SAT and ACT Preparation By Nina Berler As an experienced educator, I have observed an increasing demand for SAT and ACT guidance among my students, even from those who initially sought my assistance for different purposes. While I hold mixed feelings about standardized testing and acknowledge the added burden it places on students during the challenging high school years, I firmly believe that these tests can serve as valuable learning tools and confidence builders. Considering the SAT and ACT are integral parts of students’ lives, it becomes crucial to explore the most effective methods of preparation. In this article, we will delve into the realm of SAT and ACT preparation, uncovering the strategies that yield the best results. Begin with Official Testing Materials To kickstart the preparation journey, I recommend starting with the resources offered by the testing organizations themselves, namely the College Board and ACT, Inc. Although numerous test preparation materials are available in the market, why not utilize the authentic resources? I consistently advise my students to obtain the College Board’s blue books, which cater to both the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests. ACT test takers should acquire “The Real ACT Prep Guide.” Only after exhausting these official resources would I suggest incorporating supplementary materials from various publishers. It’s worth noting that the College Board’s SAT book, unfortunately, lacks answer explanations, but the Subject Tests guides compensate for this shortcoming. Explore Additional Valuable Sources In addition to the official materials, there are other remarkable sources that can enhance your preparation. Students who take the PSAT receive their original booklet back, making it a valuable study tool. For those planning to attempt the SAT or ACT multiple times, both organizations allow students to retrieve their test booklets from specific test administrations. Furthermore, the College Board and ACT offer free access to some test booklets on their respective websites. I highly recommend utilizing these resources. Personally, I am a strong advocate for utilizing the SAT and ACT Questions of the Day, as they provide daily practice opportunities. The Role of Online Resources and Apps Online resources and iPad apps can serve as excellent study aids. However, I advise students to exercise caution and avoid relying on them as their primary resources. These platforms often fail to replicate the look and feel of the actual test, preventing students from familiarizing themselves with the testing environment fully. The ability to write on the test booklet and actively engage with the material is crucial. Thus, I urge my students, especially those who possess strong mathematical abilities, to annotate their test booklets. In the Critical Reading section, writing in the test booklet helps identify main and supporting ideas, establishing connections between the text and the questions. Tailoring Preparation to Individual Needs Different sections of the SAT and ACT demand varying levels of preparation. For instance, in the case of ACT Science, it is essential for students to practice at least one complete sample section to build familiarity and develop a sense of timing. The SAT and ACT essays are manageable tasks, but I encourage students to compile a collection of influential leaders, favorite books, movies, and TV shows beforehand. This inventory enables them to express their ideas confidently under the pressure of time constraints. Unlike the ACT, the SAT incorporates vocabulary in context, specifically through sentence completions before the Reading Comprehension sections. To tackle this aspect effectively, I recommend Charles Gulotta’s “500 Words for the SAT and How to Remember Them Forever!” Despite personal preferences regarding Gulotta’s methodology, his word list proves immensely beneficial. Students should break the book into manageable components, instead of attempting to study it all at once, as experts suggest this approach facilitates optimal learning. I often suggest that rising juniors and seniors carry the book during vacations or long flights, maximizing their study time. If time permits, constructing context sentences is more effective than memorizing definitions in isolation, as it mirrors the way vocabulary appears on the SAT. Approaching SAT and ACT Preparation It is essential to recognize that every student stands to benefit from SAT and ACT preparation to some degree. While some may require personalized assistance, others can achieve considerable success through independent study. Cramming should be avoided, and the mastery of test-taking skills should not be expected during the busiest times of the academic year, such as junior year. Instead, students should adopt a gradual and proactive approach, commencing their preparation early and utilizing summers wisely. The key lies in transforming SAT and ACT prep into an enjoyable and engaging experience. In my one-on-one sessions with younger students, I often employ SAT questions to provide them with early exposure, ensuring they develop familiarity and minimize test anxiety as they progress through their academic journey. Conclusion It is crucial for students and parents to maintain perspective regarding the SAT and ACT. While these tests play an important role in the college admissions process, they are just one component of the overall package. By implementing the aforementioned preparation tips, students will develop a mindset aligned with the test makers, approaching the exams with confidence and proficiency. Remember, SAT and ACT preparation is a transformative experience that not only prepares students for these tests but also cultivates essential skills for their future academic endeavors. Nina Berler is a College Counselor and the founder of unCommon Apps. She has over 10 years of experience in helping students navigate the college admissions process.