How to Improve Your ACT Score or SAT Score

Published by Wendy Nelson on

As parents, we want to see our children succeed and it burdens us greatly when they struggle.  One of the most frustrating things for a parent of a high school student is to watch him or her wrestle with the ACT or SAT test.  Some students just naturally ace the tests, destined for top scores.  Other students have dreams of high scores and end up frustrated, wanting to give up after a few disappointing test results.

I am currently living with this frustration.  My middle daughter had very high hopes and has struggled with her ACT score.  She has taken the test several times and has one great subject and four that have varied several points and are lower than she hoped.  She probably has one more shot in September or October and then it’s college application time.  In desperation, I went back to my email to search for contact information for Danh Le of Underground Academy.  He wrote a guest post for me last year, Why SAT and ACT Tutoring Makes Sense, Even for Smart Students.  We exchanged a few emails regarding my daughter’s situation and his advice makes a lot of sense.

Danh Le said that the best way to improve your scores is to understand why you are getting questions wrong and learn how to get them right.  He said it makes sense to retake the same practice test 2 or 3 times until you really understand how to answer questions correctly.

Looking for additional test strategies online, I found PrepScholar.  Dr. Fred Zhang, co-founder of PrepScholar, echoed this same idea as one of his five strategies for improving your score, “For every single question you get wrong, you MUST understand WHY you got it wrong, and you MUST know how to avoid this mistake in the future.”

This will require an investment of study time.  And study time requires motivation.  Fred Zhang talks about students needing internal motivation.  Parents forcing kids to study or developing some type of reward system typically produces less success than kids having the internal motivation to ace the ACT test or SAT test.  Zhang says breaking your goal into small manageable goals is one of the best ways to stay motivated.

Then it’s a matter of committing to enough study time.  According to Zhang, “40 hours spent on the ACT, studying in the right way, will likely boost your score by many points.”  Time alone will not do the trick, so it is important to focus on studying the right things.  This will require finding a focused study program or creating your own using books or online resources.  It will be centered on improving areas that need improving.  Check out my ACT Prep Resources if your student is focused on the ACT test.  This spreadsheet compiles a variety of available ACT test prep resources.

In my case, I have 2-3 months to pep talk my daughter into understanding why she needs to get re-motivated to study and to commit to a plan of action, studying the right things, and understanding the answers she gets wrong.  This is not ideal.  If you can successfully coach your child to work on ACT or SAT score improvement after the first test, you will have a longer time window for improvement and a better chance for a greater score change.

Categories: ACT/SAT Tests


Katie Johnson · June 27, 2015 at 2:19 pm

I bought your link for the full scholarship list and shared it on my FB page, The ACT Mom. I also have a blog that tells how I tutored my son from a score of a 24 to a 32 on the ACT. He got one of those full scholarships! The blog is if you are interested. Prep Scholar’s advice is RIGHT ON!! Study on!

    Wendy Nelson · June 29, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    Thanks, Katie! Your ACT tips are great!

Will H · July 6, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Hi Guys,
As a current SAT tutor, and former beneficiary of SAT tutoring, I am a zealous advocate of it. Even for a student who is not driving his or her own college process, SAT/ACT tutoring or classes can be very helpful. Students who, left to their own devices, might not prepare for the tests end up with weekly blocks of dedicated time that they must apply to preparing for the test.
At first I did not really want to apply myself to preparing for the test either, but some tutoring sessions and a few practice tests showed me where me ceiling was, and I eventually improved 340 points from my first PSAT to my final SAT. It is amazing what personalized test prep instruction can do.

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