Experts’ Tips That Lead to High ACT/SAT Scores

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Young people have the huge advantage of an ongoing, bubbling fount of information at their fingertips: Khan Academy, YouTube videos, Quizlets, etc. However, it’s also true that today’s teens grow up texting, emailing, and Instagram-ing, and that this fast-flying approach to communications reduces their attention to detail.

“They’re used to moving so fast,” says Josefine Borrmann, founder of Strive to Learn in Newport Beach, California ( “That is one reason they often don’t pick up on details in SAT questions.” However, she also cites many ways teens can excel on their SAT and ACT by developing via skills.

Josefine Borrmann offers these tips for preparing for standardized tests:

  • Read in-depth instead of just skimming the surface.
  • Learn to be a critical thinker.
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • Take challenging courses (college admissions people are looking for curious, hard-working students, and if you take nothing but easy courses, this doesn’t reflect a student interested in excelling academically. Admissions directors want to see rigor in your course selections. A high school transcript with no AP or honors courses is not ideal.
  • Read books for joy.
  • Don’t worry too much about the math section. “There is a misconception that you must know calculus to do well on the SAT or ACT, but there is no calculus on either one,” says Borrmann. “You need to know pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, and some Algebra II.”
  • Take good notes in class, and review them at the end of the day. When the school year is over, don’t throw away notebooks with material that you will need when preparing for the SAT/ACT.
  • Take advantage of online tutoring. Strive to Learn, for example, lets you see your tutor via Zoom and get face-to-face help and use of a white board.
  • Learn how to pull all the topics from your memory at once when taking a standardized test.
  • Keep in mind that your ACT or SAT score is just one part of introducing yourself to college admissions personnel.
  • When you are taking tests, read instructions more than once.
  • Focus on every part of each test question.

 Here are tips from students who have taken the SAT or ACT in recent years:

  • Sign up for the test early so you can get a close testing location. No way you want to have to get up at 3 a.m. to be on time at a faraway place.
  • Review practice tests from the College Board, and practice as much as possible. (See these online and in prep books at Barnes & Noble.)
  • The day you take the SAT/ACT, take along snacks and water (if allowed) and plenty of pencils and a sharpener.
  • Enter the testing room with an outline (in your head) of what you might say. As soon as you have read the essay prompt, go full-tilt. It is okay to use information to support your argument that may not be 100% accurate (because you’re relying on your memory). Only use sentences that support your argument.
  • Remember that the math portion is a speed test. On the SAT, you do algebra and geometry. Try to finish every section five minutes early, leaving time to go back to questions you didn’t solve.
  • Go to the restroom right before the exam.
  • Take along tissues and cough drops if you think you’ll need them.
  • Get plenty of sleep and eat well the day before the test and that morning.
  • Stay calm. Remind yourself that you know a great deal—and you’re ready to trot it out for the test. 

Here are tips for tackling the essay portion of the SAT:

  1. Read lots of nonfiction articles in the weeks before the exam. This will increase your ability to think analytically and help you parse the nonfiction you will encounter on the SAT.
  2. You will read the source material provided on the test, and then write a persuasive essay. Best idea: Pretend your reader has not read the source, and you are going to make your argument so clear that absolutely anyone will understand the argument.
  3. Jot down notes as you read the source. For example, put an “m” on the side when you spot a metaphor. Underline important parts. Look for the persuasive elements the author uses in the source, and write about the how and why of what made these persuasive elements effective.
  4. Make sure your writing has clarity and continuity and reflects critical thinking.
  5. Keep in mind that those who grade your essay want to see how well you comprehended what you read. They score you on analysis—how and why did the author persuade readers with his writing? Most students score lowest on the analysis portion. Scorers evaluate:
    • Reading comprehension (how well you understood what you read).
    • Analysis (how and why the author conveyed his message).
    • Writing (vocabulary, grammar, usage).
  1. Get down your thoughts and reorder them later. Make an outline.
  2. Handwrite to engage with the material in front of you.
  3. Write in third person, avoid contractions, and use transitions.
  4. Address all parts of the prompt.
  5. Follow your outline. Guide yourself—don’t ramble.
  6. Keep in mind that your essay cannot exceed 4 pages, but it can be any number of paragraphs. Don’t let your essay end up too “thin.”

Do Standardized Test Scores Matter?

Josefine Borrmann counsels high school students on college issues, and she thinks that ACT and SAT scores actually are more important for merit scholarships than they are for college entrance. “Your score on the ACT or SAT will never get you in a certain college. A student’s grades and GPA are weighed more than the standardized test scores, but they also look at the rigor of the course work you took. The rigor needs to be high.” She adds, “If you took AP courses as a sophomore and later you slacked off on difficult courses, they will see that as a bad trend. They want students who are curious and diligent. Don’t chill in your senior year and drop down on rigor.”

At the same time, if you want to improve your SAT/ACT scores, bear in mind that you can get tutoring that will help you tremendously. Borrmann has seen students raise their SAT scores by 200 points and even as much as 500 points. As for what it takes to get a student into a certain university, Borrmann says, “It is impossible to generalize, but one student can make a 1000 and get in some colleges while another makes a 1400 and gets rejected at a different school.”

You can contact Strive to Learn at 949-873-6807; see ( 

The Write Lane editor’s note: If you want us to review briefly your college essay rough draft, send it to: and we’ll offer tips.

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