If we could only offer one tip for good SAT or ACT scores, it would be this: Practice, practice, practice.
Years of studies have shown that test scores tend to increase with repeated testing. In fact, the makers of the ACT have found that repeat test takers have average Composite scores that are 2.9 points higher than single test takers. This makes sense—after all, if practice makes us better at playing piano or shooting 3-pointers, why wouldn’t practice make us better at taking tests?
Keep reading to learn how practice boosts SAT and ACT scores and how to make your practice tests really count.
Practice tests help you know what to expect
Since the SAT and ACT are standardized tests, taking plenty of practice tests will help you to become familiar with the test format. For example, by completing practice ACT reading sections in the allotted 35 minutes, you’ll get to know the order of the passages, the types of questions asked, and the pacing required to finish in time.
Pacing is key to SAT or ACT success, and practice tests help here, too. Practice SAT and ACT tests let you try out different time management strategies so that you can find the one that works best for you. For example, some students find it easier to get through the reading section if they skim the questions before reading the passage while others prefer to actively read the passage before looking at the questions.
Better retention leads to better test scores
Practice tests don’t just build these test-taking skills—they also help you to retain the knowledge you need to earn good SAT and ACT scores. Studies show that students who test themselves on information retain that information better than those who study using other methods. Robert Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose research has long focused on learning and memory, says that using our memories to retrieve information changes the way we access that information: “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense, you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”
In other words, by testing yourself on key skills and knowledge, you improve your ability to recall that information quickly and accurately on test day.
Know your goals for practice
When it comes to using practice as a tool for SAT or ACT prep, there’s a caveat: You must use mindful practice. If all you do is take practice test after practice test, you’ll see diminishing returns with each additional test. Your score might go up a little bit, but eventually the miniscule score gains between practice tests won’t be worth the three hours you spent taking them. In other words, don’t just practice for the sake of practice. Practice to build speed, endurance, and skill by making your practice really count!
Helpful practice tips
Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind as you practice for high SAT or ACT scores:
- Stick with full-length practices tests. Doing a few practice problems here and there or completing test sections in pieces won’t actually provide you with realistic practice. C2 test prep students enjoy access to our full suite of practice tests for the SAT and ACT.
- Time yourself. This falls under the heading of mimicking test day conditions. One of the toughest parts of succeeding on the SAT or ACT is time management. By engaging in timed practice, you can more easily spot the areas where you struggle with time management. Identify sections or specific types of questions that tend to suck up big chunks of time. Then you can strategize ways to tackle the problem. Timed practice will also help you to build up your speed – the more reading passages you read, the faster you’ll get at reading them!
- Take the whole test in one sitting. It can be hard to carve out an entire 3-hour chunk of time, but if you take your practice tests piecemeal, you won’t be building the endurance you need to maintain focus for the entire length of the test.
- Try to take the test in the morning. Your practice is most effective when it mimics test day conditions. On test day, you’ll take the test around 8 am. By practicing at that time of day, you’ll help to train your brain to function well first thing in the morning.
- Carefully review each practice test. Go through your answers with a fine-toothed comb, looking both at the questions you answered correctly and the ones you missed or skipped. If you got it right, make sure you know why you got it right and that it wasn’t just a lucky guess. If you got it wrong, figure out where you made a mistake and make sure you understand why the right answer is the right answer. And if you skipped it, figure out why – was it a time management issue or is this a type of question you struggle with?