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How to Prepare for Admission Tests

If you’ve started thinking about college, you’ve probably heard about admission tests, such as the SAT and the ACT. Colleges use scores from these tests to help them make admission decisions. So it makes sense to plan to do your best on the exam. Here are some tips to help you do that.

The Best Way to Prepare

The best way to prepare for an admission test is to work hard both inside and outside the classroom. Take challenging courses, study hard, and read and write as much as you can.

Practice Tips

You can take some simple, smart steps to help you put your best foot forward.

Know what to expect.  Being familiar with the test's format is the single best way to prepare for that test. Go to the testing organization’s website or check out books to get familiar with the various test sections and the instructions for each part. You’ll feel more confident if you know the test format beforehand, and you can save valuable time during the exam.

Take preliminary tests.  The organizations that offer the SAT and the ACT also offer tests that are meant to be taken in sophomore or junior year. The PSAT/NMSQT is available as practice for the SAT, and PLAN is available as practice for the ACT. These preliminary, or introductory, tests make great practice tests because they have the same formats and question types as the admission tests.

Take practice exams — for free or at low cost.  The good news is you don’t need to spend a lot of money on test-prep courses. In fact, studies show that high-cost test preparation gets most students little in terms of results. You can find free practice exams on the SAT and ACT websites and in study guides from the test makers in the library, bookstores or your counselor's office. These practice exams can help you discover your strengths and weaknesses and learn to manage your time wisely during the test.

See what areas need work.  When you get the score from your practice test, pay attention to the types of questions that gave you trouble and then focus on those areas as you prepare. You can find advice and practice doing different types of questions on the test makers’ websites. But remember, the best way to prepare for the test is to study hard and do well in your classes. So don’t let practicing for admission tests interfere with your course work.

Check your timing.  Be sure to time yourself while you are completing practice exams so you can experience real test-day conditions. Admission tests are strictly timed, and their timing is different from regular high school tests. If you find you finished early and got easy questions wrong, slow down and read questions more thoroughly. If you didn’t finish in time, check out the test-taking tips and study aids on the SAT or ACT website or ask your school counselor or a teacher for help.

Last-Minute Tips

Taking the following steps will help you arrive on time and stay alert during the test.

Get a good night's sleep before the exam.  Set out your admission ticket, identification, acceptable calculator, No. 2 pencils and erasers before going to bed. Set your alarm so you wake early enough to have time for a good breakfast.

Know where your test center is located.  Print out and review directions in advance. Arrive at the test center early. Leave extra time to get there in case you run into delays.

Bring a snack.  Bring something handy to eat during breaks so you can stay focused and sharp.

Reprinted from BigFuture by the CollegeBoard