The Key to Test Prep Success

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
–Vince Lombardi

The only way to excel at sports is to practice. The same is true of music. The same is true of standardized tests.

Practice has to be done right to be effective. Running in circles holding a football does not count as football practice. Pounding random keys with your fists is not piano practice. But this is exactly the approach most students take when studying for the SAT and ACT.

If you want to succeed on a standardized test, you have to practice, and you have to practice the right way. Here is the right way:

1. Take practice sections from the Official SAT or Official ACT study Guide.

2. Check your answers. Put an “X” by the questions you missed; do not indicate the correct answer next to the problem.

3. Re-attempt every problem that you missed.

Simple as these rules are, most students don’t follow them and therefore don’t get the scores they are capable of. Let’s look at each rule individually and see why these students fail.

1. Take practice sections from the Official SAT or ACT Guide.

The easiest way to fail is simply not to practice. Imagine if the quarterback of your high school football team told the coach that he no longer wanted to practice, didn’t like practicing, found it boring and too hard. Well, he’d change his mind or get off the team, simple as that.

Shoot for one section a day. If you can’t make that but are genuinely trying, you should get five sections done a week, which is close enough. You should start practicing at least two months before the test. There are 80 practice sections in the Official SAT Guide (not counting essay sections), so you’ve got plenty to work with. The ACT Guide has only 20 sections, but they are a lot longer, so if you’ve got more than a month, shoot for one section every other day or break the sections up. (For example, every English section has five passages, so you could do three one day and two the next.)

Also: you should always time yourself according to the instructions at the beginning of each section. If you don’t time your practice, you might be surprised at how much harder the test is when it counts. If you run out of time, go ahead and finish so you get the practice, but make a note of how many problems were left when you ran out of time.

2. Check your answers. Put an “X” by the questions you missed; do not indicate the correct answer next to the problem.

For whatever reason, most students are reluctant to follow this rule. They tend to erase their wrong answers and circle the correct ones, which is pointless.

The point of marking incorrect answers with an “X” only is so that when you look at a missed question the second time, you don’t know the right answer. Which brings us to . . .

3. Re-attempt every problem that you missed.

By attempting the question a second time, you improve some small amount. The more questions you do over, the more you improve. This is the key to improvement.

If you want to play a piece on the piano, you play it over and over again, trying to make fewer mistakes each time. You think about where you messed up, and try not to do it again. This is also why football coaches watch recordings of the games with their players: to identify mistakes and prevent them from happening in the future.

When you attempt a problem the second time, you will often get it right. If you don’t, then look up the answer explanation. The Official ACT Guide comes with explanations. If you’re using the Official SAT Guide, you’ll have to look them up on the College Board website.

You could also get help from a friend or teacher. If you live in the Austin area, you can attend one of our free tutorials.

Don’t look at missed question as a failure, but rather as a learning opportunity. Both the SAT and the ACT test the same concepts over and over. If you encounter something that gives you trouble, chances are good you’ll see it again. So prepare yourself!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.