There are two main standardized tests used in the college admissions process: the ACT and the SAT. Neither acronym stands for much of anything these days, but both are meant to assess the skills you’ve gained as you’ve progressed through high school.
Practice, Practice, Practice
With standardized testing, preparation is important. So, what’s the best way to prepare for the ACT or the SAT? Many students will take the “pre” SAT or ACT—the PSAT corresponds to the SAT, and the ACT Aspire to the ACT—sometime during 10th or 11th grade. These tests may be held during school hours, and most, if not all, students in your school will participate. Talk to your school counselor if you’re not sure if or when the tests will be offered at your school. Both of these tests have similar layouts to the SAT and the ACT, and will be a good way for you to get familiar with the formats of the tests and the experience of taking them. It’s important to note that neither qualifies as an official SAT or ACT—you’ll still need to plan to take the SAT or the ACT later on. Your PSAT score is the basis of potential qualification for the National Merit scholarship competition; this competition can help you access scholarships offered by a variety of colleges or sponsored by national corporations.
Free preparation for the SAT is available online through Khan Academy. Both the College Board and ACT have free test prep on their websites including sample test questions, short quizzes, as well as full practice tests. There are also practice books available that allow you to take self-paced practice tests which can often be found at your local public library. It is very strongly recommended that you take at least one practice test before you take the real one, so that you will know what to expect. In general, students tend to improve their scores as they become more familiar with standardized testing.
Test prep services can be helpful, but are often costly. Utilize the free services first!