How to study for the SAT/ACT

Standardized testing is a major source of stress for juniors and seniors everywhere. When it comes to preparing for the SAT/ACT, there are a slew of different options and not everything works for everyone. Three of the most popular options are self studying, summer classes, and private tutoring.

Self Studying:

To prepare for the SAT, I chose to study on my own using Khan Academy and the Barron’s SAT preparatory book. Khan Academy was an excellent resource; I was able to work at my own pace and answer practice problems that the site had specifically catered to my weaknesses. The site also partners with the College Board and will grade complete tests. I saved hundreds of dollars by using this free resource and felt completely prepared for the multiple choice portion of the SAT. The essay, however, was more difficult to prepare for. I used my preparatory book to study writing strategies, but it would have been helpful to have someone read my practice essays and give me feedback. Since I had already reviewed reading, writing and math for the SAT, I did not need to spend much time reviewing them for the ACT. I did some research on the format of the test, however the content is not drastically different. Taking timed practice tests from the Barron’s ACT book is helpful to get used to the fast pace of the ACT. Again, it was difficult to prepare for the essay on my own, since I did not have anyone to review my practice drafts. Nonetheless, I would recommend self-studying to anyone preparing for a standardized test because there are plenty of helpful and free online resources that allow you to focus on the specific skills you need to improve.

Summer Programs:

Summer programs are a great way to prepare for standardized tests if you are willing to put in effort both inside and outside of the classes. The programs provide students with countless resources including practice books and teachers with knowledge on both SAT/ACT concepts and tricks to improve your scores. For me, the most helpful part of taking summer classes were the weekly practice tests, which were given in an environment that emulated the actual SAT. I could clearly see an improvement in my scores from week to week. I also felt like my general test taking skills improved drastically, which is applicable far beyond the SAT. Unfortunately, taking summer classes means you have to give up a large portion your entire summer for more school. Most programs offer weekend classes during the school year as well. However, with these you have to give up your entire weekend for standardized test practice. Having friends or people you know in your class can help make it at least a little entertaining. Another thing to think about is the relatively steep price tag that comes with attending SAT/ACT prep programs, which may not work for everyone. Many people who attended the same course I did cited accountability as their reason for attending. Undoubtedly, classes keep you more accountable than self studying but only if you are willing to put effort into the homework, quizzes, tests or whatever else the class


Private tutoring is one of the best options in terms of motivation and planned studying. If planning your studying and spreading out your material until the day of the test is not your strength, getting a private tutor might be for you. When tutored for the ACT, I had one 90-minute-session every week with two tutors who switched off– one English and Reading tutor and one Math and Science tutor. I was given a practice ACT book, practice packets and a folder with notes and homework. During the session, I practiced example passages and questions with my tutor while also going over tips and tricks that I never would have learned if I studied by myself. At the end of every session, my tutors assigned me homework, or in other words, studying material. It was up to me to spread it out and complete it by the day it was due, but this forced me to get my practice done and motivated me to finish by the next tutoring session. After many weeks of studying and tutoring, my overall score improved six points and continues to improve as I get closer to taking the test. I believe private tutoring is very effective, especially for those who are not the best at making studying plans, learning well by themselves or for those who want someone guiding them along the way. Understandably, even though your ACT score goes towards college admissions, and tutoring can aid you in getting a good score, it can be costly.

In the end, it is up to the individual student to decide which process best fits them. Each option works towards benefiting and improving scores, but involve different methods for different people.

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