6 Tips for Taking Standardized Tests

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The NCAA requires all prospective D-I and D-II student-athletes to take either the SAT or the ACT. Here are a few tools for optimizing your performance:

Take Both Tests

The two are not identical. The SAT focuses on problem solving, while the ACT tests academic development. Students typically perform better on one or the other, and most colleges now accept both.

Take Them More Than Once

Schools have different policies. Some require you to send the results of every test you take. Others let you pick and choose. If you're planning to play D-I or D-II sports, the NCAA allows you to use your best sub-score from different tests to meet its minimum test score requirements. But don't take either exam more than three times—unless you're seriously in need of upping your scores.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Both the SAT and ACT websites provide free daily practice questions and tests (sat.collegeboard.org; actstudent.org). Instructional books and pamphlets flood the market, and organizations like The Princeton Review (princetonreview. com) and Kaplan (Kaplan.com) offer group test prep sessions. Students who have difficulty in a particular subject may also benefit from individual tutoring. Consult with your teachers and your college guidance counselors to craft a plan that meets your needs.

Cover Your Bases

If the test location is not at your high school, make sure you know exactly how to get to there. Print out directions and make sure you have a working GPS device. Don't cram the night before the test; get a good night's sleep and eat a good breakfast in the morning so you will be rested, calm and ready. Arrive early on test day, bring extra pencils and batteries, and pack a snack and a drink.

You Can't Get Them All Right

Each question is worth the same number of points. If a question is confusing or too time-consuming, don't panic. Answer the easy questions first, then go back and answer more difficult ones later.

Know the Rules

If you don't know an answer on the ACT, eliminate the choices you know are wrong before making an educated guess among those that remain. Only correct answers count toward your score, so it's better to guess than leave a blank. The SAT is a different story: you lose 1/4 point for incorrect multiple-choice answers, except in the math section, where you won't lose points for wrong answers.

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