An SAT & ACT Guide

The first step to the SAT & ACT: introduction

The first step toward student success on standardized tests is for students to build familiarity with these kinds of tests and test-taking, specifically the SAT and / or the ACT. At HLS students will begin to have this opportunity in the fall of their sophomore year.

HLS sophomores attend a “Test Prep” course where they prepare specifically for the PSAT. This course covers test taking techniques and provides an opportunity to interact with the kinds of material presented on the PSAT. Students will begin to see how their education at HLS has uniquely prepared them to tackle standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. While the Test Prep course is geared to the Preliminary SAT, the course will remain helpful to the ACT. And naturally the skills and conversations of this course will translate very well to the official SAT.

Furthermore, students will learn the ways in which they can study for and practice these specific kinds of tests. Students will also learn how to improve their score between test sittings. This introductory class prepares students to take the PSAT in their sophomore year and their junior year. The junior year PSAT is the qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship Program you will see it referred to as the PSAT/ NMSQT which stands for Preliminary SAT / National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Students who become National Merit Scholars have the opportunity to receive large scholarships (often up to full tuition and housing) from some public and private universities and colleges.

*It is highly important to note that the PSAT and the SAT as of 2023 & 2024 are only digital. Right now (as of 2024) the ACT is still available in a paper format. Becoming adjusted to the digital format when taking a digital test plays a significant role in test performance.

The next step to the SAT & ACT: determine a student’s “best test”

The next step in the world of standardized test-taking typically occurs in a student’s junior year. This next step is to determine which test is the student’s “best test”. Either the SAT or the ACT. Once a student establishes this, they then proceed by taking their best test 3-5 more times. Students test until they reach a score that makes them competitive for admittance to their choice colleges (this can be determined by researching the middle 50% ACT / SAT of the school of interest – search for this through a search engine like google by typing “middle 50% ACT SAT GPA insert name of school here” or search “freshman profile for insert name of school here”). A student who strives to reach their best score also has the potential to become competitive for merit scholarships. See what GPAs and test scores your colleges and universities of interest provide merit scholarship awards for by searching their website for “merit scholarships”.

How does a student determine their best test?

The best way to evaluate which test is a student’s best test is by taking the tests. HLS students will have the ability to make their first test of this determination their junior year PSAT. This PSAT is offered at HLS in the fall of students’ junior year. This is the test which serves as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifier. Because the PSAT is a Preliminary SAT it is also a close indicator of how a student will perform on the SAT. Students can pursue taking the official SAT to see if their test-taking experience and score indicates they will continue to do well on this kind of test.

Alternatively after the junior year PSAT in October, students may simply switch over and attempt the ACT in late October or early December. Students who have taken the ACT after their junior year PSAT can compare their ACT score to their PSAT score. Those who take the SAT after the junior year PSAT can still follow it with an ACT. Students may then compare their ACT score to this SAT score in this case.

Regardless of the order in which a student takes these tests, the aim is to compare available data. Compare ACT test scores and testing experience to the PSAT test scores and testing experience (this is if you have not done the official SAT yet, post-junior year PSAT). If you have taken the official SAT (any time after your junior year PSAT) then compare your ACT scores and test experience with this.

Here is a good tool to compare the data you have from the PSAT and ACT:

Adjusting the testing method to you

If students do better on the ACT than the PSAT, and have not yet taken the SAT, but still want to try their hand at it, there is no rule against them doing so. However, once a student demonstrates a better test, it is best to stick with that test. The one exception to this is if the students hits a wall in their ability to increase their test score. At this point it may be helpful to try “the other test” again to see if they have a “breakthrough”.

Why do students wait until junior year to take the SAT and ACT?

Why wait until junior year for the official SAT and ACT? Many of the math concepts on these tests will not be reviewed until fall of a student’s junior year! Also, sometimes, students “psych themselves out” for later tests if they start on the official test too early.

HLS teacher explains whiteboard contents to class of students

SAT vs. ACT: the differences

This article highlights the differences between the SAT & ACT to help you determine which test might be your best test:

More Details on Determining Best Test

Read this article for more detailed guidance on how to determine best test and the next steps:

SAT vs. ACT: How to Choose Your Best Test – Applerouth One of the earliest forks on your student’s road to college admissions is choosing between the SAT and the ACT. Though both tests serve a similar purpose (and sound the same if you say them five times fast), deciding which to take is a crucial step in the test prep process to ensure that your student is showcasing their academic potential in the best light

For juniors the late fall and early winter should be the time they determine which test they “test best on”.

Concordance Table: an important tool to determine your best test

Consult a Concordance Table to accurately compare your SAT and ACT Scores:

ACT to SAT Score Conversion Chart | The Princeton Review Here’s everything you need to know about concordance between ACT and SAT

How to attain and use your test results:

Depending on when you take your ACT test you can purchase a Test Information Release (TIR). This enables you to see the test you took, its questions, and the scoring. This can be a great resource by which you make a study plan. You can find TIR information for the ACT here: 

Request a Copy of Your Questions and Answers – Scores | ACT What is Test Information Release? By purchasing Test Information Release (TIR), you will receive a digital copy of the multiple-choice test questions, your answers, a copy of your answer document, the answer key, and the conversion table used in determining your ACT

Watch the video on the bottom of this page which details how to use your score report to improve on your next SAT test.

Your SAT Score Report Explained – SAT Suite | College Board The Student Score Reports Portal. The student score reports portal will list all your available SAT Suite of Assessments score reports. The entry for each score report will show the total score and section scores you received for that

Why should a junior strive to complete at least 3 tests and their highest score by their senior year?

HLS strongly encourages juniors to begin their testing season in the late fall / early winter. Juniors should continue to register for official standardized tests ideally up until the start of senior year. Though some students elect to continue their testing into senior year.

The Common App and other application portals for college applications open August 1st. Senior year is incredibly demanding as seniors are balancing maintaining good grades, a continued commitment to extracurriculars, and beginning college, honors programs, and scholarship applications, resumes, & interviews. Seniors who have their standardized tests completed before their year starts will have one less thing on their plate. If students have a test score they are happy with by this point then they only need worry about sending their scores. Seniors should send their official test scores from their accounts to the schools they are applying to at least two weeks before the application deadline.

HLS student works in Traditional Logic workbook

TIP #1! Don’t look to sign up for the SAT Essay or SAT Subject Tests.

College Board no longer offers the SAT Essay or the SAT Subject Tests. Read here to learn the history of their exit:

TIP #2! Unless a college you are interested in specifies taking the writing component of the ACT, we do not advise it. If you would like to see which colleges are concerned with this or if you are on the fence about whether to take the writing portion read this

Click on the links below to view and register for upcoming SAT and ACT test dates!



Congratulations for beginning an essential step to your college application process! Once you determine your best test you should make a study plan. Stick to this study plan as you register for the next available test. The best method for retaking tests is to study, test, evaluate, re-study over 1-2 months, and test again. You will notice both the SAT and ACT test schedules offer one test followed by another test in one-to-two month series.

Helpful Resources to Study for the SAT or ACT

There are resources you can begin utilizing as early as middle school or freshman year for SAT and ACT prep. These include the Official Prep Guide books and the following online resources:

ACT (about ACT prep through )

SAT  (about SAT prep through and KhanAcademy)