One of the most common questions that we receive is regarding what to do after SAT or ACT scores come back.  Most juniors have already taken or will soon be taking their first SAT and/or ACT.  Once they see their scores, what is the next step?

Scenario 1: You received a 36 on the ACT or a 2400 on the SAT on your first attempt.  Next step, send to schools and never worry about a standardized test ever again (well, until AP exams, the GRE, the MCAT, the GMAT, the LSAT, etc.).


Scenario 2: The more likely scenario is that you did not receive a perfect score along with 99.9% of the other students that took the same test.  You may have already done some prep and may have seen some improvement.  You may have tried taking the test cold just to get an idea of how you would do.  In either case, it’s usually a good idea to take it again.  No harm in trying to do a little (or a lot, depending on your goal) better on a second test.  The most you will lose is 4 hours of your life–a small price to pay to know you are confident that you have tried your best before submitting to colleges.

Step 1: Be sure you are prepping for the test that best shows your strengths. If you have taken both the SAT and the ACT, compare the two scores using the concordance chart found here. You can use this chart to see which score is showcasing your strengths best.  Colleges will accept either test for admissions so you want to put your effort into preparing for the test that is the best fit for you.  If you have not taken both tests, there is access to a free full length ACT here and a free SAT here.   Try a practice test at home and then compare your scores.

Step 2: Review your mistakes. The best way to review your mistakes on the first test is to order the booklet with the questions and your answers.  This service is an extra fee but is available three times a year for both the SAT and the ACT.  It is a great way to understand and analyze your test performance.

For the ACT, information for the Test Information Release Service can be found here.  It can be ordered before your test and up to three months after the test date.  It is an additional $19 and can be ordered for those that took an ACT at a national testing center in December, April, and June.

For the SAT, information for the Question Answer Service can be found here.  It can be ordered before your test and up to five months after the test date.  It is $18 and can be ordered for those taking the October, January, and May test dates.

If you did not test on one of those dates, you can still gain a lot of information about your strengths and weaknesses from your score report.  This is usually posted on your account at www.collegeboard.org or www.actstudent.org within 3-4 weeks after the test date.   For example, on the SAT score report, it breaks down the math section into the four categories: number and operations, algebra, geometry, and data and statistics.  It then goes further to break down those categories into difficulty level: easy, medium, and hard.  This will help you determine which types of problems to review before the second test.

The score reports can also give you some insight into whether pacing was an issue.  For example, on the ACT, the last reading section is always Natural Science.  The subscores for reading include arts/literature (passages 1 and 3) and social studies/sciences (passages 2 and 4).  A significantly lower subscore on social studies/sciences may indicate that you ran out of time on the section and did not have enough time to properly read the last science passage.

Step 3: Reflect on your first testing experience. This step would actually be better done immediately following the test rather than waiting for your score to come back.  After the test, note your feelings about the test.  Did you run out of time on any sections?  If so, which ones?  Did you have difficulty focusing throughout the test?  It is likely the longest test that you have ever taken so it is common to start out well but have more difficulty at the end of the test.  Did you feel overly anxious during the test?  If so, did you combat your anxiety with any tips such as taking deep breaths or repeating a positive mantra?  If not, this is something to plan for on the next test.  Did any sections seem more challenging than those that you had practiced?

Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice. At this point, you have identified the test that is the best fit for you.  You should have also identified areas in which you still need to review as well as other hurdles in the testing environment such as focus and pacing.  Now, it’s time to review.  If the main issue was pacing and focus, the best way to practice is to continue to try timed sections and replicate the testing environment as closely as you can.  I prefer using The Official SAT Study Guide or The Real ACT Prep Guide for practice tests because they contain actual SAT’s and ACT’s.  If you run out of tests in those books, you can try other test prep guides, such as Kaplan and Princeton Review, but keep in mind that those tests may be slightly different than the actual tests.

There are free online resources as well.  Here are some that we have found helpful:

  • Khan Academy: Khan Academy is partnering with CollegeBoard for the new SAT coming out in 2016.  They also have many videos for the current version of the SAT of various practice problems worked out.  I suggest pausing the video after you see the question and trying to see if you can solve the problem first.  Then, play the video to see how your solution compared. Keep in mind that there are often multiple ways to get the same answer.  The goal on the SAT is to find the fastest way for you to answer a question.
  • Major Tests.com: This site has many free problem sets for all sections of the SAT.  It is good practice but it does not have full length tests.  It does give suggested times for the problem sets.
  • CollegeBoard Question of the Day:  Get an official SAT question emailed to you every day.
  • ACT Question of the Day:  Get an official ACT question emailed to you every day.

If you need additional help understanding your mistakes or sticking to a study schedule, a tutor can help.

Step 5: Retake the test with confidence. Now that you are prepared for the SAT or ACT, you can walk into the test with confidence that you can reach your goal.

Happy Test Prep!