10 Tips to Ace the SAT and ACT

Students in the middle of preparing for college have a lot going on in their lives. From performing well academically to maximizing their extracurriculars to working on college applications, there’s no denying that time is in short supply. 


So when it comes to studying for the SAT or ACT, efficiency is key. Overwhelmed students must have an efficient and effective plan—whether they are self-studying or working with a tutor


Here are ten of our best tips for getting students off to a great start and on the road to acing the SAT or ACT.


1. Use real materials 

When selecting resources for studying, students should always prioritize using genuine SAT and ACT materials, which can be found on the SAT and ACT websites or in physical books. 


Many competitors have come up with their own versions of test materials that are similar but not identical to the real thing. These approximations simply won’t provide as much value as the real test materials. 


2. Start with a diagnostic test

We always recommend taking full-length diagnostic tests for both the SAT and ACT. For one thing, diagnostic tests help students determine which test to focus their energy on. (Hint: colleges don’t prefer one test over the other!) 


While the PSAT and the PreACT can be useful, they are shorter and slightly different than full-length tests and should not replace full-length diagnostic tests. 


Students can find free diagnostic tests on the official test websites and time their performance themselves or get in touch with Signet to set up diagnostic testing for them. 


3. Know your goal score and how you want to get there

There are a couple of factors to consider when deciding on a goal score. One is to have reasonable expectations. After completing diagnostic tests and choosing between the SAT and ACT, students can begin thinking about how much they can realistically boost their score. 


A potential score increase varies from one student to the next. Signet’s SAT and ACT test prep tutors can help students analyze their diagnostic tests and determine a reasonable goal score—and how to achieve it. 


It’s also important to consider the ultimate goal: the colleges a student hopes to attend. Look up the score ranges on college websites and see what target score is required for a student to have a good shot at acceptance.  


4. Set up a study plan 

Once a student has established their goal score and is ready to charge ahead, it’s time to set up a study plan. Start by looking up the established test dates for the SAT or ACT, and mark those dates on the calendar. We recommend planning for at least two test sittings, so be sure to fit two test dates into the schedule.


To have enough runway to prepare for the tests, students should begin studying at least two months before the first test—though the exact time can vary depending on how much work is needed to attain their goal score.


If, for example, a student discovered via diagnostic testing that their content knowledge is strong, but they made some careless errors or ran out of time, they can probably study for a shorter study timeframe. On the other hand, if they need to brush up on multiple concepts, they’ll need to build a longer runway before that first test. 


A big advantage of planning ahead is being able to section off studying week by week so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. Be sure to plan for practice tests along the way, as these are helpful gauges of progress. 


5. Establish a study routine

Establishing a study plan is one thing. But many students find it challenging to build in the necessary time to execute that plan!


To overcome procrastination and avoidance, establish a time-bound routine. Plan to commit two hours per week minimum to studying, splitting the time into smaller segments if needed. (Study blocks at school are perfect opportunities!) Plan each day’s work the day before—or plan a week at a time if that works better. 


When taking a practice test, try to replicate the actual test environment by taking the test on an early Saturday morning.


6. Learn how to review

Test-taking is a skill like playing a sport or an instrument—it requires practice. It’s not enough to simply learn the math concepts or understand how the English or reading sections work. Students need experience taking tests, reviewing and redoing problems, and working to answer questions under pressure. 


We advise students to keep a log book—possibly in the form of a spreadsheet. Track each practice test taken, incorrect answers in each section, and the reason for each miss (e.g., careless error, unknown concept, misreading the question). See what patterns emerge and troubleshoot strategically. 


7. Practice the right stuff 

It’s important to dedicate energy to the right study areas. Encourage your student to identify content areas that need work and fundamental problems holding them back so they can focus their attention accordingly. 


High-impact items should always be a top priority. For example, certain grammar concepts appear on the SAT and ACT repeatedly, and students must get to a point where they feel comfortable with those concepts. 


8. Practice timing 

Time is an ever-present feature of standardized tests. Some students find it works in their favor, helping them focus and stay on task. Other students feel tremendous anxiety knowing that they must work within strict time constraints. 


That’s why students need to understand their relationship to timing early in the diagnostic stage. Did they feel rushed? Did they run out of time? Were they aware of the time they spent on each section? 


During practice tests, we advise students to track how each timed section went. Did they finish on time, or were they rushed? Did they have enough time to go back and check their work?


9. Confront test anxiety 

One strategy for dealing with test anxiety is for students to think about how they feel before and after a section and jot this information down in a journal. The goal of this exercise is to identify anxiety triggers. Once those triggers have been identified, students can gradually expose themselves to that material more and more over time to build their comfort level. 


Mindfulness and meditation can also help calm students, but we recommend putting these practices in place well before the day of the test. 


10. Warm up on test day

Just like athletes stretch their bodies before taking a run, it’s a good idea for students to warm up their minds on test day. Lay out a few practice problems to do before leaving the house. No need to grade anything—the idea is to get into that test-taking zone and prepare the brain for what’s next.


Need extra support preparing for the SAT or ACT? Signet’s SAT and ACT tutoring services are tailored to help students get familiar with the format, length, and questions associated with each test. Schedule a free call to learn more

Picture of Signet Education

Signet Education

More Resources