Test Prep

How to Prepare for the SAT/ACT if You Can Only Test Once

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You may find yourself in a position where you can only take the SAT or ACT once, whether that's because of scheduling issues, bad timing, or even something as unexpected as COVID-19. Don't despair! You still have a chance to put your best foot forward and earn a top score, increasing your chances of admission or great financial aid. Check out these seven tips on how to prepare for your one test.


1. Do Your Research

The SAT and ACT are tests about tests: That is, they look more at how well you know the test as opposed to how smart you are. Make it a priority to do some research on how these tests differ and what skills you have that would help you perform better on one test over the other. Go to the testing websites and read about each exam or take a practice test — or at least look at some sample questions. The Princeton Review's YouTube channel also offers tons of informational videos about both the SAT and ACT.

2. Register

If you still have a chance to take the ACT or SAT, take it! You may be on the fence if your goal school has gone test-optional, but a high score will always help your application. Whether it opens up opportunities to join the honors college or earn a merit-based scholarship, good scores on a standardized test can only strengthen your application. So mark your calendars, set an alarm and get ready to sign up. You don't want a registration deadline to come and go and be left without any testing options.

3. Find Your Benchmark

If you were working out, you'd be setting specific goals, like 10 pull-ups, to track your progress. Studying for a test follows the same routine — it's a workout, but for your mind. Begin with a trial run to see what you're working with from the start. Take a free practice SAT or ACT test and make note of your starting score. You should simulate the same conditions in which you would be taking the real exam, including masks on if you're going to be testing in-person. Once you've done this, set reliable score goals to aim for with each new training session or practice test.

4. Eyes on the Prize

Your plan of action prior to your exam becomes much more concrete when you have something solid to compare your benchmark score to. In this case, you'll want to find your goal range, which you can do by looking at your top prospective schools and jotting down the 25th to 75th percentile SAT or ACT scores of enrolled students. Where does your benchmark score fit? Strive to reach the higher end of the range and keep track of the progress you're making toward your goal score.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

There are a variety of practice tools available for your standardized test prep needs. From practice SAT or ACT books to courses or YouTube videos and livestreams, you can find an option that works for you, whatever your budget. The key is using the methods that work best for you. The SAT and ACT are knowable tests, so the more question types you practice and the more confident you feel with the directions and strategies for each exam, the less surprised you'll be on test day.

6. Drill Down

Ultimately, you can't make top marks without putting in the work. Hunker down and practice the challenging questions from your benchmark test or review sessions. Take the time to master these concepts and build your confidence. It's also a good idea to look back even at the exam sections you performed well on. These are timed tests, so it helps to be able to find a more efficient way to correctly answer these questions. Test out a few methods. As you continue to study, celebrate the improvements you're making. You've got this!

7. Attitude Check

Don't underestimate the power of a pep talk and a can-do attitude. You've studied, strategized and put in the work. It's showtime! Be confident knowing you did everything in your power to succeed. The good news is, even if you don't achieve the score you were hoping for, colleges never need to know. You can view your scores after testing and decide whether you want to send them along. Note, however, that this comes with an additional fee if you don't qualify for a fee waiver.

Taking the SAT or ACT only once may feel like a lot of pressure, but with proper preparation, you might be surprised with what you're able to accomplish. For more SAT and ACT practice, check out our books SAT Prep and ACT Prep and subscribe to our YouTube channel for test prep livestreams and videos.