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Techniques for ACT and SAT success

The ACT and SAT tests are designed to measure students’ aptitude in certain critical educational areas. They are used by colleges (along with other criteria) as indicators of a student’s ability to succeed at the next level and handle college coursework. 


Widely taken in the Midwest, the ACT is a standardized test used for college entry. Scored on a scale of 36, the test is broken down into four sections: Science, math, reading and English, each of which is also scored out of 36. When reviewing for admission, colleges look at students’ overall scores but may also review the sub-scores in each of the four sections. 

Lasting about 3 hours with a break in the middle, the ACT is commonly taken at local high schools, but dates and locations can be found on the ACT test website. Certain colleges require that the Writing portion of the ACT be taken as well, and students must sign up for the Writing specific ACT when registering online.

Check out these websites for more information and test prep:


The SAT is more popular on the coastal regions of the United States and is graded on a scale of 2400. It tests critical reading, writing and math, but also offers specific subject tests which some colleges and universities may ask require for admission purposes. Scored by section to combine for an overall score, the SAT has a required essay-writing portion at the beginning of the test (which  the ACT does not include).

The SAT takes about 4 hours and is often taken at local high schools. For more information on registration, location and test dates, check out the SAT website. Registration is online.

Check out these websites for more information and prep materials.

Tips for Success on the ACT/SAT

Whichever test your student is taking, it’s important to remember that the tests are high-pressure and timed. Because of this, a good breakfast, full night’s sleep, and weeks of preparation are crucial on test day. A number of test preps can be bought online or in bookstores which will allow your student to see the multiple choice set up and flow of each test.

Scoring for each test is very different. The ACT does not subtract points for incorrect answers, therefore it is better to guess on every single question. The SAT does subtract points for incorrect answers, but scores unanswered questions with a zero, therefore it is worth a guess if certain answers can be ruled out but perhaps safer to leave a question blank if completely unsure.

There is usually a break halfway through each test, but otherwise students are not allowed to leave the testing room or location. The testing rooms are silent and students are given varying forms of the test (same test, different organization) to prevent cheating.

The ACT can be taken 12 times with most students taking it 2-3 times (about 50 percent doing better the second time) whereas the SAT is suggested to be taken only twice.


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