The SAT and ACT are easily the most anticipated and nerve-wracking components of the college process. The minute junior year starts, the minute students begin to contemplate important questions, such as “Where am I going?” and “What do I want to do in life?” But before you can start pinning answers to these questions, you need to see who you are, and most importantly: who you are up against.
There are many facets of the college admissions process: extracurriculars, sports, personal interests, one’s cultural background. And then comes academics. Academics is often regarded as the most complex and crucial aspect of the college application. If you are first in your class with a perfect test score, you are automatically granted into any school of your choice. While this may be true in some circumstances, this ideology behind obtaining that perfect “5.0” and receiving that outstanding “1560/1600” or “35/36” is truly, in most cases, overrated. Sure, it does not hurt to have outstanding statistics. But put this into perspective: top universities such as Princeton receive tens of thousands of applicants a year, with that applicant pool constantly increasing. Among these applicants, a large amount may have similar, if not the same, statistics- top in their class and a perfect SAT/ACT score. While they are certainly proving they know how to master being the perfect student, colleges want to see diversity: what are you going to bring to the class?
Ultimately, what I am getting at here is that although junior and senior year may be extremely stressful and intimidating, do not let your focus on what is important be deterred. Academics will always be expected, but the unique qualities you possess or the passions you exercise inside and outside the classroom are what will truly make you stand out as an applicant. I believe that this is an essential idea to really put into perspective, especially during the testing process. So while you are prepping hard for the SAT or ACT, recognize that you have so much more to offer other than your scores on a piece of paper.
Reading Tips for Both the SAT and ACT
- Do not make assumptions.
A common mistake on both exams are that students will often come up with their own answers or interpretations of the text. It is easy to assume that a passage may be indicating one thing, but if it does not completely follow with any of the answer choices, than it may be indicating another. Focus specifically on what the passage states and that each answer choice 100% corresponds with the given information. For questions that proceed with a question stating, “Which quote best supports the previous answer…”, answer the supporting evidence one first. The quotations provided in the answer choice will most likely give you the information to answer the previous question.
2. Do not always read the entire passage first.
This tip is more of a personal judgement one. If you are a slower reader and often struggle with finishing the reading section, do not read the passages immediately. Instead, scan the questions and see which ones you can answer by skimming the text or using a line of reference provided. Often, vocabulary in context questions can be answered right of the bat by simply reading the lines above and below it. Other questions such as “What is the main idea…” or “This passage is best organized as…” can be answered after you have answered all the other questions. This way, from reading only the sections necessary to answer the other questions, you will have a pretty good idea of what the passage states and its main focus.
3. Remain unbiased.
Similar to tip 1, do not formulate your own opinions on the subject matter of the passages. This can be applied especially with history-based passages. Often times, history questions will be asking, “How would the author of passage 1 counter this argument made in passage 2…” and etc. Stick to specifically what the author is saying, and the word choice. In historical text, word choice is crucial to better understanding what the author is saying and how he/she feels about the subject. It is best to highlight the ideas conveyed that are the most blunt and obvious.
4. Understand in pieces.
This tip is essential for the science reading passages, which are commonly hard for students to read and develop interest in. Most science passages are a bit complex, with the use of foreign vocabulary and an abundance of information being rattled off. When approaching science questions, highlight key information within the passage that help you best understand what is happening in the experiment/observations. After reading a sentence, reflect for a moment on what it is saying and if you can fully understand it.
As a whole for the reading section, the only way to get better is to remain as someone who is simply interpreting someone else’s work. Be neutral, look for evidence that corresponds with the passage, and keep a strict mind. If the answer choice does not 100% apply to the passage, eliminate it. If you are on the border with two similar answer choices, be as picky as possible. Do not try to look for things in the passage that are not there in order to prove your point. If you have to guess or assume, then there is a problem.
Just keep practicing and most importantly- be calm. Relaxing and thinking of the SAT as something you can always take again may give you a source of comfort. Also, it helps you look at the reading section as just another easy straightaway to success.
Best of luck!