Updated: June 14, 2015

Getting into the Best Colleges - SAT and ACT Tests

Decades of real life earnings data have shown that college graduates makes SIGNIFICANTLY more than high school graduates, and the income gap continues to widen. A college education is an investment in your future, and your future earnings. But both the price of a college education and the difficulty in getting into the top schools have increased in recent years. But before you can get that degree, you need to get accepted into college - and that is where standardized tests like the SAT and ACT come into play. These tests were created to get standardized evaluations from all applicants, regardless of their high school grading system or level of students in their area. These college entrance exams are meant to measure mathematical, language, and writing skills. They start with the PSAT, which is preliminary to the SAT. High scorers on the PSAT are eligible to become National Merit Scholars, which can help with college admission and scholarships. The PSAT is normally taken at the end of 10th grade or the beginning of the junior year in high school. View SAT study guides here.



What is the SAT and why is it important? SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. Most colleges and universities require applicants to submit their SAT scores and partially evaluate candidates based on these scores. The SAT can be taken multiple times, beginning at the middle of the junior year and continuing through the fall of the senior year of high school - scores normally need to be received by colleges when you are applying in the winter or spring, so you need to make sure you take the test soon enough. The SAT consists of 19 analogy questions, 19 sentence completion questions, and 40 critical reading questions. For the math portion, 50 various multiple choice questions and 10 free response questions. The test last for 3 hours and cost just under $25, which includes reporting results to up to 4 universities - additional schools are $6.50 each. All you can bring to the testing center is your picture ID, number 2 pencils, admission ticket - you can't bring in scratch paper, snacks, notes, rulers, cell phones, etc. Normally, the tests begin at 8:30AM and end at 12:30 (with a short break between each section of the exam). Scores are mailed to you usually 3-4 weeks after the SAT. Some of the SAT books and practice tests listed below will help prepare you for the exam and give you an idea of what to expect. The ACT stands for American College Testing Assessment. Browse the ACT review books here.

Practice Tests - College Admissions

SAT prep guides can be found in just about any bookstore. Princeton Review has their Cracking the SAT book, which is one of our favorites. It comes with several practice SAT tests, which are identical in length to the real exams - as long as you time yourself, this is good practice both for the content of the work and the time pressure faced in the real SAT exam. Kaplan is another big player in this market - their Kaplan SAT 2006 is packed with tips, practice questions, and 4 practice SAT exams to work through. You can even find books from last year on the used market for cheap - just make sure they are current enough to prepare for the newer 2400 point test and not the old 1600 point exam. Kaplan offers prep courses in many different formats - books, classes, private tutoring, and online programs. While they can't make you smarter, many students do improve their scores by gaining experience and confidence in their test-taking abilities. Sylvan Learning also has a Sylvan Prep course which offers small group setting and focuses on the exact skills covered by the SATs. 3 out of 4 students improve their SAT scores by 160 points using their system.

College Admission Testing

CollegeBoard.com offers a free online practice SAT test. They have tips and sample essays, they offer reviews of arithmetic and algebraic concepts, with practice questions (percentages, factoring, probability, functions, exponents, sequences, variations, absolute value, equations of lines, geometry, transformations, statistics, etc.) They also offer a paid $69 SAT Online Course and Official SAT Guide book.

Vocabulary Software and CDs

A big portion of SAT test revolves around vocabulary - definitions, synonyms, etc. WordSmart makes a series of CDs called High School Excellence that act as preparation for the SAT and ACT, with heavy emphasis on vocab. Each CD has 5000 pronounced words, 1400 defined words, and 200 core words, with interactive tests to rate you as you progress. Price is $159. "WORDSMARTS knowledge software is the most effective learning system for academic aptitude, reading comprehension, critical thinking and problem solving skills. Our interactive multi-media system teaches The WordSmart Way. It is based on over 70 years of research in human learning potential conducted by the Johnson O'Conner Foundation, Inc. WordSmart stresses comprehension rather than memorization. The vocabulary exercises explore all words from every angle, allowing for total comprehension."