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Preparing for the SAT, SAT II Subject Exams, and the ACT

What is the best study strategy for me?

The key to success on standardized tests is knowing which tests to take, when to take them, and how to study. This can seem like a daunting project – we can help! Sign up for small group classes or make an appointment to meet with a High Bluff Academy college testing counselor. She will review your test scores and help you organize a study plan based around your particular needs. Below are a few FAQs to review before you come in.

When should I start preparing for the SAT and ACT?

Sophomores and freshmen should start reading more challenging material in their free time, both fiction and nonfiction and work on building a stronger vocabulary. Most students will wait until their junior year to take their first test.

If students are very busy with sports and activities, they should take a small group prep course during the summer before their junior year. They will then be prepared to take their first ACT or SAT in the fall of their junior year. They then have the rest of their junior year to retake tests and touch up their skills.  Unless completely satisfied with their score, students should plan to take the test two to three times from the fall of their junior year to the fall of their senior year.  High Bluff Academy offers small group classes to prepare for each scheduled SAT and ACT test.  We also offer private tutoring plans.

Is it too late to take the tests in my senior year?

No, it’s not too late to take the tests your senior year.  You can take SATs in October and November of your senior year. The University of California deadline for scores is December 31st and Cal State schools require scores by March 31st.

The easiest thing to do is to take two mock exams—one ACT and one SAT.  Look at the scores and make a decision.  Aside from that, there are some facts to guide you.  The biggest difference between the tests is the length of the sections.  The ACT has students doing the same section for up to an hour.  This means that you have more control over how you take your test, but you need to be disciplined with your time.What do these differences mean for me?

The style of the tests is also important.

The SAT has trick questions and traps, but it does not test as many concepts and it uses the same traps over and over again.  This means that, with a good prep course and some studying, you can learn those traps and boost your score.  The ACT has more straightforward questions, but incorporates more concepts.

Basically, if you know your math and grammar and can keep your attention on one thing for an hour, but don’t test well, you should probably take the ACT.  If you have a hard time budgeting time and test well, but don’t remember a lot of math, you should probably take the SAT.  The colleges look at the tests the same.

Whether you choose to take the SAT or ACT, the most important thing is to be prepared. No single company has a monopoly on secrets to success; it just takes a lot of practice and an experienced teacher who can explain your mistakes to you.

What is a “good” test score?

The best answer to that question is to take a look at the student’s GPA and PSAT scores and decide upon a realistic goal for that student. We usually begin by looking at some of the popular universities and the average scores of last year’s freshman class.

Type   of college



Extremely Competitive(Stanford, Harvard,   Yale, Princeton) 2000-2400 30-36
Highly Competitive(UCLA, USC,   UCBerkeley, UCSD) 1800-2200 29-32
Very Competitive(UCSB, Cal Poly,   USD, UCI) 1600-1950 25-29
Moderately Competitive(SDSU, ASU, UCR) 1600-1800 23-26
Fairly Competitive(Sonoma, SFSU,   Fullerton, Chico) 1400-1650 19-23

What about the SAT II Subject Exams?

Many competitive private schools require SAT II subject tests of their applicants. For a list of these schools, click here.

The science and history tests are best taken immediately upon finishing the course as they rely on memorization of detailed factual knowledge. The math, literature and foreign language tests are skill- based, so they are best taken at the end of junior year or beginning of senior year. If you did not take AP History, the regular American and World History courses do not cover the material you will need to know to be successful on the tests. Therefore, be prepared to study the early history on your own or in a prep class.  High Bluff offers private tutoring for most SAT II subject tests, as well.

How do I prepare for the Subject Exams?

First you should try taking mock exams in several different subjects before selecting your final two. Next, take a few private lessons to help familiarize yourself with the format of the tests you are taking. For the content-based tests, you should review through the key concepts. For the skills-based tests, you need to practice a wide variety of questions so that you know what to expect. Our teachers will identify your weak areas and create a program of study for you.