SAT/ACT Training

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 our approach.

Practice Test Cycle - A Process for Building Fundamentals and Test Skills

I. Baseline and Target Score - Starting Point and Goal
Baseline Score
• Your baseline SAT or ACT score is your score on a full-length practice test, preferably one produced by the test maker (The College Board or ACT, Inc. - see SAT/ACT Books/Online), taken without preparation before the start of any test prep. A PSAT or Pre-ACT score can serve as a baseline score for the SAT or ACT respectively, although usually these tests are taken several months before students begin test prep.
• I recommend that you take one practice SAT (or actual PSAT) and one practice ACT (or Pre-ACT) to establish and compare baseline scores on the two tests. Depending upon which baseline score is higher and by how much, you may decide to take one test, the other, or both. See my SAT vs. ACT page for more detailed considerations on this choice.
Target Score and Qualitative Goals
II. Practice Tests
A. Regular Practice Tests or Test Sections
• Regular full-length or partial practice tests weekly or every two weeks.
• Always use practice tests from the SAT or ACT test maker, The College Board and ACT, Inc., respectively. (See SAT/ACT Books/Online)
B. Score Tracking
• Compute and record your raw and scaled scores, comparing them to your earlier practice tests and your target scores.
◦ Use my Google Sheets score record template or another organized and accessible method to record your practice and actual test 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.
III. 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?
IV. 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.
V. 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.