5 Helpful Proverbs to Guide SAT, ACT Prep

Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over and Expecting Different Results

This famous quote by Albert Einstein pertains to students who have been plateauing with their test prep despite investing ample time in studying. If this sounds like you, it’s time to drastically shake up your routine. Abandon methods that have proven unproductive, even if you have become comfortable with them.

For example, try doing the reading passages in order from the easiest to hardest for you as opposed to approaching them in the order in which they appear. You could apply this same technique to how you answer questions; if you know SAT evidence support questions are your Achilles heel, for instance, star those and save them for last.

Less Is More

The message behind this minimalist proverb rings true on both the reading- and writing-based sections of either test. The reason is that there are always sentences and even whole paragraphs of text that have no questions based on them.

As a result, students who read everything end up wasting time and getting bogged down by details that yield no fruit.

To avoid these conundrums, some test prep experts recommend that students read only the blurb – the snippet before the passage that contains information about the title, author and publication date – before trying the accompanying questions. Then, read only the excerpts that are necessary to answer the questions properly.

The Devil Is in the Details

This proverb is relevant to every section of the ACT and SAT. First, it applies to the writing-based test because something as small as an unnecessary comma or a misspelled homophone such as than/then can make the difference between a right and wrong answer choice. 

On the reading test of either exam, a single word like “not” or “always” can disqualify an answer choice. On the math test, it could be a negative instead of a positive that sets two options apart.

Though you may think now that such words and signs will be obvious to you on test day, under the stress and quick pace of the real thing, it becomes surprisingly easy to look past critical minutiae.

Further, studies show that if you misread a question or answer choice the first time, it is extremely unlikely that you will read it correctly a second or third time. Therefore, careful reading is a critical skill on the ACT and SAT.

Keep Calm and Carry on

All questions on a given section of the ACT or SAT are worth the same point value regardless of their difficulty level. Consequently, it is counterproductive to dwell on tricky questions when you could be using that time to answer the next question – and possibly an easier one – correctly.

Therefore, mark and return to any question that is causing you difficulty. However, ensure your marking method – whether starring, circling, dog-earing the page, etc. – is conspicuous enough so that when you go back, your eye will notice the remaining questions.

When all else fails, take a wild guess, as you will still have a 25% chance of getting the question right. Since there is no guessing penalty on either exam, never leave a question blank.

As a final note, the importance of keeping your cool on test day cannot be overemphasized. One student increased her SAT composite score by 300 points just by relaxing and without doing any test prep in between sittings. While extreme cases like these may be rare, it has been proven that disproportionate test anxiety can detract significantly from your performance.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

If you imagine studying for the ACT or SAT as one enormous to-do, feelings of anxiety will inevitably follow. So instead of overwhelming yourself with this notion, think of the test prep process as many tiny steps that will lead you to your goal.

To that end, break up your studies into small digestible and actionable chunks. For example, students who are perplexed by comma usage may consider focusing on just one comma rule per week. Similarly, students who are weaker in math may practice with just one formula per week and answer only questions involving that formula.

The constancy of test prep usually results in huge strides over the long term. Even answering a half-dozen ACT or SAT questions a day will make a difference in the span of weeks or months. In other words, quality of test prep trumps quantity.

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