One of the biggest steps of getting into college is taking your college entrance exams. For many students, these are taken in junior or senior year of high school, and colleges use your scores as part of a variety of factors that influence their admission decisions.

These tests can be a determining factor in getting into your dream schools, but don’t stress – with the right preparation, you’ll have everything you need to be successful.

Most schools will ask for either your SAT or ACT scores in their application process (or, in some cases, both). Here’s what you should know about preparing for either!

How to Prepare for the SAT

The SAT is operated by The College Board. It’s been around since 1926, and is probably the most well-known college entrance exam. It’s broken down into three parts (a reading test, a writing and language test, and a math test), with an optional essay portion. Here are a few steps to take to get prepared:

  • Know what to expect

Understanding what you’ll be tested on and how the test works eliminates a lot of stress. To start, read up on what you’ll need for the test, how it’s structured, and typical questions for each section. Check out everything you need to know for each test here.

  • If you can, take the PSAT

One great way to prepare for the SAT is to take the PSAT/NMSQT (the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), typically in sophomore or junior year of high school. Taking this is one of the best ways to get ready for the SAT, as it will help you understand how the test works and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Plus, this test determines your eligibility for National Merit Scholarships, so you might even get some money for college out of it!

  • Take a practice test (or two, or three)

Whether you took the PSAT or not, try taking a few practice tests before the big day so you can get a feel for how the actual test will be, and assess what you might need to do more studying on. College Board offers free SAT practice tests here.

How to Prepare for the ACT

The ACT has been around since 1959, and measures your knowledge on English, math, reading, and science, with an optional essay section. To prepare, make sure you:

  • Familiarize yourself on the structure

It’s important you understand the format of the test so you can study appropriately. The ACT is divided into five sections, including the optional essay. (Learn more about how the ACT is structured here.) Once you understand how the test works, you can dive into studying.

  • Take practice tests

Practice makes perfect! Completing practice tests is the best way to gauge your understanding of what you’ll be tested on. From there, you can determine what you need to do more studying on and what your strongest areas are. The ACT offers their own practice tests here.

Best Ways to Prepare for Both Tests

  • Identify your weaknesses

If you score high in math, but could do better on your reading test, put a little more time into taking practice reading tests. Struggling on the writing portion? Study up on grammar. Access your weaknesses, adjust your study focus accordingly, and keep tabs on how you’re doing in each section as you go.

  • Diversify your studying

Practice tests are a great resource, but it’s easy to get burnt out if that’s all you do. Mix up your studying by using flashcards for vocabulary, reading a book for fun, or doing random math questions to keep your mind sharp.

  • Don’t cram the night before

Everyone’s done it at some point, but the night before the test isn’t the time to do it! Start studying early and as much as you can. The night before, take a break, get to sleep early, and make sure you’re well-rested so you have a clear head on test day.

Now that you’ve got your game plan, don’t stress – you’ve got this! Check out more of our best test-taking strategies here.