Surviving the SAT and the ACT

With the end of the school year drawing closer, high school students have many things on their plate, including final exams, projects, reports and of course, the SATs and the ACTs. All can be reasons of stress but the latter two in particular are a major cause of stress for most college-bound students. This is why we’ve compiled our own “Surviving the SAT and the ACT” tips to help guide you through the exams without feeling overwhelmed and consumed by them.

To start with, it is very important to educate yourself on which of the two tests is right for you. Of the two tests, the SAT is lengthier and requires that test-takers have a higher vocabulary base than is required for the ACT. A test-taker may need to spend more time during the SAT in determining what’s being asked before they can even answer the question at hand. The ACT, however, allows for an easier read on the first pass-through as the questions are generally more straightforward and easier to understand.

In addition to the math and verbal sections, the ACT has a science component, which the SAT does not include. The SAT, on the other hand, requires a test-taker to complete an essay, whereas the essay on the ACT is optional. That being said, depending on which college the test-taker is applying too, the ACT essay is usually recommended.

For further help on deciding which test works best for you, read our featured article: Which Should I take, the ACT or the SAT?.

There is a major difference between the two tests in how they are perceived by college admissions officers. When evaluating the results of the exams, the ACT score is viewed as a composite score rather than as each individual section whereas when it comes to the SAT, a college admissions officer may focus upon how a test-taker has done in each individual section. Therefore, if you are weak in one subject area but strong in others, you could still end up with a very good ACT score but it doesn’t necessarily hold true with the SAT.

For students who will be taking either test, we suggest you visit and for up-to-date news and information during the testing season. We recommend that you start your planning and preparation early enough to help reduce anxiety and allow for adequate preparation time. At Dolphin Academic Prep, we offer private personalized guidance and assistance in preparation for either test, and help reduce the stress by mapping out expectations and working with you to ensure you are confident come test day.

Timing is everything, or at least greatly important, when it comes to taking one of these standardized tests. You’ve heard the phrase, “Use your time wisely”, correct? It’s easier said than done, especially during one of these exams. It’s very easy to get caught up on an individual question and lose track of valuable time and waste precious minutes. During the test, if you find yourself stumped by a particular question, skip it and return to it later once you’ve answered those questions that are easier for you. It’s important to be mindful of the clock, but at the same time don’t let it become a cause of anxiety for you. Familiarize yourself with each section of the test and the time allocated to it. Remember to fill in all possible answer choices and then, if needed, go back to questions you were uncertain of and try those again if time permits.

It is important to keep in mind that scoring is tabulated differently for the ACT than for the SAT. For the SAT, incorrect answers penalize you and therefore cause you to lose more points for answering a question incorrectly whereas skipping a question and not answering it at all wouldn’t affect your score. Therefore on the SAT, we recommend that you only answer a question that you feel that you have a better chance of getting correct. On the other hand, when taking the ACT, it’s important to answer every question possible as you are awarded points for each question answered correctly and there is no deduction for incorrect responses. So, even if you are completely unsure of how to answer a question on the ACT, take a guess and bubble in a response as it’ll increase your chances of scoring higher.

Just as it’s important to study for these or any other standardized tests to do well, it’s also vital to be mindful of your health. Nutrition, or brain food, is something that is completely overlooked in preparation for these tests. Eat a nutritious dinner the night before and make sure not to skip breakfast the morning of the test. For both meals, eat foods such as eggs, avocados, salmon, blueberries, nuts, and dark chocolate that are known to help boost memory, mood and concentration. Try to stay away from processed sugars because they usually can cause a person’s concentration and stamina to crash at inopportune times resulting in a feeling of tiredness. Also, remember to eat in moderation; don’t over stuff yourself, especially on the morning of the test. Pack a snack as there is a break given during these tests that will allow for you to refuel and reenergize yourself.

Lastly, remember to breathe! It sounds simple enough, but it’s surprising how many students don’t take deep breathes to reduce their stress and anxiety. Just focus on what’s at hand in front of you and try not worry about anything else. If you’re an anxious person by nature, then rely on your family, friends, tutors and support team to help you find ways to cope with the stress of the upcoming test. At the end of the day, as important as it is to study for the test, eat right, and plan ahead, it’s just as important to stay calm so that you can do your best. The goal for surviving the SAT and the ACT is to beat the test and not let the test beat you. Good luck!