SAT and ACT prep doesn’t have to be expensive; in fact, many of the best resources are free. Below, I’ve outlined some strategies and linked free tools that can help you use your time most effectively.
In order to make expert instruction more easily accessible to all students, I’m also launching a free monthly class to be held on the first Sunday of each month. I’ll cover a different concept each session–the concept will be related to one of the sections on both the SAT and ACT.
Official ACT and SAT Tests
The best preparation for all of the sections is intense focus on previously administered tests. Although the official guides only provide eight SATs, there are dozens available online at no cost. Every incorrect answer can be reviewed with the help of innumerable free YouTube videos.
Here are dozens of real, previously administered tests available at no charge. (Note: occasionally one of these links doesn’t work.)
Because commercial prep classes don’t use real tests due to copyright constraints, self-study with free (real) tests can actually be more effective than paid group classes. For this same reason, I suggest you avoid most published books unless they are official guides.
Tests can be taken section by section, but if you want to practice the test as a whole, here’s how you can proctor them for yourself at home:
Timing for the SAT
- 65 minutes – Reading Section
- Take a 10-Minute Break
- 35 minutes – Writing Section
- 25 minutes – Math Section (no calculator)
- Take a 5-Minute Break
- 55 minutes – Math Section (with calculator)
Timing for the ACT
- 45 minutes – English Section
- 60 minutes – Math Section
- Take a 10-Minute Break
- 35 minutes – Reading Section
- 35 minutes – Science Section
You can also find videos that can help you time the test at home.
Here is one for the SAT.
Here is one for the ACT.
Resources for the ACT and SAT Verbal Sections
For the reading section, it’s a much higher priority to become an avid reader than to practice on test passages. Many parents believe that this is an unrealistic goal for an older teenager, but the tests provide a large incentive to make one final push. How can you do this?
- Make books accessible at home.
- Take outings to bookstores that invite reading with comfy chairs.
- Cut down on social media entertainment time (ideally to zero).
In my childhood, we had a strict rule against leaving the house without a book to read for pleasure (to exploit inevitable downtime), and I rode that habit from poverty to Princeton, along with three of my siblings.
If your student is already an avid reader, then they can move on to more sophisticated books. For example, if they love sports, read Michael Lewis; if they like fantasy, try the Ranger’s Apprentice series; if they enjoy murder mysteries, try P.D. James. Here is a list of my favorite books.
By far, the most important book for students is Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer. This riveting best-seller shows how memorization can be enormously fun. It’s available in most libraries, and an excerpt is available here.
After reading the book, encourage your child to take up memorization as a hobby, using the many YouTube how-to videos for “memory athlete techniques” or “mnemonics.” Here is a particularly good one: “Feats of Memory Anyone Can Do.”
Ideally, your child should participate in the most valuable hobby for a student: Memory Olympics competitions. Even a mediocre “memory athlete” can multiply his advanced vocabulary by a factor of ten in six weeks by learning thirty-three words per day using Anki. There is a free android app, but there is also a computer version that can be accessed using Safari on the iPhone. I recommend using this list of 1,500 words.
Here is a terrific grammar cheat sheet: The 18 Grammar Rules You Must Know.
Resources for the ACT and SAT Math Sections
Every student should maintain 100% mastery of all of Khan Academy‘s free math exercises up to grade level. (I generally don’t recommend Khan’s videos or SAT prep, but their math exercises are a great way to brush up on forgotten concepts, and maintain proficiency.)
The dirty secret of education is that we tend to forget everything we don’t review. However, very few schools review previously learned material systematically. Khan Academy can help fill this gap.
Starting in middle school, students should do SAT math questions in parallel with the relevant course. For example, 56% of SAT math is Algebra I; a conscientious student should be able to get a near-perfect score in SAT algebra questions at the end of the course. An ‘A’ in Algebra is unfortunately nearly meaningless. Parents should consider studying Khan math as well to set an example.
Students should be encouraged to participate in “competition math” because it turns math into pure joy for many participants.
Here is a 46 page math cheat sheet from 1600.io: Essential SAT Math Study Notes.
MathChops is a very good math preparation site. This program adapts to your student’s level so that questions are exactly what they need in order to improve. It’s also surprisingly fun. In my opinion, it’s worth the nominal fee afterward if a student finds that they are using it. I had a student who answered 3,211 questions in one month and raised his Math SAT score from a 600 to a 760 in large part because of this program.
If your student is studying on their own, it can be very beneficial to have a system of accountability in place. They should get together with a group of friends, or join an online community where they can check in weekly, stay on track to reach their goals, and get encouragement from peers.
Additional ACT and SAT Prep Resources
1600.io is a great resource for all sections of the SAT. Try it for one-month free and get all their best materials including tests, explanation videos, and more. Just click “Free 1-month access” and no code is needed. They also have a free bundle with additional resources as well as other quality resources for a fee.
I will be continually adding and updating resources on my master list of free resources for the SAT and ACT. Your family is also welcome to join one of my free Demo/Information Sessions on Zoom. In these sessions, I demonstrate my method for raising scores quickly, and I answer questions.
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