There’s no doubt about the significance of the SAT and ACT. Even as many colleges explore test-optional policies, a strong standardized test score can help you stand out. These tests are important for both college admissions and helping students earn merit scholarships.
You don’t have to be a genius to score highly, though. Anyone can reap the benefits of a good score through proper preparation. But in order to do that, you’ll need to know the best resources to prep with and how to use them.
If you want to earn 99th percentile scores like I did, stick around to see my top SAT/ACT resources.
My #1 SAT-Specific Resource: Khan Academy
If you’re not using Khan Academy for your test prep, then you need to get on it ASAP. Khan Academy is the number one resource I recommend to all my students, especially if you’re looking to score higher on the SAT. Let’s take a look at why:
- Khan Academy has a total of TEN full practice tests that you can take. For eight of these tests, you are able to input your answers directly into Khan, where it will score and break down the tests for you. Each of these tests also has answer explanations so that you can fully understand each mistake you make.
- You can link your CollegeBoard account to Khan Academy on your dashboard. This allows Khan to recommend you specific topics that you missed on your previous PSATs, SATs, and practice tests.
- In addition to general tips and strategies, Khan Academy has both math and reading/writing practice questions. Every single skill you’ll need to know is listed on these two pages. Khan also includes two example videos and dozens of practice questions per skill.
Not only is Khan Academy great for familiarizing yourself with the general structure of the SAT, but it also has the best source of official practice tests. You want to ensure that you’re prepping with the highest quality materials possible. Khan Academy guarantees this by providing tests made by the CollegeBoard (the creators of the SAT) themselves.
Furthermore, the practice questions for each skill are a godsend for your test preparation journey. No longer are you left guessing what topics pertain to each question. Instead, you are given a breakdown of your skills based on questions you missed, which also helps you keep track of your progress.
If you’re weak on some conceptual knowledge, you can learn by using Khan’s answer explanations and example videos. Even if those don’t help you at first, you’ve at least identified the skill you’re having trouble with. That way, you can do a quick online search for free resources explaining that topic and learn it. Once you’ve filled in that missing knowledge, you can go back to practicing on Khan Academy.
Here’s one vital tip, though: don’t just blindly go through practice tests/questions. Whenever you get something wrong, make sure you fully understand why you got something wrong. Was it a lack of conceptual knowledge? Was it a failure to apply a strategy? Was it just a numerical error? Learn to identify your mistakes: figure out why they happened and fix them. That way, you won’t make the same mistake twice.
Personally, I did over 1600 practice questions on Khan Academy, and I completed six full practice tests over the course of several months. I got every single skill on there to level 4, and I made sure to understand every mistake I made, no matter how long it took.
My #1 ACT-Specific Resource: CrackACT
CrackACT.com is the number one resource I recommend to all students studying for the ACT. Khan Academy is great, and many of the concepts will transfer over to the ACT. However, in order to master the ACT, you have to practice with test material from it. Here’s why I recommended using CrackACT:
- CrackACT has five “ACT Official Guide” Practice Tests along with answer explanations. Not only will you be prepping with reputable materials, but you’ll also be able to understand exactly why each answer is correct/incorrect. This will greatly aid you in fixing your own mistakes.
- CrackACT has fourteen full-length “Preparing for the ACT” practice tests. These are created directly by the ACT and even contain “retired” questions from previously administered ACTs. With these tests, you can be confident you’re prepping with extremely high quality questions that mimic the real tihng.
- Finally, CrackACT contains dozens of previously administered tests, ranging from Form 1ST (1996) to Form C03 (December 2019). With these tests, you can’t possibly run out of prep material. Plus, the ACT format has not changed much in the past couple of years, so the older materials are okay to practice with.
CrackACT contains a plethora of practice tests from which you can gain valuable practice. I promise you that if you go through the dozens of tests they have, you’ll start to recognize patterns in the questions they ask. Simply being familiar with the questions asked on these exams will make them easier to solve come test day.
Plus, unlike the SAT, the ACT has not had any major changes in content or format over the past couple of years. This means that older practice exams are just as valid as the newer ones. Still, I would consider sticking with the newer exams (2010 and later) just to keep up with those minor differences.
Like with Khan Academy, you’ll want to make sure you understand every mistake you make during your ACT prep. Since there’s more prep material, but less answer explanations, I recommend spacing out when you take the “ACT Official Guide” Practice Tests. This will ensure you don’t blow through all your “answer explanation” tests in one go.
In most cases, though, you can figure out where you went wrong simply by looking at the question and the answer key. For Reading and Science, you’ll need to do a bit of logical reasoning and reading comprehension to figure it out. For Math and English, you may need to figure out what concepts you messed up on and study them. After that, it’s pretty straightforward. Attempt the problem again and try to get the correct answer. Like with the SAT, you should strive for mastery.
My #1 SAT/ACT Resource: UWorld
If you’re looking to boost your SAT or ACT prep, UWorld is the way to go. Maybe you’ve exhausted the entirety of Khan Academy and CrackACT, or maybe you just want new questions to prep with. Although it isn’t free like the other two on my list, UWorld is a great resource you can use for BOTH of these tests. Let’s take a look at what it has to offer:
- UWorld has an absolute abundance of practice questions to prep with. With over 2100 unique SAT questions and 2100 more ACT questions, your needs for more prep material are absolutely going to be met. It’s likely that you may not even reach the end of the question bank just based on its sheer size.
- UWorld contains detailed explanations that guide you through each problem, step by step. You’ll be able to see helpful illustrations and explanations that not only teach you why the correct answer is right, but also why the other answers are wrong.
- UWorld tracks your performance and identifies your areas of weakness, so you can focus more on what matters. You’ll be able to see how long you spend answering questions, as well as what concepts you are weakest with. I think that identifies your areas of weakness is absolutely necessary to prepping effectively, and UWorld does it for you.
Most students will never even get close to finishing the massive question bank contained in UWorld. With so many practice questions, you can’t go wrong with choosing this site for extra prep. With their answer explanations and intelligent tracking system, you’ll be able to prep effectively without sacrificing question quality.
I am not affiliated with UWorld in any way. I simply think that their system for practice is extremely well built, and it mimics the way I went about my own test prep. After you’ve learned the content, you also need to know how to apply it in the context of the SAT/ACT. That is a whole separate skill which can only be trained by grinding practice questions, understanding your mistakes, and rinsing/repeating.
Side Note: Why I Don’t Recommend Any Books
You may have noticed that I haven’t listed any books as my top resources for the SAT or ACT. That’s because for most people, I think these websites are all you need to score well on the SAT/ACT.
In my opinion, books aren’t really necessary to mastering these tests. Many of the skills and strategies can be obtained by grinding practice questions, and when possible, studying the answer explanations. If you’re missing content knowledge, you can identify the area of weakness and look up the concept online. In some cases, the concepts will even be taught in the answer explanations.
Now, when I say I “don’t recommend any books,” that’s not to say I’m completely against them. I have heard of people who found great success using books to learn some of the content and strategies needed to succeed on these tests. Some books I hear thrown around a lot are the Erica Meltzer books for Reading/Writing/English, CollegePanda for Math, and For The Love of ACT Science for Science.
If you’re struggling to learn the concepts you need or you’re having trouble picking up strategies, it may be helpful for you to pick up a book in that area. Some students find it difficult to learn on their own, and that’s totally fine. Other students find it hard to learn even from books and would rather have a tutor guide them through the process. Learning new things is never going to be easy, and for me it was a long, slow grind to get to the level of mastery I am at now. Regardless of whether or not you get a book, you’re going to have to put in hard work.
I’ll be taking a closer look at some books in the near future myself and writing up a post on the ones I feel are most helpful. For now, I recommend trying out these online resources first.