Five Tips to Help Students Through College Entrance Exams

Nov 03, 2023
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Throughout the year, college-bound students are busy preparing for the ACT® and SAT® college entrance exams. Students know that these exams have an impact on the acceptance decisions of the colleges and universities they apply to, as well as scholarship opportunities, so it’s no surprise that they can cause a lot of stress.

But, with some thoughtful planning, mindful preparation, and a healthy perspective, you can help your students take the intimidation factor out of these tests. Here are five easy tips for educators to make the college entrance exam testing process smooth for students, both before and after the exams take place:

Before the College Entrance Exams

Review the College Entrance Exams Requirements

As you help your students review for college entrance exams, make sure that the requirements of the exam are communicated clearly to them. 

Having your students know what the format of the exam looks like will help them better prepare. Go over how each test section for the exam will appear, how much time students will have for each section, and what kind of item types they can expect to see.

These exams are most likely in a format that your students may be unfamiliar with, so plan on spending some time reviewing what these sections will consist of. Work with your students to figure out areas of the exam that are unfamiliar to them and to figure out a few best practices to tackle these sections. 

Resources for the ACT and SAT exams can be found on their respective websites.

Study, study, study

This tip is an obvious one, but it’s extremely important. 

You’ll want to focus on helping students master the content knowledge that is relevant to each section of the exam. Working through practice questions found online can help familiarize your students with how questions are written and what sort of content is tested. Practice tests are a great way to identify skill gaps in your students and fit in some extra review.

Think about planning a review session or two to help your students get some extra help in a subject area they may not feel as comfortable with before the college entrance exams. Creating a practice plan to help fill the skill gaps of your students will strengthen their content knowledge for the exam and beyond.

Register and prep for the day of the exam

Testing day is inevitably stressful. The best way for students to manage that stress is to be well-prepared for what the day will be like. 

Review details like where and when the test will be administered, what time they are actually expected to arrive, and where registration will be located at the testing site. Consider giving your students a checklist of items to bring to the test, like their IDs and sharpened pencils, and review items they cannot bring to their exams, such as highlighters, extra reading materials, or laptops. Be sure to check each exam’s official website for up-to-date info!

While reminding them of the test location may seem like another obvious tip, there is always a handful of students who forget where their exam will be and are late on testing day. 

Be sure to also get families and caregivers on board with helping their children prepare for these exams. 

And, of course, encourage your students to get enough sleep on the days leading up to test day and to eat a nutritious, filling breakfast before they take the exam—rest and energy can make a huge difference!

After the College Entrance Exams


After the exam is over for your students, take some time to celebrate their accomplishments in the classroom. Regardless of how students may feel about how they performed, it’s important to acknowledge how much hard work they put into preparation. 

Take a few minutes out of your next class period to let students know that you’re proud of their efforts.

Reflect on college entrance exam performance

After the college entrance exams day has passed, it can be very valuable to have students reflect on their performance, even if they haven’t received their scores yet. 

Ask specific questions. What sections did they struggle with? Did they run out of time on any sections? Were there certain types of questions (multiple choice, essay, etc.) that they spent time on more than others? If they plan on retaking the college entrance exams, how could they study differently?

Considering these questions can help your students build their test-taking skills—just remember to emphasize the importance of keeping college entrance exams in perspective, too. Reinforce with your students that colleges and universities take plenty of other measures into consideration when making admissions decisions, that retaking is always an option, and that a lower-than-hoped-for score will not derail postsecondary goals.

Looking for more tips, ideas, and strategies to help your college-bound students prepare for the ACT or SAT exam? Check out our blog post on what research says are the most effective learning techniques.

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