Test-Taking Tactics to Succeed on the SAT/ACT

By Dr. Raymond Huntington

The SAT (or ACT) is arguably one of the most important exams your teen will ever take. Putting together a solid exam prep plan isn’t just a good idea—it is essential for teens who want to earn the best scores possible as they start their college application process.

While thorough, targeted preparation is critical for success on the SAT/ACT, it’s helpful to have a few tools to rely upon when test day comes around. You can help your teen prepare for the SAT/ACT by strengthening those test-taking tactics. Here are a few tips to share with your teen:

Become a pro at time management. One of the most unexpectedly difficult aspects of the SAT/ACT for test-takers is managing one’s time. If your teen practices this, however, it can become a strength. Your teen should get familiar with each test’s structure and question types so that he or she can strategically calculate the amount of time to spend on each question. Here is a high-level overview of the specific sections of each exam:

English – 75 questions (45 minutes)    Writing and Language – 44 questions (35 minutes)
Math – 60 questions (60 minutes) Math – Calculator – 38 questions (55 minutes)
  Math – No Calculator– 20 questions (25 minutes)
Reading - 40 questions (35 minutes) Reading - 52 questions (65 minutes)
Science - 40 questions (35 minutes)  
Essay (optional) – (40 minutes)      Essay (optional) – (50 minutes)


Use logic to narrow down multiple-choice answers. Narrow down answer choices to rule out those that are obviously incorrect. Your teen should watch out for answer choices that contain “absolute” words like always, never or all.

Tune out distractions. Encourage your teen to practice concentrating or reading test content with other people around and getting into his or her own “zone” of focus.

Embrace stress management techniques. Even when your teen is prepared for a test, the test setting can conjure up feelings of nervousness and anxiety. Teach your teen strategies to manage any stress, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and positive visualization techniques.

Use any spare minutes to check answers. If your teen gets through all exam questions, it’s a smart practice to go back and review the test to ensure he or she did not miss any questions and to revisit any skipped questions.

Test-taking isn’t easy for all students, and with the added pressure of the SAT/ACT exams’ significance, it can be downright stressful for some. Remind your teen that studying effectively removes a lot of the anxiety that can come with taking such an important exam. But getting familiar with each exam and learning good test-taking strategies will also help.

The Huntington Learning Center college entrance exam prep programs offer individualized instruction tailored to each student’s precise strengths, weaknesses, needs, and goals. Our highly trained tutors can work with your teen to develop the confidence and test-taking aptitudes he or she needs to succeed on the SAT or ACT.  We offer premier, 32 hour, and 14 hour customized programs for any students’ busy schedule.  Call us at 1-800 CAN LEARN today.


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