$ave Big on ACT/SAT Prep

You Can Save Dollars and Improve Your Teens’ Test Scores

The stakes are high for many high school students prepping for the ACT and SAT tests who hope to gain entrance into ivy league universities or who aspire to maximize their scholarship opportunities. And competition can be daunting given the dollars ($500-$800!) many families fork out to secure their child’s position on those ivied ladders of academic placement. But you can save hundreds and your high schoolers can still gain all the advantages of expensive, one-on-one instruction by taking on the role of tutor yourself or sharing the role with a professional tutor or by encouraging your child toward self-directed learning.

Read further for some fool-proof tips to get you started.


Get a Good Test Prep Guide and Mark the Separate Passages

Begin by purchasing a copy of quality prep material, like The Official ACT Prep Guide 2018-2019 and the latest edition of The Official SAT Study Guide (2018). These guides contain 4 (ACT) and 8 (SAT) prep tests. The more your high schoolers practice, the more prepared they will be, so plan ahead (3-9 months before the test date) and buy the books in advance to allow plenty of time to complete as many passages as possible.

Once you have a copy of the prep guide, mark the separate test passages by placing adhesive dividers at the beginning of each new test and each test section:

The ACT includes English, Math, Reading, and Science.

The SAT includes Critical Reading, Writing (English) and Math.

Both tests include the optional essay section.

Be sure to mark the answer and explanations portions of each test, as well. Marking sections will save time as you and your teens return to the prep guides, which are fairly massive with extra (though, at times, helpful) content.

Keep in mind, passages from these test guides are also available online, but printing them can be cost prohibitive, so consider purchasing the guides. They are usually easy to find at Half-Price Books stores, so don’t forget to look there if you want to save a few dollars.


Determine Which Test Your High Schooler Should Take

Colleges and universities accept both ACT and SAT results, so it’s a good idea to have your teens try a test from each to determine if they perform better on one format than another. However, many students skip this step, preferring to focus on maximizing their performance on one or the other test option.

The biggest difference between the ACT and SAT tests that I’ve noticed as an instructor is in the reading sections of each test. The SAT allows more time for the reading passages, but often includes passages that emphasize the historical development of western perspectives of individual freedom and collective responsibility. These can appear in excerpts from Jefferson, Wollstonecraft, Lincoln, and many others, and tend to require advanced interpretive and analytic skills.

The SAT also incorporates science content into the reading passages, so if your student tends to excel in science but struggle in reading, this format could improve reading scores but prevent your student from showcasing his or her strengths in science.

Another key difference is that the SAT includes a list of the applicable math formulas.

And it’s important to note that neither of the tests penalize for incorrect answers, so students won’t lose points for guessing after selectively eliminating the more obvious wrong answers.


Know Where to Locate Content-Focused Instructional Material and/or Consider Purchasing Support Material

As your teen begins to process the prep guide practice tests, you’ll notice consistent mistakes, and you will want to find resources to address each area of weakness. If you find it difficult to identify the skill your child needs to hone, this might be a good time to reach out to a professional for some limited one-on-one consultations, but you can also find clues in the answer explanations that follow each test. These explanations often explicitly indicate which concept is being tested.

Once you’ve identified areas of weakness, look for quality resources on the internet, but avoid blind searches that can lead to overwhelming results. Instead, go to established educational sites like Kahn Academy or the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue and search for specific content such as “review of exponent rules” or “meiosis” or “comma rules.”

In addition, here is a list of quality resources that I have used in my instruction:

The Complete Guide to ACT English, 2nd Edition Second Edition, Erica Meltzer

For the Love of ACT Science: An innovative approach to mastering the science section of the ACT standardized exam, Michael Cerro

ACT Math Workbook & Practice Tests for the ACT Exam

The Complete Guide to ACT Reading, 2nd Edition, Erica Meltzer