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Tips for Navigating the SAT or ACT 

Navigating the world of standardized tests can be daunting, especially when it comes to the SAT® and ACT®. Sylvan’s Test Prep experts put together this comprehensive guide with helpful information and strategies to help your teen confidently tackle these exams and achieve their desired scores! 


Choosing Your Path: 

  1. Take Both Tests Early: Since most colleges and universities accept either SAT or ACT scores, identifying your preferred format is crucial. Taking both tests early in junior year allows your teen to compare scores and choose the one they excel at.


  2. Understanding the Differences: While both tests assess similar skills, key distinctions exist. The SAT is just over 2 hours, while the ACT is about 3 hours. The ACT has a dedicated science section, while the SAT integrates science within other sections. Additionally, the ACT offers less time per question and has four or five answer choices, while the SAT has four, slightly increasing guessing odds. Remember, the SAT is now only offered as an adaptive (by module) digital test, while the ACT is static and offered in both paper and digital formats.


  3. Retaking Strategies: Most students take the test two to three times. The first is a practice run, the second follows dedicated preparation and the third is for specific score improvement goals. If your teen takes a test in the fall of junior year, they should consider taking the test again in the spring of junior year and fall of senior year.
    Pro tip: The summer is a great time to prep and hone in on skills due to fewer academic pressures and busy after-school schedules! 

Preparation and Strategies: 

  1. Personalized Prep: Before diving into prep books, talk to your teen about their concerns. Are they struggling with actual content (like higher-level math skills) or with test-taking anxieties? Understanding their needs can help you tailor the preparation approach. Sylvan Learning offers valuable resources and experienced tutors to guide your teen no matter what their needs are!


  2. Practice Makes Perfect: It’s a good practice to start test prep 8-10 weeks before the test. We also encourage students to take plenty of practice tests. We help students analyze their results to identify areas for improvement and track progress over time. Remember, consistent practice in small chunks is more effective than cramming!


  3. Test-Taking Tips from the Pros: 
    • Know the Instructions: Familiarize yourself with each section’s instructions beforehand to save time during the exam.
    • Don’t Leave Blanks: There’s no penalty for wrong answers, so answer every question, even if you have to guess. 
    • Prioritize Efficiency: Answer the questions you know first and leave challenging ones for later. This prevents time constraints from hindering answering easier questions. 
    • Pace Yourself: Don’t get bogged down on a single question. Move on and revisit it later if time permits. 
    • Eliminate Options: Use process of elimination to narrow down answer choices, increasing your guessing accuracy. 
    • Focus on the Question: Understand what the question is truly asking before seeking the answer. 
    • Mark it Up: Highlight key points in questions and eliminate answer choices to improve focus and manage time effectively. This can easily be done on a paper test or using annotation tools on a digital test. 
    • Review and Reflect: If time allows, revisit challenging questions after completing each section.

       4. Digital Tools: If taking the SAT’s new digital test, familiarize yourself with the built-in tools to navigate the exam efficiently. 

By following these tips, students can navigate the SAT or ACT journey with confidence and achieve academic success. Remember, preparation, positive self-talk, and effective strategies are vital to conquering these tests and taking a step closer to your educational goals. 


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