The Importance of Knowing the ACT / SAT Test Format

Two SAT papers and two pencils on the desk.

Flickr user Lauren Brown

When studying for a test, you probably focus on the material, right? The actual content you’ll be tested on. If it’s a US History test, you’ll study dates, memorize key people, and read about important events. But the ACT and SAT aren’t “normal” tests. You won’t just study the tested material in preparation, but also the tests’ format.

Layout of the Test

It may seem a bit odd, but you should study the structure of the test itself. Dedicate some of your study time to understand how the tests are laid out. It’s more than just knowing that these tests are multiple choice. The ACT and SAT are formatted pretty differently from each other, so be sure to analyze the format of your chosen test.

Why It’s Important to Know the Format

There are plenty of idioms about knowledge—“Know thy enemy”; “knowing is half the battle”; “knowledge is power” etc. To prepare as best you possibly can, you should know how things are laid out.

Taking practice tests is one great way to familiarize yourself with the ACT / SAT. First hand experience with the types of questions, reading passages, and charts you’ll encounter will benefit you come test day. Nothing will feel out of the blue if you properly prepare.

Saving Test Time Time

If you know how something’s structured, you don’t have to waste time figuring it out. Plain and simple. Time is a precious thing on the ACT/SAT, and you’ll want to use a majority of it focusing on finding the correct answers.

Boosting Test Scores

These are tough tests, designed to challenge you as a student. Questions won’t always be straightforward, but the more you familiarize yourself with practice tests and prep questions, the less likely you are to be confused by how a question is worded, or what a graph wants you to understand.

Format and Material Go Hand in Hand

The good thing about a standardized test, is that you’ll always know what will be on it. For example, the ACT Math Section will always have a certain percent of its questions relating to Algebra. If 5–10% of the 60 questions will focus on Trigonometry, and Pre-Algebra / Elementary Algebra makes up 35–45%, which are you going to spend more time on? Knowing the content breakdown allows you to prioritize your studying focus.

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