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Whether you take the SAT, ACT, or both (see SAT vs. ACT for recommendations), earning an ambitious score requires mastery of the math, language, and reasoning skills and tasks presented by each test, keen awareness of the test’s unique design, disciplined application of tailored test techniques, and readiness for the realities of test day, including ability to navigate stress, fatigue, distractions, and possible dislocations.

To accomplish these goals I recommend and coach a rigorous SAT/ACT training cycle aimed at mastering the skills, strategies, and tactics called for by each test's particular design. The following collapsible outline (please click the triangular bullets (‣) to expand for more detail and links!) offers information on the methods and materials we use.

I. Materials
A. Practice Tests
1. SAT and PSAT practice tests by the College Board, maker of the SAT
The Official SAT Study Guide: Practice SATs 1 through 4 in book format
• Free Download:
Practice SATs 1 through 4 and Practice SATs 5 through 8
Practice PSATs 1 and 2 - nearly (but not quite) identical to the SAT's content and format, useful especially for piecemeal practice
• Print out and take on paper any downloaded practice tests
2. ACT practice tests by ACT., Inc., maker of the ACT
The Official ACT Prep Guide: Practice ACTs 1 through 3 in book format
• Free Download:
2016-17 ACT Practice Test (Form 1572CPRE)
2012-13 ACT Practice Test (Form 1267C)
2009-10 ACT Practice Test (Form 0964E)
2008-09 ACT Practice Test (Form 0661C)
2005-06 ACT Practice Test (Form 0359F)
• In addition, real released (though unauthorized for distribution) ACTs are often available from fly-by-night but still sometimes useful websites.
• Print out and take on paper any downloaded practice tests
3. Third-party practice ACTs/SATs (by publishers other than the test makers)
• Practice materials made by various third-party publishers can sometimes be helpful, although they can't replace the practice and diagnostic value of the real test makers' materials.
• Some third-party practice materials emphasize certain skill sets or include even harder-than-real-test content that can help you build your skills to yet higher demands (often helpful when aiming for a perfect score).
• Check my SAT/ACT books/online page for some suggestions on helpful third-party SAT and ACT practice.
B. Skills Study and Drills
1. Math Fundamentals Online - Click for a list of links to valuable math resources.
2. Reading - Reading Sources, Passage Takedown, Q&A Gauntlet
3. Writing/English
4. Science
II. Baseline and Target Scores
A. Baseline Score
[Initial Diagnostic Test - At or near the start of preparation, take a full-length diagnostic practice SAT or ACT from the College Board or ACT, Inc., respectively. No need to prepare for this practice test - this is your starting point and will provide your baseline score.]
B. Target Score
[Your Research-Based Goal]
III. How to Take the SAT and/or ACT: A Comprehensive Method
A. Universal Strategies Based on SAT/ACT Realities
1. Know your test well. Every SAT or ACT is exactingly standardized.
• In nearly every aspect of their respective design and content, the SAT and ACT are highly standardized to test specific content and skills in a particular style and format, according to the test authors' detailed mandate. This means that despite superficial variations amongst test "forms" (tests of the same type administered on different test dates), there is far more that we can confidently predict and recognize on any ACT or SAT if we have carefully studied either test.
• We should be acutely aware of the test's anatomy: the number of questions, passages, and minutes allotted to each test section, the order in which sections are presented, and any predictable sequences or trends within each section. But equally importantly, we should be intimately familiar with our test's style of questions and tasks and the predictable strategies the test authors use in constructing right and wrong answer choices.
2. Pace yourself to earn maximum points within the allotted time. One question, one point, limited time.
3. Make each practice test a faithful test simulation. The real test is strictly proctored in an institutional environment.
• Each practice test or section should be an effort to simulate real test conditions to the extent possible, including strict timing, use of the grid sheets, and access to all of the tools (pencils, erasers, calculator, batteries, timepiece) you’ll need on test day itself.
• Click for detailed test simulation guidelines, including sample proctor scripts.
4. Seek the justification test authors would use. Correct answers are justified specifically and rigorously.
[not vaguely or arbitrarily...]
5. Carefully read and if needed reread every line, never rushing. The devil is in the details of every component of the SAT and ACT.
[not vaguely or arbitrarily...]
B. Section-by-Section SAT and ACT Tactics
1. Reading
Passage Tactics - A rigorous method for reading SAT and ACT passages
Question and Answer Tactics - A methodical approach and tailored techniques to correctly answer SAT/ACT reading questions
2. Math
• Click for a list and discussion of key math tactics for the SAT and ACT math tests and beyond.
3. Editing (SAT Writing/ACT English)
4. ACT Science/SAT Graphics
IV. Practice Test Cycle - A Process for Building Fundamentals and Test Skills
A. Practice Tests
Regular Practice Tests or Test Sections
• Regular full-length or partial practice tests weekly or every two weeks.
• Scoring and Scaling
◦ Compute and record your raw and scaled scores, comparing them to your earlier practice tests and your target scores.
◦ Carefully scrutinize the relevant answer key and scaling chart, double-checking to ensure you're referring to the correct ones - the College Board and ACT Inc.'s placement and presentation of the answer keys and scaling charts is often unintuitive.
B. Analysis & Evaluation
1. Identify Errors and Uncertainties
• Thoroughly review your practice test (or sections), identifying and marking every question you missed, plus questions you got right but don’t feel you handled as capably as called for.
2. Understand the Correct Answer
• Study each question to ensure you understand the correct answer and the process that leads to it.
3. Understand Where and How You Went Wrong.
• Identify Weak Fundamentals and/or Test Tactics - To use your practice effectively to increase your scores, you must go well beyond simply identifying the right answers to questions you missed, and insist on a clear understanding of why you made each error:
◦ weak fundamentals?
◦ careless work?
◦ a missed or misinterpreted detail?
◦ a tactical error?
C. Fundamental Skills Study & Drills - Based on your analysis:
1. Study and drill on the relevant fundamentals that demand attention.
2. Practice test tactics and techniques on bite-sized actual test material.
3. Focus on the specific tasks and understandings that have caused trouble in the past, putting in the necessary time and effort to hold your work to a higher standard.
D. Rinse, Lather, Repeat
• To make significant headway on your ACT or SAT score, expect to repeat this process many times over weeks or months as you track your scores and work toward achieving your target.