to roll your sleeves up and work on your critical ready and time management skills, but also don’t forget that confidence and a clear head can take you far, both in the testing room and in all of high school. Good luck, and remember that these tests are just one of many paths to college!

Your SAT/ACT Prep Guide

Jay KC, CollegeFindMe Intern

The SAT and ACT can be stressful exams for a student can take, and combining that with regular schoolwork is a recipe for high-level stress. Here is some advice on how you can handle them both.

Keep a calendar

A lot of people find keeping a calendar excessive or tedious, but it can actually be a great way to manage your time. A calendar is especially useful because it helps you physically lay out your day and keeps you in check. I’m someone that is pretty forgetful, so looking at a calendar that says “Study for SAT 6:00-8:00” is a simple reminder to stay on top of my goals. Even better, make sure to turn on notifications or download one of the many apps that can help you remember to study.

Don’t procrastinate

While it might seem easier, procrastination can really hurt your progress. You have to manage your schoolwork and test prep efficiently, but procrastination can force you to rush and eventually cause you more stress than if you had just worked consistently from the beginning. Preparing for these tests can feel like a lot, so be sure to break it into smaller pieces that you can check off of your to-do list and feel more productive. Also be sure to reward yourself as you cross more things off your list – this will keep you motivated!


This is one of the most important things to do when it comes to handling the SAT and ACT with school. It is likely that school and standardized testing aren’t the only two things taking up your time. Sports, jobs, after-school clubs, volunteering, and family can fill up your schedule, so make sure to come up with an action plan of what needs the most work. If you’re struggling with the essay portion, set aside time specifically dedicated to your writing skills, even if it means holding off on other activities for a little while. 


Of course, studying is one of the most important parts of this process. You have to know how to study efficiently and effectively. The SAT and ACT cover a broad range of topics spanning from 9th-12th grade, and it is difficult to go over all of that information in depth. The best way to go through this is by taking a few practice tests to figure out what areas you are struggling in, and then devoting your attention there. 


Relaxing is one of the most important parts of handling the SAT and ACT while in school. While both school and standardized tests are important, neither should force you to sacrifice your mental health. Besides, in taking care of your mind, you’re setting yourself up for success further down the road. These tests aren’t everything, so don’t overwork yourself to get the best score possible. Try your best, but don’t forget that you are so much more than any test score, and colleges know that. 

When you get your score, be sure to add them to your CollegeFindMe profile, but remember that these scores are only one piece in a much larger puzzle that can help you stand out to schools. 

Breaking Down the ACT

Jeremy Caldwell ‘19, Tufts University

The ACT is one of two main standardized tests that most colleges might ask for when applying. It’s not as popular as the SAT, but it could be a better choice for you to take. Let’s review the format of the ACT.


The ACT is split into five sections (four required sections and one optional essay), each of which is graded on a scale from 1-36. The first four sections are then averaged together to get one overall score from 1-36. You can’t lose points on the ACT for getting a wrong answer.


For the English section, you have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions. If that seems like a lot, that’s because the ACT focuses more on time management and quick thinking than the SAT. Each of the questions in this section is multiple choice with 4 answer choices. 

The questions in this section are organized into 5 sets of 15 questions, each following a short reading passage. The questions will focus mostly on grammar and punctuation, with some questions about sentence structure and word choice. For this section, it’s helpful to study how to combine sentence clauses, proper use of punctuation (:;-,), verb conjugations, and transition words between sentences/paragraphs, since these are the most common types of questions. 


Next is the math section, where you have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions. While all questions are worth the same, the math section is organized in order of difficulty, so make sure to leave time for the end of this section since those questions will probably take longer to answer. This section is also multiple choice, but there are 5 answer choices for each question. 

About one third of the questions in this section will involve modelling, or interpreting diagrams and graphs. The questions are split fairly evenly between different areas of math: numbers, algebra, geometry, functions, and statistics.


After the English and Math sections, you’ll be given a short break. Now is a great time to run to the bathroom, stretch your legs, and have a snack. No matter what, don’t just stay at your desk. There are still three sections to go, so take the chance to move around and clear your head. You’ve got this!


The Reading section might seem pretty similar to the English section, but it focuses more on your reading comprehension skills. You’ll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions, split between 4 reading passages. Like the English section, each question is multiple choice with 4 options.

Most of the questions will focus on key ideas and details from the readings, so circle anything that stands out while reading. Some questions will also focus on the technical aspects of the writing, like the structure of the passage. You may also be asked to compare two shorter passages. 

Unlike the SAT, the ACT doesn’t focus much on difficult vocabulary. There might be vocabulary questions in the Reading section, but they’ll be based on words in the passage that you can define using context clues.


Like the Reading section, you’ll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. If science isn’t your favorite subject, don’t worry. Most of these questions focus on interpreting graphs and data, not memorizing concepts or formulas; many will also involve more close reading, which is why it’s paired with the Reading section. 

Each question will be multiple choice with 4 options, and will be split fairly evenly among different sciences like geology, biology, chemistry, and physics. About a quarter of the questions will also involve the scientific method. For example, you might have to read a paragraph and figure out the hypothesis and methods. 


If you aren’t doing the writing section, you’re done – congratulations! If not, you only have 40 minutes to go, but make sure to stretch your hand. 


The Writing section is your last push, and focuses on your ability to make an argument and defend it. You’ll be given three passages that discuss different perspectives on a contemporary issue. Then, you’ll have 40 minutes to write your own perspective and connect it to at least one of the other perspectives. 

While you’ll be graded on the quality of writing and the organization of your argument, students tend to do better in this section when they discuss two or three of the perspectives and how they connect to each other. Even if you disagree with a perspective, mention how it might be connected to yours and what you can learn from it, or why you might disagree with it. This shows that you thought critically about several perspectives before offering your own.

Key takeaways

The ACT might seem like a lot to process, but think of it like a time management test, like multiplication tables. Every question is worth the same, so start by answering the ones that feel easier to you. Then take your time with the remaining questions – some of the sections offer you clues to the right answers, so look closely at questions and passages. Most importantly, pace yourself. This test is long, but you’ll get through it if you stay focused! As with any other test, practice can also be one of the best ways to get ahead. Check out some test prep options here. As long as you stay organized and get familiar with the structure of the ACT, you’ll be able to enter the test room feeling confident!