It’s that time of year when many seniors are gearing up to take those dreaded college entrance exams, the ACT and SAT. Having worked in college admissions for more than five years, I have learned many students would rather battle to the death in a Hunger Games-style trial than to sit for one of these exams. I get it. The idea of getting up early on a Saturday to take a four-hour exam (on which your future relies on the outcome) is daunting. BUT…I’m here to tell you there are simple things students can do to prepare…
Choosing the right exam for you
Most colleges and universities will accept either the SAT or the ACT, therefore, take both at least once. Many students will do better on one over the other. Below are some of the main differences between the two exams:
ACT (www.actstudent.org): Includes science reasoning, Includes trigonometry, Tests English grammar, Based more on subject content
SAT (sat.collegeboard.org): Bigger emphasis on vocabulary, Not entirely multiple choice, Penalty for guessing, Based more on critical thinking
There are many ways you can prepare to take the SAT and ACT. Some students are into test prep books, others prefer to pay for test prep courses (by the way, UNF offers these through our Department of Continuing Education). Both are great resources, but did you know both ACT and SAT offer FREE test prep sites that contain helpful hints, questions of the day and practice exams? Consider taking advantage of these. I have seen students increase ACT scores by 5 points just by using the ACT “Question of the day” feature.
It’s important to plan ahead. Figure out what to take with you, and what to leave at home. For the most accurate information, be sure to check the ACT or College Board (SAT) websites so you’re prepared. The night before, put everything you need to take in one place so you don’t forget anything.
Get a good night’s sleep before the test. Don’t zone out in the middle of the math section and lose valuable minutes to complete the test. It is a good idea to eat breakfast, even if you do not usually do so. This will keep hunger pains at bay (and others aren’t distracted by the sound of your growling stomach).
This is important…make sure you follow directions carefully when you get to the testing site. For example, bringing in your cell phone or simply opening the test booklet before instructed could disqualify you from the test! So make sure you pay attention. You can read up on what to expect on test day on the ACT or College Board (SAT) websites.
Finally and most importantly though, take a deep breath, try to relax, and have confidence in your knowledge and skills!
If at first you don’t succeed
Very few students are happy with their first set of scores. That’s ok – you can test multiple times. Take each exam at least once during your junior year. If that timeframe has come and gone, you should sign up for the first exam date in the fall of your senior year.
The other reason to test multiple times is “Super-Scoring”. Many colleges and universities (UNF included) will super-score your attempts, meaning highest subsection scores from multiple attempts are added together. For example, if you took the SAT in June and got a Math score of 540 and Critical Reading score of 600 (Composite score of 1140), and then retook it in October and scored 610 in Math and 550 in Critical Reading (Composite score of 1160), we would count the June Critical Reading score and the October Math score, giving you a Composite score of 1210.
So there you have it. You can’t avoid taking college entrance exams, and they definitely aren’t as exciting as a Hunger Games-style battle to the death. But with a bit of legwork upfront, at least you will know what to expect. Prepare, get plenty of sleep the night before, and, most importantly, believe in yourself! You’ve got this!