I feel like there are certain activities that will always make me a little—okay, very—nervous. These include riding a roller coaster, watching a horror movie, and lastly, taking standardized tests!
Standardized testing was not my forte, and I felt like this was the most daunting aspect of the college admission process in high school. For those of you who feel the same way and/or are in the midst of studying for the SAT / ACT test, I am motivated to write this blog post to reflect on my experience. In doing so, I hope that you will gain some insight into how to better prepare for these tests moving forward.
What I Did Adequately
Even though there were some parts I would have done differently, there were a few things I feel like I did adequately.
1. Be Determined
If there’s one thing I am at peace with, it’s that I was determined and worked hard to do “well.” My desk was piled high with practice books, and you would constantly find me in the library furiously scribbling into a notebook for hours.
For the majority of us, determination is a crucial component in doing well on the SAT / ACT. This is also the attitude you will need to succeed in college and beyond, so I hope that you will continue to develop this mindset while studying for the SAT / ACT.
2. Be Prepared on Test Day
On test day, I had everything ready: multiple pencils, an eraser, a calculator, etc. Even though I was nervous about the test, I knew I had everything I needed which at least alleviated a little bit of stress. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to come equipped with all materials on the day of the test!
If you are taking the test in-person, I also recommend visiting the testing site before test day if possible. In case of unexpected circumstances—heavy traffic, you wake up later than expected, etc.—you’ll at least know where the testing site is instead of frantically searching the day of.
3. The Score Doesn’t Define Me
I wasn’t the best test-taker which reflected in my score, but I didn’t believe the results implied that I was a failure or predestined to fail in college. I chose to be proactive in my studies and present on my college campus which wouldn’t have been possible if I’d given up because of my standardized test results!
Thus, if you don’t do “well” on the SAT or ACT test, don’t give up on yourself. Work hard in college! Consequently, identify and cultivate your gifts so that you can better yourself and serve your community.
What I Could Have Done Better
However, there’s more to getting a “good” SAT/ACT score than just determination. The following is what I feel like I could have done better prior to the test and after receiving my score.
1. You Sure About THAT Test, Jenny?
In retrospect, I wasn’t as mindful as I could have been when deciding which standardized test to take. If I had done a more thoughtful job, I might have gotten a score that more accurately reflected the effort I put into studying for it.
Thus, choose the test that you’re taking with careful consideration; one way to help you decide is to take both the SAT and the ACT diagnostic tests. At Insight, we offer both ACT and SAT test assessments so you can know which test is for you.
2. Don’t Just Study! Learn HOW to Study
As I mentioned, I had the determination to succeed. However, besides whatever guidance was offered in the practice books, I didn’t understand how to strategically approach each problem. If I could rewind, I would enroll in an SAT / ACT class to acquire these skills.
I recommend reaching out to a trusted individual in your support system who is skilled in taking standardized tests, as they might be able to offer some advice. Even better, if you have the financial means, I encourage you to take a class or find a suitable tutor who can offer valuable insight on creating a study plan and how to effectively navigate taking these tests.
We offer SAT and ACT test prep classes at Insight. The instructors not only review the topics and concepts, but they also walk you through test reviews and time management. You can click here to find out more.
3. Make an Action Plan
Given that I self-studied, I was fully responsible for learning all the materials before test day. I vaguely remember that I created a general plan, but I should have had a more elaborate schedule with more definite deadlines to ensure that I was completely prepared before test day.
Consider making a schedule if you feel that it’ll help keep you accountable. I recommend using a planner so that you can refer back to the milestones you set. Appropriate deadlines include noting when you plan on taking a practice test or reviewing vocabulary words. By breaking the task into smaller ones, it could make studying for the SAT / ACT feel more manageable.
Note: It’s okay if you occasionally veer off schedule! You might find yourself having a busier week than you originally anticipated, and instead of compromising your health, you can always adjust your schedule to make up for any material you missed. Remember, your well-being should always come first!
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Ready, Set, Take the Test!
4. Take Practice Exams That Replicate the Testing Environment
Besides lacking the tools to successfully attack the exam, I also took practice tests in conditions that did not fully reflect an actual testing environment. As a result, I question if this was an effective way to study in hindsight.
When taking a practice exam, it’s important to replicate the testing environment: don’t eat snacks, listen to music, play with your phone, and give yourself ample time to solve the problems (In other words, use a timer that reflects the time constraints you have on each section when taking the actual test). In doing so, you will ideally grow more accustomed to the conditions you will experience on test day.
5. Find Other Opportunities to Highlight Strengths
Given that my score could have been better, successfully highlighting my strengths were even more crucial when I applied to colleges as a senior in high school. While I tried to do so at the time, I’m now more aware of different opportunities, like working a part-time job or starting personal projects, that I could have participated in.
Everyone has strengths including yourself. If you are struggling with standardized tests as I did, I encourage you to find safe and reputable opportunities to showcase your strengths and interests on the college admission application. Your Insight counselor can provide some resources as well!
In essence, it’s not only important to have the heart to study but the knowledge on how to study for these tests.
However, know that your SAT/ACT score is just one data point that colleges will consider, so it is not the end all be all. Remember, the SAT/ACT is something, but it is not everything. Moreover, a mediocre SAT/ACT score does not suggest that your doomed to fail nor does a stellar SAT/ACT score guarantee a perfect GPA in college. That’s partly influenced by your attitude and work ethic.
So work hard, study wisely, and good luck! You got this!
This article was written by Insight Counselor Jenny Huang.
Jenny graduated from UC Berkeley after transferring from UC Santa Barbara. Her unique “inter-UC transfer” experience inspired her to become a mentor and a college admission counselor.