Top 5 Proven Ways to Improve Your SAT or ACT Scores

Posted by IPFW Admissions Team on 2/18/15 11:07 AM


While SAT and ACT scores aren’t necessarily the most important part of your college application, strong exam scores can help you stand out from other applicants. 

If you didn’t do as well as you’d hoped on your first attempt, it’s OK—plenty of students don’t do their best the first time around. Think of it as a practice round and an opportunity to learn where you need to focus on improvement. 

students taking a test                            SAT and ACT tests can always be taken again if you want to imrpove your score

It’s important to note that many students choose to take these exams more than once (and many more choose to take the practice versions before attempting the real thing). Retaking the exams gives you an opportunity to try again (now that you know what to expect) and improve your score. 

Don’t worry about a lower score on your second try—most schools will take the highest score for each section, so your score will never go down.

What if I “Bombed” the Test?

Figuring out what went wrong is a good place to start when you’re prepping for your second attempt. The Princeton Review suggests three possible scenarios that could account for a lower score:

  • You were underprepared for the format of the test. Maybe you didn’t read questions as carefully as you could, or didn’t fully understand or answer what the question was asking for. A good way to prepare for your second go around is to take a couple more practice tests and spend more time analyzing the questions and format of the exam.
  • You felt the pressure of the time crunch. This is a really common reason students give for why they may not have done as well as they’d hoped. If you didn’t even get to read all the questions, your pace may need some work. Prioritize by answering the easy questions—the ones you immediately know the answer to—first, and then return to the harder questions at the end so you don’t waste time wracking your brain.
  • You simply didn’t know the answers. This might indicate that it’s time to take a closer review of the material and spend more time studying before your next attempt. If there was a particular subject area that you struggled with (vocabulary, math, science, etc.), review books and study sessions should help you get up to speed where you need to.
What if I Just Did Alright, But Still Feel Like I Can Do Better?
Even if you didn’t “bomb” the exam, there’s probably an opportunity to improve your score. Now that you’ve taken the exam once, you may even have a good idea where to start with upping your score—but in case you’re not sure, here’s some advice from the experts. 

Do you feel like you ran out of time or didn’t take the exam as efficiently as you could?

You now have a really good idea for what it’s like taking the SAT or ACT under pressure and in a timed setting, which is already a great first step to prepare you for your next attempt—now you know exactly what to expect. Also keep these tips in mind:

  1. Prioritize your questions! Skip the hard ones and come back to them when you’ve got more time at the end.

  2. Know your math shortcuts, whether it’s memorizing equations (the quadratic formula, the order of operations, and how to calculate mass and volume, among many others) or knowing your “special triangles” (30-60-90, 3-4-5, etc.).

  3. If you struggled with vocabulary, learn the roots and stems of common words to help you decipher their meanings. has some really great studying tools for those having a hard time with vocabulary.

  4. If it was grammar that tripped you up, try to create some flashcards with common mnemonic devices (for example, to remember the difference between “affect” and “effect,” think of a RAVEN—Remember, Affect’s a Verb and Effect’s a Noun).

  5. As a final note, The College Board has a great SAT Skills Insight Tool that allows you to  select your original score for the three sections of the test and provides customized recommendations to improve in each area. Khan Academy also offers free test preparation for the SAT exam.

Above all else, just remember to study hard, get a good night’s sleep, and take the test again when you’re ready—it will probably seem a lot less intimidating the second time around.


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