Test Preparation and Conquering the Tests


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Frequently asked questions about standardized tests


what tests do i need to take?

If you are applying to a college or university in the US, the standard tests are the SAT and the ACT. If you are an international student who has studied in the United States for 3 or fewer academic years when you APPLY, you must also submit a TOEFL score. For the most competitive colleges and universities, the test requirements are often changing, and may also include additional tests such as SAT II Subject Tests, or substitutes, such as AP Exams, etc. Early on in the college search process, you MUST identify the possible schools you may want to apply to and determine their testing requirements. 


What scores are "good enough"?

It totally depends on which schools you are applying to. Colleges are getting more and more competitive, meaning the scores of accepted applicants are going up.

What is "Super-Scoring"?

Superscoring entails taking your highest score for each section of the test across all your test sittings and using these highest section scores to calculate your final score (SAT) or composite score (ACT). You can read more about it here.

What is the PSat and why is it important?

The Preliminary Scholastic Achievement Test - PSAT - is not merely a practice for the real SAT. The full name of the test is: Preliminary Scholastic Achievement Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). The PSAT/NMSQT is effectively the only thing that is used to qualify a student for consideration for National Merit Scholarship (NMS) Program awards and recognition. 

National Merit can qualify you for significant scholarship awards as well as distinguish you from your peers. Student scores are assessed in comparison to how they do in comparison to others in their state. At the University of Southern California (USC), NMS Finalists who are accepted and enroll automatically become prestigious USC Presidential Scholars and 50 percent of their tuition is paid for by USC. Any NMS Commendation is still a big deal; a national level recognition - a student needs to do better than 94 percent of their peers on the PSAT. Read more here.


What Does test optional mean?


Over 950+ accredited colleges and universities now offer a test-optional policy, meaning it is not required for you to submit your scores. Find the list of colleges that are test-optional here. 



How to Determine if I should take the ACT or SAT?

Do colleges view one more favorably than the other?
In short, no. 

What are the main differences between the two tests?

Check out this infographic for the breakdown of differences between the ACT and SAT.

How do I know which one I should take?

Take a practice test of each.

Where can I find Practice ACT tests?

There are five PDF tests that you can print out and take on paper:

ACT Practice Test 2015-2016 (Form 72CPRE)

ACT Practice Test 2014-15 (Form 67C)

ACT Practice Test 2011-12 (Form 64E)

ACT Practice Test 2008-09 (Form 61C)

ACT Practice Test 2005-06 (Form 59F)

There is also one ACT free online sample test. This test format can be a little clunky to use, but it's convenient and online. Scroll down and then click through each section on the orange banner. You will answer questions in short batches and then the site will score them before you move on to the next set. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to take the test under realistic timing conditions, but it still provides helpful extra practice.

Where can I find practice SAT tests?

These are the ONLY seven official practice tests for the Redesigned SAT, provided by the College Board itself. These will be the absolute best tests to use when studying for the New SAT.

Practice Test 1:
Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations | Essay

Practice Test 2:
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Practice Test 3:
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Practice Test 4:
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Practice Test 5:
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Practice Test 6:
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Practice Test 7:
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How to take the practice tests?

How should you take an ACT or SAT practice test

1) Take the test all at once if possible. The ACT is a marathon, forcing you to sit and concentrate for 4 hours on an early Saturday morning. You need to build up endurance so you don't make careless mistakes at the end of the test. By taking the practice test in one sitting, you build up important endurance for the real test. If you don't have time in your schedule for a 4-hour session, then splitting it up over multiple days is OK. Just make sure you follow the next rule.

2) Keep strict timing on each section with a clock. It is ESSENTIAL that you get used to the timing pressures on the ACT. Each section essentially asks you to answer one or more questions in one minute, and most students end up with less time than they need, especially on the math section. Don't give yourself even two extra minutes - this can allow you to do three more questions and improve your score substantially. We want to use these practice tests as reliable indicators of your real score.

3) Review your answers. At the end of every test, make sure you review every mistake you made, and every question you got correct. If you bypass this step, you're not going to learn from your mistakes, and you'll continue making them over and over again. A rule of thumb is to spend at least 2 hours reviewing every full practice test. This takes a lot of time, but emphasize quality of learning over quantity of learning. I'd rather see you take 3 tests with detailed review than 6 tests with no review.

4) Supplement your practice tests with a prep program if you don't see improvement. While some students can learn from their mistakes, others need guidance to point out where their weaknesses are and need assignments to improve on their weak points. A good prep program will supercharge your prep time so that you're always focusing on the best material at any time.

Tips & Useful Articles

Tips to improve your score on the  SAT: How to get an 800 on every section, from a perfect scorer




Tips to improve your score on the  ACT:





Online Test Prep courses

Barron's SAT
Barron's ACT

ACT Online Prep