Tips to conquer the ACT or SAT


Taking the SAT or ACT has reached “rite of passage” status for college-bound high school students. For some, it’s a laissez-faire experience; for others, it’s a high-stakes opportunity that demands heroic study schedules. It’s up to parents and students to find their happy middle.

The baseline reality? The tests can’t be avoided: All Florida universities require degree-seeking freshmen to submit an SAT or ACT score. Both tests are time-crunched with challenging content. And they add up: The tests cost more than $50 each.

Here are some considerations:

  • Take practice seriously. Have your child take a full-length practice exam at home for both the SAT and ACT, then find a conversion chart like this one to see which test suits them better.
  • Consider focusing on one. Some students perform equally well on both, but many show a preference. The ACT includes a science section, which may be harmful or a benefit. Some observers say the SAT is better for “good test takers,” while the ACT tests for a broader range of academic knowledge.
  • Take the test early. Students who take them at least twice have the best opportunity to increase their scores. Taking the test during fall of junior year makes it easier to study and take it again in the spring and/or fall of senior year.
  • Learn to work quickly and strategically. Some experts advise students to spend no more than 60 seconds on math questions. On reading portions, skim first for content then look at the questions before reading more in-depth as needed.

    The typical University of Florida freshman makes a 30-34 on the ACT and a 1330-1470 on the SAT.

  • For best results, study. There are a wide range of SAT and ACT test preparation options, from self-guided workbooks to in-person courses. Consider what is best for your learning style and budget, and don’t overlook free alternatives such as Khan Academy. The College Board, which administers the SAT, offers these resources and suggested timeline; the ACT points parents here.
  • Get advice. Ask older siblings and friends what surprised and challenged them most about their testing experience. Ask how they prepared and what they would do differently.
  • Keep it in perspective. Parents should be aware the exams have changed over the years, so try not to draw on your own testing experience while offering support to your student. Avoid comparing your students to their peers or siblings. Stay positive and patient, and ask how you can be most supportive.

Note that if your school or school district has organized its own testing, it will likely be on a different day.

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