Summer is a great time to get ready for the SAT and ACT, which will kick off the 2011-2012 season in September. Here are eight ways for teenagers to improve their SAT and ACT scores or limit the damage of mediocre results:
1. Select the test that plays to your strengths.
Teenagers who tend to earn high ACT scores have a strong memory, are fast readers, and can process information quickly. In contrast, students who ace the SAT tend to be strong readers, possess strong vocabularies, and enjoy test-taking strategies. You can learn more about the differences in the tests in this ACT and SAT blog post that I wrote for CBS MoneyWatch. To obtain a more in-depth understanding of what the ACT and SAT measure, I’d suggest reading The Princeton Review’s ACT or SAT? Choosing the Right Exam for You.
2. Use online test prep services.
Lots of online resources exist that are free or modestly priced for prepping for the tests. Here are four that I like:
3. Get a tutor.
Using individual tutors through test-prep firms is going to be pricey. Here’s an alternative: if you need a test-prep tutor, you should be able to find reasonably priced ones on Craigslist. If you don’t like the first one you find, keep looking.
4. Don’t select a test based on geography.
Students on the West and East Coasts typically take the SAT test. In the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states, the ACT is dominant, while teenagers in the South tend to split their allegiance between the two. The worst thing you can do is take a particular test because everybody else you know is.
5. Take a practice SAT and ACT test.
You will form a better idea of how well you might fare on either test if you take sample SAT and ACT tests. Sample SAT tests are available on the College Board website. You can find ACT questions on the ACT website. In addition, for $24.95 or less online, you can buy a book from the testing company, The Real ACT Prep Guide, that contains three ACT tests.
6. Apply to test-optional schools.
If your ACT and/or SAT scores aren’t good, don’t despair. I wrote about test-optional schools on my college blog yesterday. (Hey sorry for photos of No. 2 pencils two days in a row! Here is the post if you missed it:
7. Be skeptical of published test scores.
Published test scores at test-optional schools can be inflated. Here’s why: When a school is test-optional, the applicants with mediocre scores are the ones who won’t submit them. At some colleges, 50% of the applicants may not reveal their scores. When lots of applicants don’t turn in test scores, the averages will artificially rise. Keep this in mind when comparing your scores with a school’s published averages—yours may be better than you think.
I wrote a story about this phenomenon two years ago in The New York Times: The Other Side of ‘Test Optional.
8. Decide whether your SAT or ACT scores are better.
If you end up taking the SAT and ACT, you probably won’t know which scores are the best to submit to colleges. The highest ACT score you can earn is 36 versus 2400 for the SAT. To compare scores, use the SAT-ACT Concordance Tables on the College Board website.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller and a workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. Follow her on Twitter.