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Boost Your ACT/SAT Scores: The Classroom Skills You Need to Know

By mastering key skills in English, Reading, Math, and Science, students can simultaneously prepare for the ACT and SAT while excelling in their regular coursework - but will this knowledge be enough to help them achieve their college dreams?

Most students view their performance on a test like the ACT or SAT as fundamentally distinct from their performance in the classroom. However, College Entrance Exams have evolved to assess the same competencies that students learn in the classrooms: core college-readiness academic skills, problem solving abilities, and understanding of complex relationships.  

To better complement high school curriculum, the ACT and SAT explicitly aligned themselves with the Common Core State Standards, which are currently used by 42 states. This alignment creates a win-win situation for students and teachers because it means what students are learning in the classroom is directly related to what they will see on the ACT and SAT. 

Knowing this can help students reframe their everyday experiences in school as ACT/SAT preparation. Below, we provide a few examples of skills that students will encounter in their high school classrooms that they should pay particular attention to because they will also appear on the ACT or SAT.

English / Writing

The English section on the ACT and the Writing section on the SAT focus heavily on the logic and rhetoric of writing. While grammar is a large focus in elementary school classrooms, high school English classes focus more on how to write.

For example, students learn to transition smoothly from one sentence to another or from one paragraph to another, a skill that is explicitly tested on both the ACT and SAT. Questions that ask students to revise text to improve transitional words, phrases, and sentences to connect information and ideas appear more than five times per test on average. Students practice these skills firsthand when they revise an essay in class or conduct peer reviews. 


The ACT and SAT Reading section ask students to perform tasks that most teachers would applaud—chief among them: citing claims with evidence. One of the most common mistakes in student critical thinking is to make a claim about a particular text without appropriate supporting material. The ACT and SAT address this head on with questions that ask students to cite evidence from the text to support a claim. Students can practice this skill by always citing their evidence when answering questions in class and when writing papers.

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The ACT and SAT Math sections test a variety of important mathematical skills that often build on one another. For this reason, it’s important for students to always speak up in class (or privately speak to their teacher or a tutor afterwards) if there is content that they are struggling to understand. Key skills that appear on both standardized tests that students will encounter in their high school math classes include ratios and proportional relationships, manipulating and isolating variables, adding, subtracting, and multiplying polynomials, and creating and solving inequalities.

Students should pay particular attention when their math teacher discusses SOHCAHTOA, the mnemonic device for remembering the three basic trigonometry ratios for solving for missing sides or angles in a right triangle. Mastering SOHCAHTOA will be a huge boon to students on the math sections of the ACT and SAT.


Although the SAT does not have a standalone Science section like the ACT, both tests feature Science texts in the English/Writing and Reading sections. General knowledge of Biology, Astronomy, and Earth Science topics will give students helpful context when reading Science passages.

However, the most important skill students should take away from their Science classrooms is the ability to work with information, data, and graphics. Both the ACT and the SAT will explicitly ask students to identify, extrapolate, and interpret information from graphics.


By aligning the content assessed on College Entrance Exams with the content assessed in classrooms, the ACT and SAT have created tests that represent the curriculum seen today in high schools. Students should take advantage of this fact and do their best to utilize their high school classes as ACT/SAT prep.

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Standford joins Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and others in reinstating ACT/SAT requirements!