How to Prepare for the ACT® or SAT®

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Your score on a college admissions test, such as the ACT or SAT, can be an important factor in helping colleges determine if you will do well if admitted to their institutions. This test score is also a key component of the Regent Admission Index and can help you qualify for merit-based scholarships. If you have already taken a college admissions test but aren’t satisfied with your score, you may want to take it again. The ACT reported that 57% of students from the class of 2013 who took the test more than once improved their composite scores. Here are some tips to ensure you perform your best.

Utilize free test prep. There are many resources for free test prep, such as in your I Have A Plan Iowa® account, the official ACT question of the day and the SAT question of the day. Ask your teachers or school counselor if your high school offers a test prep course or any other resources.

Prepare the night before. Know where your test site is so you’re not frantically searching for it the day of the test. Have your test admission ticket and photo ID set out and ready to go and make sure you know the policies on cell phones, calculators and electronic devices. Get plenty of rest and dress comfortably since you will be sitting for several hours.

Use the time wisely. There is a time limit for the test so answer the questions you can first and go back to the difficult questions at the end. The ACT does not penalize for wrong answers; scores are based on the number of questions answered correctly. Therefore, if you are running out of time at the end, answer every question since there is no penalty for guessing. On the SAT, you receive one point for every correct answer, zero points for every question you leave unanswered and a fraction of a point is subtracted for incorrect multiple choice answers.

Double check the ovals.  Every five to 10 questions go back and make sure the question you are on is aligning to the right row of answers. You don’t want to get to the end of the test and realize the question that you skipped isn’t aligning to the skipped row of answers. This also gives you a chance to make sure you didn’t smudge any ovals or fill them in illegibly.

Outline the essay. When on the writing section of the SAT, or if you chose to take the ACT optional writing section, take a few minutes to carefully ponder the question. Then create an outline for your essay before you begin to write. The people scoring your essay will be looking for a well-organized essay, which means you should have a clear introduction, thesis, body and conclusion.

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