What Steps Should I Take to Prepare for My College Entrance Exams?

pencils and notebook on wooden table

Are you completely stressed out and losing sleep over your college entrance exams? Do you suspect that you don't have what it takes to ace the most important test of your life? 

Whether you're a high school student with big dreams or an adult thinking about returning to college, you'll need to grapple with the SAT or ACT. The average SAT score is about 1000 out of 1600 but that won't get you into top-notch schools. 

If you're wondering how to boost your score, this article's for you. We'll give you an insider's look at test prep and help you get psyched for your big day.

Types of College Entrance Exams

The most common test to get into college is the SAT but some states require students to take the ACT instead. The SAT has a math section and a verbal section, consisting of dozens of multiple-choice questions. 

You can retake the SAT as often as you want if you're not satisfied with your initial score. High school students typically take the test in the spring of their Junior year, then again in the fall of their Senior year. 

The ACT has four sections including

  • English
  • math
  • reading
  • science
  • writing (optional)

Students can re-take sections of the ACT or re-do the entire test. The average ACT score is about 20, while the top possible score is 36. 

Want to get into Harvard? Your combined SAT score should be 1450 or above and your ACT score should be at least 32.

Prep Smarter, Not Harder

The first step in preparing for college exams might sound a little strange. Before you start reviewing your math and vocabulary lists, you need to develop a time management strategy.

The entrance examination for college is just three hours long and every minute is essential. If you focus too much on a single question, you may end up rushing through more complex questions at the end of the test. 

While you don't want to leave questions blank, it's okay to skip a few along the way. If you don't know the answer right away, just circle the question in your test packet and keep going.

You will be able to return to these questions later, confidently giving them your full attention. 

The SAT and ACT don't penalize students for incorrect answers, so it's okay to guess on questions you can't answer. Take your time, read the question thoroughly, then start to eliminate answers you know are wrong. 

Ideally, you should take an Accuplacer practice test at home at least six months before your college exams. You'll find out exactly how prepared you are for college-level work and you'll be able to practice taking timed tests. 

Fill In Your Knowledge Gaps

Once you take a few practice college entrance exams, you'll have a good idea of your academic strengths and weaknesses. If you consistently get geometry questions wrong, for example, it's time for some serious review. 

There is a wide range of online resources designed to amp up your math and science skills. Before you hire a tutor, try a Google search for "free SAT prep" or "free science and math review." 

What's good about an in-person tutor, however, is that they can 

  • help students with learning differences
  • focus on specific problem areas
  • share their personal test-taking experiences
  • provide guidance through the college application process

Test preparation is not about staying up all night, stressing out, and cramming information into your head. If you pay attention in school and do well on tests, you should be well-prepared for the SAT or ACT. 

Test prep is about using your time management skills to get a head start. If you start taking sample tests in the spring semester of your Sophomore year, you'll be able to review at your own pace. 

Maintain Mental Health and Wellness

Once you feel like you have reviewed the material adequately, it's time to strategize for testing day.

The night before your entrance exam, make sure you get at least six hours of sleep. You might be tempted to stay up and do some last-minute review, but it's a better idea to be as well-rested as possible. 

If you can, set more than one alarm. The last thing you need is to oversleep and miss the exam. 

Bring water and snacks, a valid ID, a watch, and six sharpened pencils. Don't forget to bring your calculator and extra batteries!

Leave your cell phone at home, though, or you'll have to turn it in at the start of the test. 

Before you start the test, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Tell yourself you can do it and leave your panic behind. Breathing calmly will help you focus on the test more completely.

If you start to panic during the test, take a minute for a breather. Drink some water and tense the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and hands. Count to 10, then release the pressure on your muscles. You should feel calmer right away. 

What's important to remember is that no test is worth sacrificing your mental health. If you have serious depression or continuous panic attacks, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. 

Do College Entrance Exams Matter?

College is a lot like high school, but with much more independence. If you use your time management and organization skills to prepare for college entrance exams, you'll be more apt to use those skills once you get to college.

College entrance exams matter for two reasons. First, they develop your analytical skillset. Second, they help you establish college-level work habits while you're still in high school.  

The key to succeeding in college is to identify gaps in your knowledge, then fill them using your research skills. Your professor may not have time to address each student's learning needs directly, so your education will be in your hands. 

Now that you know about how to prepare for your entrance exams, come check out our other blogs! 


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