What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and ACT?
There are some opinions out there that recommend you take Kaplan courses or other classes to help you "learn" how to take these exams. The SAT and ACT aren't easy exams, but the exams you've taken through out your schooling have prepared you for this format of a test, so don't be worried you'll be thrown a huge curve ball. The reason to avoid courses is 1.) they are costly. Often hundreds of dollars. Some people pay over a thousand for these courses and 2.) they are covering exactly the same material as can be found in a SAT/ACT study book.
First, start studying 5-8 months before the test. This gives you ample time to review the material, take a practice exam, review, practice, review, etc. Practice is what will make you better. Practice will get you a good score. Find a study book with at least 4 practice tests, run through the material in the book, reading the recommendations the book has for approaching problems. They'll often have tips and strategies followed by practice questions. Run through the book like you would a textbook. The book is your guiding-light. When you've studied a thorough amount of the material, take a practice test.
Plan your practice test for a Saturday morning or afternoon as if you were taking the real SAT or ACT. Have a hearty and healthy breakfast, get fully dressed, and sit down and take the practice test. Time yourself and limit yourself to the materials allowed in the exam in order to simulate the test. Because the SAT & ACT have a certain approach to its questions, practice will make you more familiar with the format and wording of the questions. Once you've taken your first practice exam grade it and take a couple days or a week off. Then review the materials in the front sections again. Then take the practice exam again. Repeat until you feel confident you understand the format, the flow, and the feel of the exam and its questions.
It may be draining to take the practice exam more than three times. It may seem dull, and your motivation may be low. If this happens, take some more time off. You don't want to burnout studying for the SAT or ACT, or you'll be less receptive and motivated when the test rolls along.
Good luck studying!