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SAT Prep – ACT Prep: Achieving high scores

Success in tests like SAT or ACT require their own practice.

What does this mean?

The test makers of SAT and ACT know the typical mistakes high school students make in Math and English. Typically these related to not understanding the question properly or not reading all the answer choices. In other words, most high school students are not detail-oriented and are quick to make up their minds.

These are bad habits and success in these tests requires that students unlearn these bad habits – if they want to do well in college. This makes sense. Both test are designed and used to judge student readiness for college. Since college work requires attention to detail, both tests reward students who are detailed oriented.

How can students become detail oriented to do well on the tests?

Students must first understand what detail orientation means in the context of the two tests. This boils down to two principal areas:

a) Making sure you understand the question.

SAT and ACT know how students may mis-read questions and use this knowledge to formulate questions that trip students.

In Math, for example, many students will trip on this question: what is the largest negative integer? Or a question that asks the value of 2x rather than what the school usually asks i.e. what is x? Often the question may be long-worded which scares most students. Or students fail to see simpler patterns in what may appear to be a complex geometry problem.

In SAT Writing / ACT English, students need to understand what makes the essential elements of a sentence and what is extra detail that is not essential. The ability to strip out extra detail surfaces the error. Of course, Writing (SAT) / English (ACT) require a serious refresh of grammar which most people (not just students) stopped paying attention to from grade 5.

SAT Reading / ACT Reading are the toughest areas for students to improve in. This is where lack of attention to detail really hurts students. Since most high school students are not avid readers, reading is tough to start with. And since reading comprehension is more cognitive than formulaic (like Math or Grammar Rules), cognitive development for reading improvement is much slower than other areas given the usual test prep duration of 8-10 weeks. Reading the question is usually not the biggest problem for students. Success lies in reading the answer choices (read below).

b) Making sure you have read each answer choice before selecting your response.

In Math, answer choices are based on typical errors students make in concepts or calculations. Therefore, students who are weak in either area may fall for an incorrect answer choice.

In SAT Writing / ACT English, spoken English grammar-based answer choices are usual traps. Knowing grammar rules and style are important. Often, the “best” wrong answers are placed ahead of the correct answer trapping time-pressed or careless test takers to make an early determination without reading the remaining choices. Usually, students should be able to eliminate 3 (SAT) / 2 (ACT) answer choices based on basic knowledge leaving two choices that require detail orientation to make final selection.

In Reading, the answer choice selection is more complex because of the cognitive element. Students must carefully review each answer choice and ELIMINATE each wrong choice rather than look for the correct choice. This is a major change in approach and requires retraining through practice of the tests themselves. Only with time, students will be able to retrain their thinking processes. Many are not able to train out of the bad habit of making an early determination of the answer without carefully analyzing the remaining choices.

Students who are able to retrain out of bad reading habits by paying attention to details are rewarded with high score improvement.