How to Ace Your ACT & SAT Tests

By Arkansas NEXT Staff on Monday, September 19, 2011

They’re the scariest tests of all high school, but these tips and practice questions will prepare you to score your best.

First, determine which test is right for you.
Despite the differences between the two, neither the ACT nor the SAT is more likely to produce a great score. The best way to choose the right test for you is to investigate each; the tips listed below can help. 

ACT versus SAT

The ACT...

  • It’s an achievement test, measuring what the student has learned in school.
  • Results are accepted by virtually all U.S. colleges and universities.
  • Colleges use these scores for admissions requirements, course placement and awarding scholarships.
  • An optional writing portion is available; several Arkansas colleges and universities recommend taking it.
  • Multiple choice questions make up the entirety of the ACT.
  • The ACT does not count off for questions missed, so you can guess without penalty.
  • The ACT is the longer test, taking about four hours to complete.
  • The ACT has five components: mathematics, reading, science, English and an optional 30-minute writing test.
  • The exam fee is $33, which includes score reports sent to four colleges or universities of your choice. The optional writing portion costs $15.
  • The 2010 national average composite score was 21 out of 36 possible points. Arkansas’ average composite score was 20.3.

The SAT...

  • It’s more of an aptitude test, measuring reasoning and verbal abilities.
  • Results are accepted by virtually all U.S. colleges and universities.
  • These scores are intended to supplement your transcript but are often used for college admissions requirements, course placement and scholarships.
  • It has a mandatory writing portion, including one 25-minute essay and a 10-minute multiple-choice section.
  • In addition to multiple choice questions, the SAT has a math section that requires students to produce their own answers.  
  • The SAT counts off for wrong answers, except in the math section where you fill in your responses.
  • It has 75 fewer questions than the ACT, which means the SAT takes less time to complete.
  • The SAT has three components: critical reading, mathematics and writing, but offers additional subject tests – at an additional cost – in specific areas.
  • The SAT fee is $49, which includes score reports sent to four colleges or universities of your choice.
  • For college-bound Arkansas seniors in 2010, the average critical reading score was 566 out of 800 and the average mathematical score was 566 out of 800. The average writing score was 552 out of 800.

2. Practice.
Do you know your stuff? See if you’re ready to take these important tests, by trying your hand at these practice questions. Click here for sample questions (and answers) in the digital edition of Arkansas NEXT.

3. Make sure you’re fully prepared.

Before you register or show up on test day, read the following preparation tips to ensure you’re as ready as ever.

Before test day…

  • Study and practice. Winging it is not an option, especially since every point counts. A single point more or less could mean the difference between getting a scholarship or getting into your first-choice school – or not.
  • Do your homework. Learn as much as you can about the exam by checking out the questions and directions on sample tests before the big day. It’ll help you feel more comfortable on test day. For example: Did you know that for the SAT you’ll be asked to read about an issue, develop a point of view and then support it with examples during the mandatory writing portion?
  • Know the strategy. ACT scores are based on the number of questions you answer correctly. There is no penalty for guessing, so it’s to your advantage to answer every question, even if you guess. However, on the SAT, more points are lost for wrong answers than blank ones. If you’re in serious doubt, leave a question blank.
  • Get your supplies ready. Gather No. 2 pencils, erasers and calculators the night before so you are not frantically searching for everything the morning of the test.

On test day…

  • Eat breakfast. It will help prevent lightheadedness that may result from hunger and give you enough energy to make it though the test. Some sites also offer snacks between sections.
  • Be on time. Moderators of both tests are strict, and you could be disqualified if you show up late.
  • Read each answer. Some questions have several answers that might work,
  • but the directions ask for the best one. Read and consider each possible answer before choosing the one that best responds to the question.
  • Pace yourself. Don’t spend too much time on any one question. If you’re stumped, move on to the next question and come back later.
  • Answer easy questions first. Then, go back and answer the more difficult ones.
  • Use logic. Eliminate as many incorrect answers as you can – then make an educated guess from the ones left.

4. Choose and register for your test date(s).
Pick from the following test dates in 2011-12, registering before the indicated deadlines.

SAT Test Dates & Deadlines

Test Dates ll Regular Registration Postmark Deadline ll *Late Registration Postmark Deadline

  • Oct. 1, 2011 ll Sept. 9, 2011 ll Sept. 21, 2011
  • Nov. 5, 2011 ll Oct. 7, 2011 ll Oct. 21, 2011
  • Dec. 3, 2011 ll Nov. 8, 2011 ll Nov. 20, 2011
  • Jan. 28, 2012 ll Dec. 30, 2011 ll Jan. 13, 2012
  • March 10, 2012 ll Feb. 10, 2012 ll Feb. 24, 2012
  • May 5, 2011 ll April 6, 2012 ll April 20, 2012
  • June 2, 2012 ll May 8, 2012 ll May 22, 2012

*A late fee of $26 is added to the original cost of the test. For more information on the SAT, log on to

ACT Test Dates & Deadlines

Test Dates ll Regular Registration Postmark Deadline ll *Late Registration Postmark Deadline

  • Sept. 10, 2011 ll Aug. 12, 2011 ll Aug. 13–26, 2011
  • Oct. 22, 2011 ll Sept. 16, 2011 ll Sept. 17–30, 2011
  • Dec. 10, 2011 ll Nov. 4, 2011 ll Nov. 5–18, 2011
  • Feb. 11, 2012 ll Jan. 13, 2012 ll Jan. 14–20, 2012
  • April 14, 2012 ll March 9, 2012 ll March 10–23, 2012
  • June 9, 2012 ll May 4, 2012 ll May 5–18, 2012

*A late fee of $21 is added to the original cost of the test. For more information on the ACT, visit