Test Prep

Preparing for Both the SAT and ACT


Getting into college is a lot of work — there's no way around that. So it's understandable that you might be hesitant about taking both the SAT and ACT. Why take two tests when you'll typically only ever need one to get into your target schools? Well, based on current student trends, there are plenty of reasons, but one of the biggest is that taking both tests can help you prep more efficiently. Rest assured that you won't need to overload your schedule to prep for both tests. Here's how to do it.

1. Choose One Test First

To start, you'll need to choose a test to focus on. Read about the differences between the tests or take a free practice test of each to see how you fare and then determine which you prefer. If your school hosts the SAT but not the ACT (or vice versa), it's probably easier to sign up for the one at your familiar location as opposed to finding a different testing site. Either way, you'll be taking the other test eventually, so the important thing here is to choose one and stick to it.

2. Set a Test Date

Next, you'll determine when you'll take the test. If your school has a testing day, you'll already have your date. Mark it on your calendar so you stay on track throughout your prep. And if you're setting a date outside of your school, don't forget to register!

3. Determine Your Target Score

You'll want to have a goal to aim for before you start preparing for the tests. Your target score shouldn't be just an arbitrary number, though. Research three or more schools where you plan to apply, looking at the middle score ranges of the most recent entering class. That will help you set a goal that falls within those ranges. (Unsure where to find that information? Check out books such as our The Best 385 Colleges or our college search.)

4. Start Prepping!

If you sign up for in-person, online courses, or private tutoring, be sure to follow the schedules. But if you prefer a self-guided experience with a test prep book (I recommend Cracking the SAT or ACT Prep to pick up the most strategies, depending on which test you take first), be sure to build yourself a strict schedule so that you stay on track!

5. Choose A Date for the Other Exam

A good rule of thumb for taking your second exam is to aim for about a month after the first one. There's a significant amount of content overlap between the two tests, especially with grammar rules and math concepts. So use the time in between to brush up on ACT Science Reasoning or the No Calculator Math section of the SAT, and plan to spend time learning test-appropriate strategies for the Reading section of your second test.

I don't recommend putting off taking the second test for too long. You want to build on the prep you've already done, and any time spent in between gives you the chance to forget strategies or to lose confidence in your own abilities.

At first thought, taking both the SAT and the ACT may seem like a lot of extra work, but it doesn't have to be. With just a little planning and by sticking to a schedule, you can give yourself a shot at scoring well on either test without adding too much to your workload.