Tips to Improve Your SAT and ACT Scores

What can you do to raise your SAT and ACT scores? Here are tried-and-true test-taking strategies to help you prepare to do your best.

Follow as many of these tips as you can, and you will greatly improve your ability to remain calm, collected, and focused during the test. And see the payoff in your test scores.

Before Taking the Test

  • Study up. Improve your vocabulary, reading comprehension, and basic math skills via test prep resources. (See What Test Prep is Best for some tips.)
  • Practice, practice, practice. Taking practice tests helps you know what to expect, gain confidence, and improve your performance. (Get test prep books and practice tests via the CollegeData Bookstore.)
  • Get it together. The day before the test, organize the things you'll bring to the test center. This includes your test admission ticket, ID, several sharpened pencils, erasers, a watch, and a calculator with fresh batteries (and an extra set, just in case).
  • Get some rest. Get at least eight hours of sleep the night before the test. This will help you arrive at the test center rested and alert.

On Test Day

  • Eat breakfast and bring snacks. A good breakfast, including some protein, will keep your energy level even, and prevent you from getting distracted by hunger pangs. Bring a healthy snack, such as a protein bar or sandwich, to eat during the break.
  • Wear comfy clothes. Forget about fashion on test day. Wear layers so you can easily adapt if the room temperature changes.
  • Get there early. If you know you will arrive at least 15 minutes before the official start time, you won't worry about being late.
  • Choose your seat. Find a seat away from the door and near the back of the room to avoid distractions. If possible, avoid sitting near air conditioning or heating vents and pencil sharpeners.

During the Test

  • Read the directions. Sounds simple, but lots of students don't take the time to do this.
  • Read the questions carefully. Before marking any answer, read the question carefully to be sure you understand what is asked. For example, are you supposed to pick the one that belongs or the one that doesn't belong?
  • Answer easier questions first. Get the questions you're sure about out of the way first, even if it means skipping some questions and coming back to them.
  • Don't spend too much time on any one question. If you have narrowed down the answer to a couple of choices, circle the question and come back to it with fresh eyes after you've answered other questions.
  • Don't guess blindly. If you can eliminate even one choice, your chance of choosing the right answer is greater.
  • Work it out on paper. Don't be afraid to use your test booklet as scratch paper if you need to compose sentences or do part of a problem by hand.
  • Organize your thoughts. Before you write your essay, take a few minutes to outline your key points. Your essay will be better and easier to write.
  • Breathe. If you get nervous during the test, do some deep breathing to calm yourself. Inhale, count to three, and then exhale, repeat about five times.
  • Use all the time. If you finish a section before time is up, use the extra time to proofread and check your answers.

What's Next?

  • See more articles about the SAT, ACT, and other college admissions tests in Prepare and Apply.
  • See the actual test scores of students who got into your favorite colleges in the Admissions Tracker.
  • Use College Match to check out the range of SAT and ACT scores achieved by enrolled freshmen at any college.
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