18 Hacks to Increase SAT and ACT Test Scores

Published: Dec. 1, 2016, 4:42 p.m.

As the SAT/ACT season approaches, most students are trying to cram as much knowledge into their minds as possible. And, while teachers and parents know this is inefficient, they rarely have solid advice which can help students master these all-important college entrance exams. So, what should you tell your SAT and ACT bound students to help prepare them to garner better performance? What are the best ways to improve scores without dedicating countless hours to test prep? Here are 18 hacks which can take your kids’ SAT or ACT scores from average to exceptional.
  • Avoid Cram Sessions
While many students will procrastinate to the point of no return, encourage them not to. Instead, plan study of key test points starting at least six weeks ahead of the exam. Assigning study sessions during class, as homework or extra credit, can help students work at a more sustainable pace. Trying to cram before a test is stressful and unlikely to yield good results. According to a study conducted at UCLA, cramming rarely helps students perform and can even lead to lower test scores. The stress of attempting to learn anything in a short time period makes memory harder to access, and resting your brain before a big exam is necessary for the best possible score.
  • Customized Learning
Encourage students to employ different means of studying, depending on their personal learning styles. Students may be auditory, visual or kinesthetic learners and should adapt study habits which take advantage of learning styles.This can mean anything from color-coding notes, to discussing topics with peers, to pairing studying with physical activity. Students who customize their study habits to themselves learn more, remember more, and will do better on their SATs and ACTs.
  • Relating Key Information
Creating personal associations with key topics can help students access long-term memory reserves more readily. Teach students to create anagrams which relate to important events in their lives, pets, or other beloved possessions. Creating emotional ties to test material can improve your pupils’ memorization capacity which will, in turn, help them get higher scores on standardized tests.
  • Be Prepared
Remind test-takers to pack the night before the test to avoid forgetting important supplies, such as pencils, calculators, pens, water, and a snack. They should also be prepared for chilly exam rooms. Suggest that students dress in light layers and bring one layer more than expected. The less time spent distracted by personal discomfort, the better. Students should also ensure they pack their admission ticket and valid photo identification.
  • Brain Food
Nourishing students with appropriate food will help them build memory links and perform better on tests. Remind students to eat healthy brain food during study sessions, especially the night before and morning of the test. Try suggesting students eat nuts, berries, and chocolate during study sessions. Those brain-boosting foods are also delicious snacks.
  • Hydration is Key
Students should get used to drinking water during study sessions and bring a good-sized bottle on test day. Hydration is important for stamina during preparation and test-taking. Try to encourage students to avoid energy drinks, coffee, or sports drinks for standardized testing. The tried and true water has no substitution and is infinitely better for brain plasticity. Even mild dehydration can derail concentration and impede memory functions.
  • Rest
Of course, students need to rest regularly for a healthy body and mind. However, as big tests approach, many of them will throw off their sleep cycles with prolonged study sessions. This is a big no-no! Regular sleep patterns are necessary for REM sleep. And, REM sleep is necessary for the mind to function at its highest capacity.
  • Avoid Caffeine Jitters and Sugar Rushes
Test-takers should moderate caffeine and sugar to avoid the ups and downs associated with high levels of either. While starting the day with a double espresso or monster may seem like a way to guarantee energy, the effects are short-lived and likely to wear off during the exam.
  • Manage Time Efficiently
It may seem like a bad idea to skip questions; however, students should do just that. The SATs and ACTs reward correct answers. The more correct answers, the higher the score. So, it stands to reason that your students should be coached to skip anything which they don't immediately know and come back later. This strategy allows test takers to get the highest number of quick points before spending time figuring out the more complicated questions.
  • Process of Elimination
Remind students that there is always one right answer. If they are unsure of a question, they should begin by eliminating obviously wrong answers. Ideally, they can pare down the choices to one or two options which aren't obviously wrong. From there, students who are unsure should guess between the options left. Wrong answers are the same as blanks, so students should take a chance any time they're unsure. Clearly, there are more tips, but applying these can help calm more pre-test nerves (for both of you).