Three Tips for Conquering College Entrance Exams

by WyZant

This article is courtesy of our partners at WyzAnt

Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are designed to predict a student’s ability to complete college level course work. Most colleges and universities prefer one exam over the other, and admissions counselors use the exams as a common point of comparison across applicants. Unlike traditional mid-term or final exams that evaluate subject comprehension, the SAT and ACT are designed to test aptitude, critical thinking and logic skills. As a result, preparing for these important exams requires a unique approach and thorough understanding of each test’s format; something most students are not familiar with leading up to the test date.


“[College entrance exams] are laid out and designed in a systematic way that allows you to game the test and develop a strategy for which questions, and even how many questions, you should answer,” says SAT tutor Carl W. from Manassas. Whether you work with a private tutor like Carl or study on your own, you should have a plan for determining which entrance exam(s) you should take, as well as how you will prepare for each exam. Here are three tips that will help you maximize performance on your college entrance exams.   



There isn’t a clear cut answer for whether the SAT or ACT is better, easier, or more valued by colleges and universities. If you already know which schools you will apply to, look at the admission requirements to see which exam is requested. If you’re not sure where you will apply, or your school(s) accept either the SAT or ACT, try a few practice problems from each test to determine which format you’re more comfortable with. Working with a tutor can help you objectively determine which test is right for you, but you can also search online or ask your guidance counselor for example practice exams. For a further explanation of the differences between the SAT and ACT exams, read: ACT or SAT? The Short and Sweet Guide to College Entrance Exams.




SAT or ACT preparation should begin at least three months before your chosen test date. (See below for a list of upcoming test dates) Once you decide on your preferred test, establish a method for assessing your current performance and a strategy for improving your score. Work with your tutor or guidance counselor to compile quality practice exams and study materials. When taking a practice exam, do your best to replicate the actual testing environment to ensure you’ll receive an accurate measure of your performance. Subject yourself to the same time restrictions you’ll have during the exam and remove any distractions and materials that will not be available on the day of your exam. In other words, try to make the workstation you use for your practice exams feel like the actual testing environment.



Just like your muscles need a day or two of recovery after a big workout, your brain requires a recovery period, too. “Try the 40-20 rule. Work for 40 minutes. Take a 20 minute break. Breaks help our brains retain the information we just learned,” says tutor Susyn D. from Palo Alto, CA.

In the days and weeks leading up to the exam, make sure you’re getting enough physical exercise, sleep and proper nutrients. Additionally, keep water handy during your practice sessions and on the actual test day. “If we are even slightly dehydrated, the brain can slow down 10 to 20% or more, which makes a big difference on timed tests that require you to think QUICKLY,” writes SAT tutor, Paul C. in his WyzAnt blog.

Much like participating in an athletic competition, training for college entrance exams requires structure and thorough preparation. Give yourself plenty of time to adequately prepare and consult experts who have experience with the exam and will help you establish a strategy or “training program.” With the right preparation, when the time comes to take the exam, you will feel confident and ready to perform at your optimum potential.


Upcoming SAT and ACT exam dates:

SAT (United States, Saturdays during the 2012–2013 school year)

March 9, 2013

May 4, 2013

June 1, 2013


ACT (United States, US Territories, and Canada)

April 13, 2013

June 8, 2013

September 21, 2013



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