5 Tips for SAT, ACT Test Prep Procrastinators

These tips will help students boost test scores and make the most of a tight study schedule.

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Test-takers should focus on answering easy questions correctly, as they are worth the same amount of points as more difficult problems.
Test-takers should focus on answering easy questions correctly, as they are worth the same amount of points as more difficult problems.

Many students say they do their best work under a tight deadline. But if you've put off studying for the SAT or ACT until the last minute, getting ready to sit for the exam will take more effort than just saying to yourself, "I work well under pressure!"

You may have missed out on weeks and even months of preparation that, without a doubt, would have helped you significantly. But keep calm as you read the following five tips for test prep procrastinators. It is not too late to incorporate some fruitful review into your tight schedule as the test deadline quickly approaches. 

[Learn how you can prepare for the SAT on a budget.] 

1. Take a practice test ASAP: Students should first take an entire practice exam under test-day conditions. After scoring the exam, students should evaluate which questions were extremely easy, relatively easy and very challenging. 

Focus on boosting performance in the more challenging areas during the remaining days or weeks before the test. On the day before the exam, boost your confidence by spending a portion of your time testing your strong areas. 

2. Target the low-hanging fruit first: The math section typically begins with easier questions for each type of problem and becomes more difficult as the test progresses. Students should remember, though, that all of the questions have the same value. 

The procrastinator's strategy should be to catch the low-hanging fruit. In other words, on test day, students should spend their energy getting the early answers right since the exam offers no greater reward for accuracy on harder questions. 

[Find out how to choose the right test prep course.] 

3. Use the answers to choose the answer: In the math section, SAT and ACT examiners usually place the answer choices from lowest to highest, with A being the lowest possible numerical answer choice and E being the highest. As students move through harder and harder questions, they should look at the choice next to answer C and insert it into the problem. 

If it works, great – but if not, it will help the student know they need a lower number, such as choice A or B, or a higher number – choice D or E – to solve the problem. 

4. Prepare specific essay references: While the ACT essay is optional, the SAT essay is not. And while students do not choose the essay topic in either case, essays with references to historical examples, scholarly works and current events tend to score higher. Students should research a couple of each to incorporate into the essay. 

For example, an essay that mentions Stephen Hawking specifically could score higher than an essay about scientists in general. Walking into the exam with a handful of possible people and places to use as topical features eliminates one level of prewriting, saving time for more valuable organizing and revising. 

[Follow these three steps to maximize your SAT essay score.] 

5. Develop a mental outline for the essay: Because the essay prompts typically ask students to explain their views on an issue, students who recognize another view other than their own within the essay demonstrate writing agility. And because the prompt has to be broad enough to ensure all test-takers will be able to respond, students can prepare an outline in advance that will be relevant regardless of the actual prompt they face on test day. 

To organize this type of essay, use a five-paragraph format. Include an introduction with a clear statement one way or another on the issue presented. 

Next, offer an example supported by a historical reference, scholarly work or current event. Explain why that example is relevant to the prompt. You should also offer a second example, and explain why it is relevant. 

Provide a counter example and quickly explain why the counter argument is not as strong as your first two examples. Finish with a conclusion that recaps all the key points you have made. 

In total, the essay should provide a 350-500 word response to the examiners' prompt – an average of 75-80 words per paragraph. 

While it is always better to leave yourself plenty of time to prepare for the SAT or ACT, practicing these five tips will help if you are crunched for time. They will not only empower you with score-boosting strategies, they will help boost your confidence, which is also important to achieving your goals on the test. 

DeAnna Rivera is a professional tutor with Varsity Tutors. She earned her bachelor's degree in English from the State University of New York—Stony Brook and a J.D. from the University of Arizona.