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Preparing for the ACT and SAT Tests: 5 Tips for Educators to Help Students Through College Entrance Exams

Preparing for the ACT and SAT Tests: 5 Tips for Educators to Help Students Through College Entrance Exams

This time of year, college-bound students are busy preparing for the ACT® and SAT® college entrance exams. Students know that these exams have a significant impact on which colleges’ and universities’ application decisions, so it’s no surprise that they can cause a lot of stress. But, with some thoughtful planning, mindful preparation, and healthy perspective, you can help your students take the intimidation factor out of these tests. Here are five easy tips for educators to make the college entrance exam testing process smooth for students, both before and after the exams take place: 

Before the Exam

1.    Review the test requirements

As you help your students review for college entrance exams, make sure that the requirements of the exam are communicated clearly to them. Having your students know what the format of the exam looks like will help them to better prepare. Go over how each test section for the exam will appear, how much time students will have for each section, and what kind of item types they can expect to see. These exams are most likely in a format that your students may be unfamiliar with, so plan on spending some time reviewing what these sections will consist of. Work with your students to figure out areas of the exam that are unfamiliar to them and figure out a few best practices to tackle these sections. Resources for the ACT and SAT exams can be found on their respective websites.

2.    Study, study, study

This tip is an obvious one, but it’s extremely important. You’ll want to focus on helping students master the content knowledge that is relevant to each section of the exam. Working through practice questions found online can help familiarize your students with how questions are written and what sort of content is tested. Practice tests are a great way to identify skill gaps in your students and fit in some extra review. Think about planning a review session or two to help your students get some extra help in a subject area they may not feel as comfortable with before the exam. Or, if your school uses a program like Study Island, consider assigning some extra review to your students for practice at school or home. Creating a practice plan to help fill the skill gaps of your students will strengthen their content knowledge for the exam and beyond.


Register and prep for the day of the exam

Testing day is inevitably stressful. The best way for students to manage that stress is to be well-prepared for what the day will be like. Review details like where and when the test will be administered, what time they are actually expected to arrive, and where registration will be located at the testing site. Consider giving your students a checklist of items to bring to the test, and be sure to make them aware of what they cannot bring to their exams, such as highlighters, extra reading materials, or laptops. While reminding them of the test location may seem like another obvious tip, there are always a handful of students who forget where their exam will be and are late on testing day. Be sure to also get parents on board with helping their children prepare for these exams. And, of course, encourage your students to get enough sleep on the days leading up to test day and to eat a healthy, filling breakfast before they take the exam—rest and a full stomach can make a huge difference!

After the Exam

4.    Celebrate!

After the exam is over for your students, take some time to celebrate their accomplishments in the classroom. Regardless of how students may feel about how they performed on the exam, it’s important to acknowledge how difficult these tests are and how much hard work students put into preparation. Take a few minutes out of your next class period to let each student know that you’re proud of him or her.

5.     Reflect on exam performance

After exam day has passed, it can be very valuable to have students reflect on their performance, even if they haven’t received their scores yet. Ask specific questions. What sections did they struggle with? Did they run out of time on any sections? Were there certain types of questions (multiple choice, essay, etc.) that they spent time on more than others? If they plan on retaking the exam, how could they study differently? Considering these questions can help your students build their test-taking skills—just remember to emphasize the importance of keeping college entrance exams in perspective too. Reinforce with your students that colleges and universities take plenty of other measures into consideration when making admissions decisions; retaking exams is always an option, and a lower-than-hoped for score will not derail postsecondary goals.

Looking for more tips, ideas, and strategies to help your college-bound students prepare for the ACT or SAT exam? Check out these blog posts:


Preparing for Success: ACT® for College Entrance and High School Accountability


The New SAT®: Ace the Verbal Section


4 Last-Minute Strategies to Prepare Your Students for High-Stakes Testing


[Test Preparation] 6 Tips for Teachers to Help Students Manage Stress

beth.holine's picture
Beth Holine

Beth Holine joined Edmentum in 2011 as a Marketing Specialist. In her role, she works to provide teachers and educators with innovative, useful resources. Beth has a B.S. in Psychology from the Iowa State University.