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.

This great infographic shows a few more non-academic ways to make the most out of the testing day. The first couple suggestions are fairly obvious, get sleep and eat well. The rest of them, not so much. They include body language, inner dialog, gum, and others.

Groza Learning Center Shares 8 Hacks to Improve SAT and ACT Test Scores

Clearly, there are more tips, but applying these can help calm more pre-test nerves (for both of you). Read more at the Groza Learning Center.

Student Dot Rank Settings

  • On any content area page, students can track their own progress and proficiency.
  • Proficiency is displayed using Dot Rank, our system of green, orange, pink, and grey dots.
  • Students have two options to calculate their Dot Rank scores — best practice question set only or cumulative total of all test, benchmark, and practice questions.
  • New easy toggle at the top of the page makes it easy to switch views.
  • Click on the Dot Rank link to view scoring breakdown for each color dot.
  • Vocabulary, performance tasks, and videos are tracked through the Progress bar.

Watch a video about the Dot Rank settings.


Did You Know…?



The day after a test, every math teacher has heard this student complaint:

“But I did all my homework, and I got the problems right! How could I have made a 50 on the test?”

Of course, the question is usually intended to advertise the student’s powerful work ethic, and perhaps to give the teacher a twinge of guilt for having flunked him.

On the other hand, if the student really has been working hard on the homework, then there may be some easy adjustments he can make to improve his results. Ask these questions:

  • Are you making yourself too comfortable when you work?

A common mistake is for students to work on math problems in too relaxed a posture. They should be sitting at a desk, with minimal distractions, and working the problems exactly as if they were testing.

  • Do you have too many reference aids? Are you using your notes, homework problems, formula sheets, stuffed animals, Twitter buddies, etc.?

Students often practice with far more assistance than they will have on the test. Stress to them that EVERY problem should be attempted — at least to begin with — as though it were being done on a test. Students should get as far as they can and then, if they get stuck, try to get just enough information to continue the problem, but no more. They may have to resort to little “tricks” to make this happen; for example, covering the bottom part of a solution so as to see only the next step, or asking a friend to tell them what the next step is, etc.

  • Are you checking every problem — NOT by looking at a solution, but on your own?

It is just as important to practice the checking process as it is to practice the solving process. On a test you do not have a place to look to see quickly whether your answers are right — you have to decide if your answer is reasonable and check it on your own. Do this every time to develop this extremely useful habit! You may be surprised at how many of your own errors you can catch, and learn from.

The goal of all these items is the same: Complete all your practice as if you are working on a test. Do not fool yourself into thinking you are “getting them all right” when, in fact, you are only getting them after checking your notes, trying ten formulas from your sheet, calling two friends (including Uncle Frank, the math professor), and posting a request on a homework help site. for help with ASVAB prep, please refer to this article.

All Practice Is Test Practice!

larry-headshotAbout the Author
A former math teacher in Georgia, Larry Coty is now USATestprep’s Math Content Team Leader. He has two daughters and resides in Tucker, GA.

felicia-shotDiscover how to utilize USATestprep through classroom stations. You’ll learn about five key stations that can be used in your classroom. Join USATestprep expert and former teacher, Felicia Zorn, live to learn about these five, student-centered stations that will transform your teaching approach.

The Token System is Here!

  • Students earn tokens for completing assignments and independent practice activities
  • Students earn varying amounts of tokens based on performance and type of activity
  • Students do not earn tokens for benchmark assessments
  • Students can spend tokens to play games in the new arcade
  • Students have free play games to choose from as well, but those games incorporate questions
  • Teachers can check a student’s token history and even lock the game arcade when necessary
  • Many games have transitioned to the new arcade, which means fewer options within the assignment system

Watch the video below to learn more about the token system:

Free Response

Need to add your own free response questions? Now you can! In Step 3 when creating a benchmark, click the button to author a new question. Decide between multiple choice and free response, then input your question. If adding a free response question, an answer key and keywords are optional.

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Newly Released On-Demand Webinars

Click here to log in and view our new webinars resource.


New Ambassador Program

Would you like to receive free perks and be recognized for your passion? Then check out USATestprep’s new Ambassador Program. Our Ambassadors help spread the word and educate teachers about USATestprep. In exchange, Ambassadors are rewarded with free swag, online recognition, first-to-know status, and more! Apply here to join this exclusive group.

Congratulations on making it to the end of another school year. We trust it was a successful one and that we helped you to prepare your students accordingly. As the school year concludes we wanted to make you aware of two things.

Data Management Policy

Before the start of each school year, we do move around some data within our system. We do not delete users – that is a job left for school admins – but some data older than 1 year will be deleted. For complete details, please refer to our data management policy located here in the Help section in the “Downloads” tab.

2016 User Survey

Over 1,600 educators from across 23 states completed our survey.  98% of these respondents felt that USATestprep helped their students review for their tests. We are very proud of this statistic.

Congratulations to Our Winners

These survey-takers had their names drawn and will each receive a $50 Gift Card:

  • Rae from South Carolina

  • Marilyn from Pennsylvania

  • Phillip from Tennessee

As always, thanks for using USATestprep, and have a great summer!

InfoGraphic from

Here are some new features and tips to help you get more from USATestprep:

Recently-added features:

  • Raw score (“Total Correct” column) added to your benchmark results Excel export.
  • Graphs to track monthly progress by standards and individual students –> You can even save, print, and annotate if needed.

Tips of the month:

  • Need to adjust the due date or add a student to an assignment? Make changes to existing assignments without duplicating them by using the Options menu –> Settings.
  • Can’t see a shared benchmark? Double check that you have your classes associated with that subject area. Go to your Classes tab –> gear icon on the far right –> “Edit Class” button. Add necessary subject(s) in step 1 and save in step 2.
  • Want to instantly create assignments for students to target their weaknesses? Automatically create assignments for students in their three weakest areas from your benchmark results –> Student Dot Rank section. You can then view these assignments within your Assignments tab –> “View Suggested Practice.”
  • Need assistance with anything? Use the Feedback & Contact button located at the bottom of every page to ask questions –> let us help you more quickly! When appropriate, please provide the name of the assignment or benchmark, student, class, etc.

Hope you have had a smooth February!

The USATestprep Team

For the new year, USATestprep has several new features within our Benchmark System.


In Step 1 of the Benchmark creation, you can now choose to have questions displayed in Spanish.


Also, when creating a Custom Benchmark, you can choose to view questions by the passage with which they are associated, and you can select any or all questions with that passage for your benchmark test.


Finally, on the Preview section of the process, you can rearrange the order of the questions by clicking the up or down arrow next to the question number. Clicking it once will move it one space in the direction of the arrow.



We know these changes will add to your use of the Benchmark features on USATestprep. Please contact us if you have any questions.