Know how the test is scored. The SAT and PSAT used to penalize students for an incorrect answer by subtracting .25 points per wrong answer, but deducted zero points if the question was blank. The ACT, on the other hand, deducted zero points for wrong answers and leaving questions blank. You would take both tests very differently.
Walk into the test with a game plan. If you are taking the SAT or ACT, find out how your score is calculated. Knowing that information makes it easier to set a goal. For example, to earn a 26 on the ACT Math Section you must get 44 out of 60 questions correct. Knowing your goal is 44 questions correct, you can slow down and focus on identifying which 44 questions you know you can answer correctly.
Take practice tests and track your responses. We suggest taking timed-practice tests and placing a “?” by questions your confidence level is less than 90% you got correct, and place an “@” by questions that took you a long time to answer. When the test is done, count each ? and @ to identify the types of questions that take the most time AND the types of questions that give you problems. Sit down with a teacher or tutor and focus on building those specific skills.
Sleep well two nights before the test. Many people get nervous the night before a test. Therefore, your best chance for a good night’s sleep is two nights before the test. This works before a big game as well.
Day of test: Eat a lean protein diet and avoid too many carbs. Carbs may cause a quick rush of energy, but shortly thereafter you will feel the crash. This is not a good experience while taking a 3 ½ hour test. Avoid muffins, donuts, quesadillas, breakfast cereal, and bagels. Do eat lean proteins like eggs, fruit, nuts, or have a good protein shake (ice cream does not belong in a healthy protein shake).
Ignore your inner voice on test day. Trust your gut when you decide on an answer and ignore the voice that tells you to change your answer once you have made a decision. Most often, that inner voice is giving you bad intel.
Clearly understand what the question is asking. Either underline the specific question or paraphrase the question in your own words. It will help you focus on the correct answer.
Be wary of calculators. If you must use a calculator, write the equation on paper before you use the calculator, and use it only for the computation. It is not recommended to read a problem and start punching keys on your calculator.
If the test is multiple choice, work from the answer choices. It takes a bit longer, but you will get more correct and earn a higher score.
Know your sentence rules. It sounds simple, but many mistakes are made because students cannot identify an independent clause (a fancy way of saying a simple sentence).
Know how to annotate. If you have to read long passages, improve your annotating skills. Annotation keeps your reading focuses and clears up confusion when you have to answer a question with 4-5 answer choices.
Choose the best answer. In the math section, we are looking for the “right” answer. On the English and Reading Sections, we are looking for the “best” answer. You will need to check every answer choice to ensure your selection is best.
Essay Writing Tips
Your thesis sentence is essential. If the test includes an essay, make sure you know how to write a thesis sentence. Knowing how to write a thesis sentence and then spending the rest of your essay defending/supporting your thesis sentence will increase your score every time!
Avoid personal stories in an essay. Pick 2-3 historical events and be prepared to include them in your essay. You must use evidence to support your essay. Your personal experience may be cool, but the writers are looking to see if you can incorporate stuff you learned in school.