Ways to Improve Your Exam Performance

Getting ready to apply to college? If you have top-tier schools on your list, getting a high score on the SAT or ACT is a must. It is not enough to believe you already know the information; you are strongly advised to prepare thoroughly as opposed to simply winging it. This article provides you with some tried-and-true advice that can make taking either exam a whole lot easier.

First, it might be useful to think about the SAT or ACT in the same way that you would think about a game. If you are able to come up with a winning strategy, you can learn how to master either exam. Here is your game plan as you are prepping for either or both tests.

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Take Practice Exams Based on the Actual Conditions that You will Face

Students who score high on the ACT and SAT always go into the exam knowing exactly what to expect. This starts by taking practice exams on a regular basis. We do not mean just casually trying to answer questions when you want. We are talking about simulating the actual environment that you will encounter when you take the real deal. This means allotting the same amount of time for each section as you will on the actual test, taking the same 5 and 10 minute breaks that will be permitted, no listening to music or talking on the phone, or otherwise engaging in activities that would be forbidden when you're in the test center. There are plenty of websites that offer free full practice exams and you can also buy official study guides or those equally effective ones made by The Princeton Review.

Identify the Easy and Difficult Questions

When tackling the math questions on either the SAT or ACT, keep in mind that the easiest questions are at the beginning of the section and then they increase in terms of difficulty. If you are stumped on any question, skip it for the time being and go back once you have finished answering the questions you know. The questions are all weighed the same on both tests, so it is not to your advantage if you focus on the difficult ones at the expense of the ones you find easier. Note that the SAT and ACT diverge in one very significant way: you will actually be penalized for getting answers wrong on the SAT where as you are not on the ACT. For this reason, you have nothing to lose by filling in all the answers on the ACT even if you have to just guess. On the SAT, in the unlikely event that you cannot eliminate even a single answer choice, you are better off leaving it blank. But if you can reduce it down to a couple of choices, you should take a guess.

Time Management Is Important

The amount of time to answer the questions is limited, so make sure to make the most of your time. During the course of prepping for the exams, you should have already familiarized yourself with the rules. This means there is no reason to read them again while taking the real test. You should also be able to estimate how long it takes you to answer the questions based on evaluating your test question results. While it has already been mentioned, we want to stress again that if you cannot make a decision about a certain question, you should move on to the next one. Why waste 5 minutes on one question when that time could have been spent correctly answering 3 other questions?

Read the Questions Carefully

Misunderstanding the meaning of a question can have a big impact on the results. In particular, the folks who design the test will often intentionally writing a question in such a way that a misinterpretation can lead to the incorrect answer. You could also find that a couple of answer options both seem reasonable if understood in different context. For this reason, you would really want to make sure that you understand exactly what is being asked. While you certainly do not want to take your sweet time, you also should not overly rush things.

Practice Makes Perfect

This expression is probably overused, but it is nonetheless very applicable. As you are organizing your study schedule, devote each day to a different section of the exam. Take the time to identify your strengths and weaknesses. While you would still benefit from answering questions from sections that you are clearly good at since you will want to keep your skills sharp, you should devote more time to improving upon your weak points for the sake of time efficiency. In addition, as you are answering practice questions, do not just examine the incorrect answers, you should also see what you did right. When the answer is correct, determine whether it was just an educated guess or based on a clear understanding of the information. As you assess your incorrect answers, determine the reasons for it as well. Are you simply misunderstanding the questions? Are you rushing through the test? Do you need to brush up on your math or vocabulary skills? You are never going to improve your practice exam results merely by taking them over and over again, you need to know what went wrong and how to improve it.

If You Are Unhappy with the Results, Take the Test Again

If you get an awesome score the first time you take the SAT or ACT, that is one less thing to worry about as you work on the application process. But if you did not do as well as you had hoped, you really have nothing to lose by taking it again. In fact, if you manage to do better the second time around, admissions committees have been known to take that into account when deciding whether to invite you. With the SAT, if you retake the test a few times, some colleges will actually combine your best section scores from multiple tests. However, regarding the ACT, schools will just take your best score and disregard the others.

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