The 7 Biggest Mistakes Made When Preparing For The SAT/ACTs

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Rob Wellington, Director of Outreach at ScoreBeyond, shares the most common mistakes high school students make when preparing for the SAT/ACT exams. If you want help putting a prep plan together and/or redeeming your NSHSS member benefits, contact Rob at or visit

1.  Starting Too Late

This is the number one mistake that we see every year. In fact, ScoreBeyond surveyed over 42,000 students and their parents last year and a whopping 71% said that they regretted prepping too late.

Conventional wisdom is to take the SAT/ACT during junior spring and again, if needed during senior fall. However, the end of junior year can be intense, especially if you’re taking AP exams, and senior fall should ideally be spent applying to colleges and writing essays, not fretting about whether you can get that extra 80 points on the SAT to bolster your application.

We strongly recommend you decide whether you will take the SAT or ACT by fall of your junior year, begin prepping to take your first SAT/ACT in the winter and take one (or two if needed) more before the end of junior year. You should absolutely do whatever you can to lock down an SAT/ACT score that you’re happy with before the summer.

2. Not Decisively Exploring SAT vs ACT Before Prepping

The most common question we get is “which test is better for me, the SAT or ACT?” The answer is always “whichever one you can get a higher score on.” While there are ways to guess which test will be the best fit for you, there is only one good way to decisively make that determination: take a full length SAT and ACT practice test and see which one you scored higher. Once you’ve determined the test to best focus on, then you can start preparing.

3. Taking the Test “Cold”

Parents will often tell me that they want their student to go in and take the test with zero preparation just to see how he or she will do. I can tell you how… not great. You should always take the official exam with your best foot forward to get a top score. That means that you should do most of your preparation before taking the exam for the first time. The more times you go in well-prepared, the better your chances are of maxing out your score.

4. Not Taking Full-Length Practice Tests

Preparing for the SAT/ACT without taking full length practice tests is like running a marathon but only running short distances to prepare. To simulate the concentration and stamina necessary to ace the SAT/ACT, you should take a full length practice test at least twice, ideally on weekend mornings within a month of your real test date.

5. Cramming

While cramming may work well on many school tests where memorization is key, the SAT/ACT are comprehensive tests that you can’t “beat” by staying up late the night before for last minute cramming. In fact, you shouldn’t study at all the night before. Going to bed early and getting a good night’s sleep will help far more than any last minute cramming.

6. Not Understanding Superscoring

Many colleges will allow for a “superscore” - that is where you take the top score from each section of multiple SAT/ACT exam sittings to create your maximum superscore. If you are applying to colleges with this policy, you have an increased advantage to take the exam multiple times. Also, on second or third sittings, a student trying to land a top superscore may in fact just focus on one particular section of the exam if he or she has already locked down top scores across other sections.

7. Trying To Prep On Your Own

While self-study can be an effective method for some students to prepare for the SAT/ACT, many students benefit greatly from working with a tutor who can share tips and tricks unique to the SAT/ACT, map out a gameplan, assign proper homework assignments and help guide you through the most difficult concepts tested on the exam. On tests where a few points can mean the difference in where you end up going to school or how much scholarship money a college offers you, test prep is often a great investment in your future.

We hope you find these tips helpful! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Thanks!