You've probably seen the signs around your school saying, "Sign up now for the SAT!", "Have you registered for the PSAT?", or "How to get your ACT together: Ace the ACT". Are they talking about you? Yes! The SAT and ACT are important parts of your education and can help you get into college. Tests can already be intimidating and the pressure to earn a certain score in order to be accepted into college can make everything worse. The best way to conquer these tests is to understand what they are and why you have to take them. Here are some answers to your questions about the SAT and ACT.
What are the SAT and ACT?
The Scholastic Aptitude Test and American College Testing are standardized tests that evaluate your knowledge of math, reading, writing, and science. The tests are multiple choice questions answered with a bubble sheet. The highest score you can earn on the SAT is 1600 (800 for math and 800 for reading), and the highest for the ACT is 36. Both of these tests have optional essay sections. It is likely that you'll be expected to take the essays as well, but you can look up your college admission requirements to see if they say it is "optional" or "recommended". The scores you receive will be used to apply to college. Colleges look at these scores because they should be a good reflection of how you understand what you learn in school.
Do I have to take both tests?
Not necessarily. While you are deciding which college you would like to apply to, you can see whether they want to see SAT or ACT scores. If you are applying to multiple colleges you may want to take both.
How are these tests different from ones I take in school?
Tests in school are normally about one section you've recently covered in class. The SAT and ACT contain questions from anything you've been learning in high school. You may be asked to solve a math problem you learned about in ninth grade or a science equation you are just learning now in class. You may even be asked questions about topics you haven't covered yet. However, the tests were not created for you to fail. The more you prepare to take them, the better chance you have to succeed at them.
Do I need to prepare for the SAT or ACT? How do I prepare for them?
Yes, you do need to prepare for the tests. As mentioned above, the test could be about anything you've learned, so if you already know which subject you struggle with the most, you can eagerly study to become better at it. You will also feel pressure to do well on these tests because they are for your admission to college. You may not be used to that type of stress and it could throw you off your game. If you struggle to focus during tests, please let us know so we can teach you how to test more effectively.
Ways to help you prepare for the tests are:
Take prep classes. These classes can be done online or in person. The instructor will teach you helpful test-taking skills.
Take the pre-SAT test (PSAT). This will help give you a run through of how the test will go. The setting will be exactly the same for the SAT, so you won't be so intimidated for the real test. And with recent changes to the SAT, it has become more similar to the ACT. So taking the PSAT will help prepare for both tests if you need.
Find books with practice questions. Check with your library if they have any resources available to you. You can also find free practice questions online.
Create a study group. Don't just get together as friends, but really try to help each other out. One friend may be a math whiz, while another has read and understood classic novels. You can share study tips and support each other.
Seek a tutor. Let us know which subject(s) you have a hard time with, and we will do our best to help.
When do I take the tests?
Tests are administered throughout the year. Just remember that you need to register months in advance in order to take the test and that registration comes with a fee. You can take the tests any year of school you like, but many students wait until their junior or senior year because they will have taken more classes to help them answer more questions.
What if I get a low score on the tests?
You can retake the tests as many times as you can afford. Remember that test scores are just one part of your college application, they are not the whole picture. Having a good GPA and serving in your community will help supplement your test scores.
You don't need to be worried or scared about taking the SAT or ACT. When you register for a test, it will be months before you actually take it. This will give you plenty of time to find practice questions, create a study group, or see a tutor. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will feel.