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Some students in high school find they don’t have to study particularly hard to score well in a class. But that method can get them in trouble when it comes to the two big college entrance exams—the ACT and SAT. So even the most talented students should focus in and study up!

A Different Kind of Test

Many types of tests in school depend on memorization of facts, formulas, themes, or events. You get months or weeks to pay attention in class, take notes, and do some readings to understand the material. This isn’t the case with the ACT or SAT. They don’t necessarily test knowledge the same way. You won’t be asked to name the literary device used to hint at or warn about a future event (Foreshadowing). Or asked which element is the first on the periodic table (Hydrogen).

These are tests about logic, problem solving, and reasoning. Often, the answers will be given to you—in a graph or short passage—and you’re tested on finding it within the context of a prompt.


When you take a test in school, it typically is over one subject and you may have the whole period to focus on it. Not so with the ACT and SAT. These multi-hour long tests are rigorously timed. Even students who do well in the subjects might find themselves rushed or stressed, and score lower than they’re capable of. After all, being a good test taker doesn’t automatically mean you’re a fast test taker.

Typical tests are usually straightforward: they ask a question, you mark down an answer. But these tests (and the SAT in particular) can sometimes require a bit more critical thinking to see what the question is truly asking. These tests are designed to engage and challenge, so they won’t always be simple and straightforward.


So much pressure is put onto the ACT and SAT just the thought of taking it can become overwhelming. That stress can cause even the smartest to crack or give less than their best. Preparation is the best way to cure nerves, but it’s good to put the ACT and SAT into perspective as well. They’re important, to be sure, but not necessarily the most important element of your college application.

Study Strategies

The ACT and SAT are unlike other tests, so don’t go into a study session with the same strategies. Instead, tackle it with a fresh perspective. There are plenty of free prep resources out there, and even reading up on their formatting and materials can be a big help.

Interested to see how your ACT/SAT scores affect your admission chances? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool!