Tips for Tackling the SAT and ACT

Standardized tests are stressful on their own, but combine them with the pressure of getting into college, and teens have a mentally challenging, high-stakes situation on their hands. To help your teen stress less and achieve greater success, we’ve broken down the primary sources of stress students face when taking the SAT or ACT, as well as solutions for overcoming these stressors.

Stressor: Time Limit


There are two great strategies to take standardized tests efficiently: speed reading and skipping challenging questions (but returning to them later). Here’s how they work:

Speed reading

Start with a brief scan of the text, beginning to end (no more than a minute). Try to figure out the general message or storyline, then skim through the questions you need to answer based on the text. Next, quickly read through the text and use your fingers or the tip of your pencil to keep track of your spot. While you’re reading, underline key parts of the text that can help you answer the questions. Once it’s time for you to answer questions, you should be able to easily find the important spots from your underlining.

Skipping and returning

This strategy is especially useful for math, but can also be used in other sections. The key is to go through all of the problems multiple times. In the first pass, don’t spend more than one or two minutes working on a problem. Circle the ones you need to return to and note on a scale of 1-5 how difficult you expect it to be. Then, in the next pass, tacke the most easy questions first and work up to the hardest questions. If you can’t finish them all, be sure to make reasonable guesses and mark in answers anyway. Although the SAT used to deduct points for wrong answers, now it treats them as if they were left blank.

Stressor: Unfamiliar Material


The only way to get familiar with the material is to review it. This is where study guides, prep books, and coaching come into play. We use The Official SAT Study Guide and The Official ACT Prep Guide for our bootcamps and test prep packages, but we’ve also developed take-home study guides and flashcards with essential math formulas and grammar rules that are not always taught in school. Although books and guides are helpful, they can’t offer personalized strategies for tackling specific problems. Coaches help identify your student’s strengths and weaknesses so that they can remember the material and approach questions efficiently and strategically.

Stressor: Test Anxiety


Overcoming test anxiety is a mental game, so gaining confidence with testing and controlling negative self-talk are critical. Find ways for your student to take practice tests in a realistic, timed setting, and avoid self-defeating thoughts. Colorado high schools usually offer one practice test, followed by a real test a few months later; however, if test anxiety is an issue for your student, you may want to look into getting support from an experienced academic coach who can not only administer practice exams, but also offer strategies for coping with test anxiety and keeping a positive outlook.

Stressor: Insufficient Time to Prepare


For many students, the exam date sneaks up on them and they feel they have no time to prepare. This causes them to cram, which is an ineffective study strategy. To avoid last-minute cramming, schedule regular study time to practice and review material. Receiving regular coaching is more effective than weekend workshops for the same reason, which is why our SAT Bootcamp focuses on a different section of the test every week.

Standardized tests shouldn’t be a source of stress for your student or your family. If your student needs coaching to prepare for the SAT or ACT, they should be getting now rather than right before the test. Our coaches are enthusiastic, experienced, and passionate about helping teens achieve their best. To give our students the best learning experience, we keep group sizes small and provide healthy snacks at each bootcamp session. For more information, give us a call at (970) 226-8704 or visit


Please provide us with the following before posting a comment