Test taking tips for college admissions ACT and SAT exams

Though fewer and fewer colleges are requiring standardized test results for entrance, scores can still help students receive scholarship money.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Though fewer and fewer colleges are requiring the ACT or SAT for admissions, test scores can still be important to enter particular programs and receive scholarship money. As incoming high school seniors prepare to take the test this fall, Olivia Snyder, assistant area director at Sylvan Learning in St. Paul, has tips to help teens prepare.

First and foremost, Snyder says students should be aware that the ACT and SAT are different than other tests they may have taken throughout school, so it’s important to prepare differently.

“If they’re from Minnesota, the MCA’s are just going to be based in that state,” Snyder says. “However, ACTs/SATs are nationwide standardized testing so it’s comparing them across the whole country, so especially if you’re applying for schools out of the state it gives schools the opportunity to compare you to students from California or Texas.”

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Treat each test section differently

Even though sections like English and reading may seem similar, Snyder says they require a different approach.

“One of the ones that we have for the English section is to not read the passage until you’re doing the questions,” she said. “We recommend doing the paragraph-by-paragraph approach for that, so you read just one paragraph for that, you answer the questions, then you go to the next part to answer the questions, rather than reading through the whole thing.”

For the reading comprehension section, she recommends skimming the whole passage first.

“You need to approach the different sections differently,” she said. “You can’t use the same strategy for math and science.”

Snyder suggests students practice speed reading nonfiction to prepare for the reading comprehension section.

“Work on speed reading or just kind of getting as much content as fast as you can,” Snyder said. “So skimming newspaper articles or reading through web articles. Just trying to get more on the nonfiction type of reading. Scientific journals, things like that to practice – what kinds of facts can I gain from this as quickly as possible.”

Take timed practice tests

Snyder says taking timed tests are essential to develop pacing strategies.

“Since both of those tests are timed tests, which is one of the biggest factors in a lot of students’ scores,” she said.

Sylvan offers a free practice test.

Conquer test anxiety ahead of time

Even if you get a good night’s sleep and eat a balanced breakfast, the day of anxiety can feel crippling. Snyder says that’s something you can prepare for too.

“I am an advocate for going to therapy for students,” she said. “Really seeking out professional help if you need it. As educators, we’re here to listen as well so we want to help you the best that we can.”

She says above all, communicating your needs is important.

“Keeping it internalized makes it worse,” Snyder said.

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