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How to boost ACT & SAT success

Practice tests and planned study time are key elements to your child’s success on the SAT/ACT.


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t Since the ACT and SAT are used by the majority of colleges and universities in making admissions decisions, as well as a gateway to numerous scholarships, it’s imperative your child receives the best preparation possible. While you can hire a tutor for your child, this article will focus on what you and your child can achieve at home.


Enable your child to assume responsibility for studying

t Ultimately, your child is the one who must complete the test and learn the material. You can provide assistance, but your child will be more motivated and will see better results if she takes ownership of the process. Ensure you both understand this.


Identify a quiet location and uninterrupted time

t Your student should set aside an hour or two of uninterrupted ACT/SAT study time at least once per week. Review sessions work best when they happen regularly, rather than whenever your child remembers. Your job here is to ensure they have a quiet, distraction-free place to study.


Provide a sample test

t Do your best to model a practice session on the real test. Do not allow your child to stop to ask questions or to send a text. Set a timer and follow it. Employ strategies in guessing, skipping, and checking. On the ACT, there is no penalty for wrong answers, so instruct your student to answer every question. On the SAT there is a penalty; if your child is truly uncertain, it’s best to leave the problem blank. Your child should guess only if answers can be eliminated. Mark questions where your child guessed with a star for future practice.


Score the test and note incorrect responses

t This raw score will provide a general assessment of current progress and goals still to be achieved. Ask your child to correct wrong answers and to determine how to avoid the same mistakes in the future. Maintain a running list of difficult concepts.


Practice these concepts

t Study key concepts, not incorrect problems. For example, if your student missed a question on factoring, the goal is not to learn how to answer that question, but how to answer all factoring questions. It is often helpful to retrace your steps and to read about the concept. Textbooks and online resources are useful here, and you can help by taking your child to the library or verifying that certain online information looks reliable. Such locations are great sources of worksheets, reading selections, and vocabulary lists.


Practice timing

t If timing was an issue during the practice test, review with drills. Do not assign an entire practice exam, but rather 10 mathematics questions or one reading excerpt. Increasingly limit the allotted time until your student understands how fast to move and how quickly to decide to skip or guess.



t Provide a second practice test to gauge improvement and further work. Ask your child to score it, correct mistakes, note problem areas, and practice difficult concepts. Then repeat the process with another sample exam. Your child’s score, timing, and confidence should improve with each test.

t For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit

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