How to prepare for the new digital SAT

The New Digital SAT: Everything You Need to Know 

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's Digital SAT Diagnostic Test

Beginning in spring 2024, the old SAT paper version will be replaced by the new digital version of the SAT. Students in the U.S. will have to make the switch from the current version if they’re seeking to take the SAT for college admissions (International students began taking the digital SAT in spring 2023.) 

To learn more about what’s on the new digital SAT and what changes are coming, read our article here: The New Digital SAT: Everything We Know So Far About the Big Changes in 2023 and 2024

This new streamlined testing experience will improve the SAT experience for students, but these are definitely uncharted testing territories. If you feel confused and a bit intimidated by this new digital format, don’t worry– you’re not alone. 

We’ve helped hundreds of students improve their SAT scores and gain admissions to their dream schools. While the new testing format might seem a little scary, we’re here to help!

In this article, we’ll help you figure out how to understand this new digital testing format, and how to create a strategic preparation guide so that you rock the SAT on test day. 

Below, you can download our full diagnostic for the Digital SAT, so that you can test your knowledge of all the key concepts with real sample questions!


How can you prepare for the new digital SAT? 

The one issue many students may come across in their preparation for the new digital SAT is that there limited preparation materials compared to the old SAT. Because the test is brand new, there are fewer resources in print or online. That means that it might be difficult to use as many relevant preparation materials. 

So what should you do? 

Fortunately, many of the same skills you’d use to prepare for any standardized test will apply here too! Since the new SAT is still just a type of standardized test, we suggest working on building your testing skills, such as learning process of elimination, how to use the multiple choice format to your advantage, and other important standardized testing skills. 

In addition to standardized testing skills, continue to work on building proficiencies that will help you on the SAT, such as vocabulary and reading skills. 

You can also use some earlier SAT materials as appropriate, and as many of the online materials currently offered as possible. Since the math section will stay mostly the same, feel free to use older SAT materials, such as earlier versions of prep books that address the 2016 to 2023 version of the SAT. 

One of the most important things you can do to prepare for the test is to get to know the test. Download our full guide to the new digital SAT to understand the format of the test, what kind of questions you’ll see, and how to approach this uncharted testing territory. 

What else can you do to prepare for the new digital SAT?  


Determine what resources are available to you. 

As we mentioned, the math section will stay mostly the same; therefore, any old prep materials you have from previous tests will likely stay relevant. 

However, what about the other skills tested on the SAT?  Try using a vocabulary builder to work on your vocab. Try Merriam-Webster's Vocabulary Builder or an SAT Vocab builder app. Build your skills in reading comprehension by reading newspapers, online articles, and books. Try to read about a variety of science and humanities topics to prepare for the types of passages you’ll see on the SAT. 

It will also be important to take regular diagnostic tests to both measure your progress and also familiarize yourself with the test as well as the question types that will appear on the test. Fortunately, the College Board has released official materials to help you prepare for the new digital SAT. For example, the College Board offers a number of practice tests on their website.

The College Board has also partnered with Khan Academy to offer digital SAT practice with practice questions covering all topics on the SAT. 

Do as much practice as possible, paying close attention to the new digital format. Explore Bluebook, the testing app the College Board will utilize for the digital SAT. Becoming familiar with this app prior to your test date is key. 

Additionally, The Official Digital SAT Study Guide (Official Digital Study Guide) is available for purchase (though we recommend doing the practice tests in the Bluebook app, rather than using these printed versions). 


Know what skills you’ll be tested on. 

As with other standardized tests, the new digital SAT will test a finite number of topics. Use the predictability of the test to your advantage when building your prep plan! If you can master the topics on the digital SAT, then you can master the test. 

The Reading and Writing modules will test: 

  • Information and Ideas
  • Craft and Structure
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions

Reading regularly, especially newspapers and articles, and using both official prep resources and the Khan Academy prep materials will help you build important reading and language skills that will appear on the digital SAT.  

The Math modules will test: 

  • Algebra
  • Advanced Math 
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Geometry and Trigonometry

The good news is, the math module will no longer test reading skills through lengthy or complex word problems.

Want to learn more about what will be expected of you on the new digital SAT? Download our full sample Diagnostic for the Digital SAT below. It'll help you practice all the key question types on the official SAT!


Building your strategic prep plan for the new digital SAT 

First, start your prep early: make sure to leave yourself at least three months of prep time. Some students elect to start an entire year ahead of time to prep for the SAT. 

Set concrete goals. Decide what your overall score goals are and how you will reach those goals. Sometimes students find engaging prep services or a private tutor can help them determine the right goals for themselves and build a plan to reach those goals. Do you want help reaching your SAT score goals? Reach out to us to find out how one of our private tutors can help. 

Start with a diagnostic test. This will help you set your goals and decide your target score. Regular practice exams will help you measure if you’re progressing towards your goal score. With the new digital format of the SAT, taking regular exams to familiarize yourself with the new format will be especially important. 

Target your weaknesses. Don’t waste time working on things you’re already good at! Work diligently on the specific skills that you need help on, and again, use the predictability of the exam to help you maximize your score. The College Board offers a suite of skill assessments so you can target specific skills you’ll need on the SAT, and practice them accordingly. 

Reach out for help. Many students elect to take preparatory courses or seek the services of a private tutor to help them create a strategic study plan and to have someone assist them with homework assignments. A private tutor can help you target the areas where you need the most help and address those areas accordingly. 


Build important standardized testing skills 

While the format and content on the new digital SAT will be different from other years, your approach to testing should be the same. Whether you’re taking the SAT, GRE, LSAT, or MCAT, the same skills to maximize your standardized test scores still apply. Therefore, don’t be intimidated by the fact that the digital SAT is “new”—you can still build these testing skills to have in any testing situation. 

Read every question thoroughly. Make sure you know exactly what the question is asking, and that the answer you choose is answering the question being asked!

Do the test in any order. Do the test in whatever order you want– you do not need to answer each question in the section in exact order. Skip any questions that seem too difficult at the moment, and go back to them after you’ve answered easier ones. 

Something that’s great about the new digital SAT: it allows you to skip questions and bookmark them, which means you can easily return to difficult questions later. This also means you’re less likely to forget to answer a question. 

Use the process of elimination. Narrow down your choices if you need to guess on a question. Since there’s no wrong answer penalty for incorrect answers on the SAT, you should answer every single question, even if you guess. The new test even has a feature where you can cross out improbable answers in real time!

Remember that the only goal is getting the right answer. Don’t feel as though you need to do the test as if it were a school assignment—use the multiple choice format to your advantage, take shortcuts, and use whatever “tricks” you need to get to the right answer. Since no one will review your work besides what letter you choose for the multiple choice questions, it doesn’t matter how you get to your answer, as long as it’s accurate!

Reach out to an expert. Our private tutors are experts in standardized testing technique, and can help you learn the important skills you need to ace any standardized test. Consider reaching out so that you can learn the tips and tricks you need to conquer any standardized test, especially the new digital SAT. 


Use the new tools the digital SAT provides to your advantage

While a new SAT sounds intimidating, this new digital exam actually offers a lot of great tools to help students succeed on the test. You should use all these tools to your advantage, and get to know the new suite of tools available to you as you’re prepping for the test. 

In the math module, you can take notes or run calculations using the online notepad. You’ll also be provided a built-in calculator for the entire test, which is a change from the old SAT—use the Desmos Calculator to solve problems (unless you prefer using your own approved calculator). You’ll also be able to quickly reference math formulas you’ll be expected to use in the math module by clicking the reference icon. 

In the reading and writing module, you’ll have the ability to annotate your reading passages or take notes. Use this to highlight important information or match the information from the passage to the question. This way you can highlight the text that proves your answer, helping you to be more confident that you’ve made the right answer choice. 

The new digital SAT will include an optional countdown clock, too, which can help you to keep track of how much time you have left in each section. This can help you to either speed up or slow down your pace on the test depending on how much time you have left. This is a great resource to help you pace out the test for yourself. 


Next Steps

The new digital SAT is uncharted territory for all the students who will need to take this new digital format of the test for their future college admissions. Fortunately, by using buildable standardized testing skills and getting to know the new digital format, you can rock the SAT on testing day just the same as if you were taking the paper test. 

Want to know what companies offer the best SAT Tutoring? Check out our expert-reviewed list of the 15 best SAT Tutoring Services!

One of our highly skilled private tutors can make sure you not only are ready with all the standardized testing skills you need, but will help you create a strategic prep plan to target any areas of weakness, while keeping you accountable with regular SAT practice, homework assignments, and a study plan. Get the help you need for the new digital SAT by reaching out today to learn how one of our private tutors can help you maximize your SAT score. 

Want to learn everything you need to know about the new digital testing format? Make sure to download our FREE guide to the new digital SAT here!




What is the highest act score

What is the Highest ACT Score? And How Can You Earn it? 

Bonus Material: Ready to earn your highest ACT score yet? Check out our Step by Step Guide To Making an ACT Prep Plan!

Not many students achieve the highest score you can earn on the ACT—a 36. However, if you’re aiming to apply to competitive universities like the Ivies or MIT, Duke, or other highly selective college programs, you’ll need to earn as close to a 36 as possible. 

Earning a nearly perfect score can be intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be. Read below to learn about ACT scoring, the highest score you can earn on the ACT, and how you can maximize your ACT score and get that much closer to achieving admission to your dream college. 

Jump to section:
How is the ACT Scored? 
What about the optional writing section? 
What is the highest score a student can earn on the ACT?
Is it common to earn a perfect score of 36 on the ACT?
How can you earn a 36 on the ACT?
Is it important to earn a 36 on the ACT?
How can you improve your ACT score (and maybe even earn a 36?)
Next steps


How is the ACT scored? 

The ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36. Your composite score (the score you’ll actually send to schools to show how you performed on the ACT) is an average of each individual score from the four sections on the ACT: English, Math, Reading, and Science. You’ll receive a score for each section on a scale of 1-36, and then your scores will be averaged to give schools a picture of how you performed overall. 

But how is each section scored? The ACT counts up the amount of questions that you answer correctly, with no deduction for any incorrect answers. What does that mean? It means you should try your best to answer every question! 

Since it won’t count against you if you get answers wrong, but you might guess correctly, it’s worth trying to fill out an answer for every question. You might end up picking up some extra points that you weren’t expecting. 

After all your correct answers are counted up, you’ll receive a raw score—the amount of correct answers on the test you took. After that, raw scores are converted into something called a “scale score.”

You’ll receive a scaled score—which is a score between 1-36—on English, Math, Reading, and Science. After that, like we mentioned, you’ll receive a Composite score, which is an average of all four sections. Fractions of a point that are less than one-half will be rounded down to the Composite score below; fractions one-half or more are rounded to the Composite score above. 

Does this all sound confusing? It doesn’t have to be! Check out our other post, ACT Scoring: Your Complete Guide for 2023 to learn more about how the ACT is scored. 


What about the optional writing section?  

If you opted into the ACT Writing section, you may be wondering if this will count in your composite score. It doesn’t, though you do still receive a score for the writing section. Two expert readers will score your essay from 1-6, which means the highest score you can receive for your writing section is a 12, and the lowest you can receive is a 2. 

This score won’t be averaged into your Composite score, but it’s still a good idea to do the ACT Writing, in case you find out down the line that one of your target schools requires it. You don’t want to skip the Writing section only to have to go back and take the entire ACT again. 

Since you can’t take individual “parts” of the ACT, if one of your target schools requires the Writing section and you opted out, you’ll have to take the entire test over. 

To learn more about the Writing section and all the sections on the ACT, download our Step by Step Guide To Making an ACT Prep Plan


What is the highest score a student can earn on the ACT? 

The highest score a student can earn on the ACT is a 36. That would mean you received a 36 (or nearly a 36, averaged up) on every section!

To receive a perfect score of 36 on the ACT, you would need to really minimize the amount of questions you got wrong. You’d also have to make sure you were well-rounded academically, because you would need to perform just about equally well on English, Math, Reading, and Science. 

Want to learn how you can earn a high score on every section of the ACT? Check out our posts below for your comprehensive guide to each ACT subject section: 


Is it common to earn a perfect score of 36 on the ACT? 

No, it’s not common to earn a 36! Only about .33 % of students get a 36 on the ACT. The average score in 2021 was 20.3. Learn more about average ACT scores in our post here: Average ACT Scores: The Latest Data

That means if you score above about a 20 on the ACT, you’ll be considered “above average” when it comes to your ACT score. However, “above average” might not be a competitive score, depending on your target schools. You will need to find out what’s the minimum score you should aim to earn for your target schools, then try to shoot for a little higher than that!

Want to learn more about what’s considered a “good score” on the ACT? Check out our other post, Your Guide to a Good ACT Score in 2023

For example, if you’re targeting Ivy League schools, you’ll want to score as close to a 36 as possible. The “average” scores (or 50th percentile of scores)  for accepted students for Harvard University are usually between 33 to 36, while Princeton University and Yale University has an average ACT of 33 to 35 for its admitted students. 


How can you earn a 36 on the ACT?  

In order to get a 36 on the ACT, you can’t score below 34 on any one section. For example, you could earn two scores of 36 and two scores of 35, and with the ACT’s system of averaging your scores, you’d still get a 36 once your score is rounded up. You could also earn three scores of 36 and one score of 34. However, once you score a 33 on any one section, you no longer have a chance to earn a 36 on the ACT. 

While you can get a wrong answer here or there and still get a score of 36 on the ACT, it’s important to get as few wrong answers as possible if you’re aiming for this high achievement. You need to get as many questions correct as possible for the chance to earn a 36!

Ready to get started prepping for the ACT and to learn your highest score yet? Check out our FREE Step by Step Guide To Making an ACT Prep Plan


Is it important to earn a 36 on the ACT? 

Colleges and universities don’t expect you to earn a 36 on the ACT. After all, if they only admitted students who got scores of 36 on the ACT, they’d only be admitting around 5,000 students a year! Most colleges accept a variety of score ranges for admission to their school. 

However, a 36 on the ACT can set you apart from other applicants. It’s very impressive (and rare) to earn a 36 on the ACT! Combined with other positive aspects of a college application, such as good grades and strong extracurricular activities, a score of 36 on the ACT could mean admission to your dream school. 

A 36 on the ACT (or a near-perfect score) can also help make up for other elements in your admissions portfolio that you might be worried about, like a less-than-perfect GPA. 


How can you improve your ACT score (and maybe even earn a 36?) 

Unless you’re lucky enough to earn a perfect score of 36 on your first try, there’s always room to improve on the ACT! Even if you don’t plan to aim for a 36, you should still decide what your target score will be so that you can set concrete score goals. Once you’ve set your ACT goal score, we have some tried-and-true ways for you to improve your ACT score: 

  1. Take a practice test. To even set your goal score, you’ll need to first see where you stand. Use your practice test to set a personal goal and then measure your progress as you study. To read more about how to proctor your own practice test, check out our post, How to Proctor Your Own ACT Test. 

  1. Start early. We suggest starting to study for the ACT at least 6 to 8 months before you plan to take your first test. Many students start a year ahead of their final admissions application deadline, to make sure they earn the score they want. To learn more about when you should take the ACT and other ideas for your ACT timeline, check out our post, When should you take the SAT or ACT.
  2. Come up with a strategic prep plan. Your practice test will not only show you where you stand, it will also help you to identify your weak spots. You might need to review certain academic concepts, or maybe you need help with standardized testing strategy. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to do this alone! Hiring a private tutor is a great way to create the best strategic prep plan possible. A private tutor will help you identify any weak spots you have on the ACT and help you come up with a personalized study plan to conquer those weaknesses. Our private tutors have helped hundreds of students achieve their target ACT score and get into the schools of their dreams. Contact us today to learn more about how a private tutor might be right for your ACT prep plans. 

  1. Learn important standardized testing strategy. There’s lots of ways you can make the ACT easier for yourself. Because there are a finite number of concepts tested on the ACT, you could conceivably learn all the academic concepts on the test. However, using standardized testing strategy, such as process of elimination, and avoiding the most common ACT testing mistakes, will help you maximize your score. 

Again, this is another instance where a private tutor can help you—our private tutors have tons of experience in standardized testing, especially the ACT! They can help you learn the most common mistakes students make when taking the ACT, and what standardized testing strategies can help. 

By avoiding the most common mistakes students make on the ACT, you can maximize your score and get closer to admission to the school of your dreams!

  1. Stick to a plan. Make sure you’re setting aside dedicated study time for the ACT. Each student is different, but you’ll need to devote a good amount of time if you want to see a real score improvement. Choosing regular times and days when you’ll not only study concepts, but try out different ACT practice problems, can help you organize your study plan for maximum success. 

Download our FREE Step by Step Guide To Making an ACT Prep Plan to help you strategize your prep plan and earn your highest score yet!


Next Steps

Not many students earn a perfect 36 on the ACT. But if that’s your goal, then one of our highly qualified private tutors can help. Our tutors have years of experience getting hundreds of students to their ACT score goals and into the universities of their dreams. 

Contact us today to learn how we can get you closer to a perfect 36 on the ACT!




What is the ACT

The ACT: Everything You Need to Know

Bonus Material: Want your FREE Step-By-Step Guide to Making an ACT Prep Plan? Download it FOR FREE here!

The ACT (American College Testing) is a standardized test that colleges use to measure how well a student will do once they enroll in college. It’s an important part of any college application, and a high score on the ACT can distinguish you from among other applicants. 

While a standardized test such as the ACT or SAT won’t make-or-break your application, it’s still an important element of your application and a high score can help make up for other weaknesses on your application such as a less-than-perfect GPA. For students applying to competitive schools like the Ivies, a great ACT score is crucial. 

Sound intimidating? It doesn’t have to be! One of our expert tutors can guide you through the process. Contact us to learn more about how we’ve helped thousands of students gain admission to their dream schools.

In the meantime, read below to learn more about the ACT, and check out the wealth of resources we’ve gathered to help you ace the ACT. 

Jump to section:
Why should I take the ACT? 
What’s on the ACT? 
The ACT English Section
The ACT Math Section
The ACT Reading Section
The ACT Science Section
The ACT Essay
What is considered a “good” ACT score? 
When should I take the ACT? 
How do I know if I’m ready to take the ACT? 
What are some ways to prepare for the ACT? 
What’s the difference between the ACT and the SAT?
Next steps


Why Should I Take the ACT?

The point of the ACT is to try to measure what students have learned in high school. The ACT evaluates a student’s abilities in core academic areas, providing insight into how the student will perform on college-level coursework and their readiness for college. The test assesses a college-bound student’s written, quantitative, verbal, and scientific skills. 

That means taking the ACT and doing well on it can help make your college application more competitive. If you can achieve a high score on the ACT, that can help your application stand out to the admissions department at your dream school– it shows schools that you’re ready for college-level courses!

High standardized test scores aren’t make-or-break, but they can definitely give your application a boost during the admission process, especially for selective schools!

You should identify what admitted students at your target school usually score on the ACT. This will help give you a better idea of what your target score should be in order to be a competitive applicant at your target schools. 

Want to learn more about average ACT scores, and what’s considered a competitive score for admission? Skip right to our section on What is considered a “good” ACT score?

Over the pandemic, some schools went “test-optional,” meaning that students could decide whether or not to take the ACT as part of their admissions application to their chosen schools. 

Some schools have since started requiring the ACT again – you should make sure to check if your target school requires the ACT or not. 

If your target school or schools do not require the ACT, you still might want to take it anyway. Why? A good ACT score can help distinguish your application, especially in comparison to other students. 

At PrepMaven, we strongly recommend taking at least one standardized test – either the ACT or the SAT– if you plan to apply to colleges. Many schools require at least one test as part of the admission process, but even if your schools don’t, an impressive score on the ACT or SAT helps you stand out from the crowd, especially in an increasingly competitive admissions environment. For selective schools, you’ll definitely want to take either the ACT or SAT. 

Plus, a high score on the ACT can mean that you find yourself eligible for merit scholarships, better course placement once you get to college, or better financial aid. Plus, a competitive standardized test score can help make up for weaker spots on your application, such as a weaker GPA or lack of extracurricular activities, or it can make an already strong application even stronger. 

Ready to get started? Download our Step-By-Step Guide to preparing for the ACT for free here!


What’s on the ACT?

The ACT consists of four sections that test your college readiness in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. There is also an optional writing section that includes one essay.

Now, what about each section of the test? 


The ACT English Section

The ACT English has five passages with corresponding multiple-choice questions. You’ll be asked to evaluate each of the passages and decide whether the grammar and punctuation are correct. This will test your understanding of the English language and verbal reasoning skills. 

You’ll be asked to be an editor when you look at each passage– not only will you be asked about the basics of grammar and punctuation, you’ll also be asked to evaluate the rhetoric and flow of sentences within a passage.

Broken down more precisely, you’ll be asked to prove your knowledge on: 

Production of Writing (29-32% of the test)

  • Topic Development: Determine whether a text or part of a text has achieved its intended goal and demonstrate a mastery with the rhetorical part of a text. 

  • Organization, Unity, and Cohesion: Demonstrate that you know how to best make a text flow smoothly and ensure that it is logically organized.

Knowledge of Language (15-17%)

  • This section of the ACT English will ask you to show your ability to use precise and concise word choices while maintaining the core meaning of the sentence.

Conventions of Standard English (52-55%)

  • Sentence Structure and Formation: You will be asked to make revisions to improve the writing of given sentences. 

  • Punctuation: You will need to recognize punctuation errors and revise the writing accordingly. 

  • Usage: You will need to recognize any errors with English language usage and make revisions to improve the passage.

One of the trickier aspects of the ACT English section is that it moves fast. In standard timing conditions, you only have about 36 seconds per question!

That’s why getting to know the test and what strategies you’ll use is crucial for success on this section. One way to maximize your chances for success on the English ACT is to learn core grammar rules: 

  • Punctuation
  • Pronouns
  • Verb forms: tense and agreement
  • Word Choice
  • Comparisons
  • Sentence construction
  • Idioms
  • Parallel construction
  • Faulty modifiers

Another way to maximize your ACT English score is to learn to identify the types of questions you’ll encounter. Make sure to read the full text, then determine what the question is really asking. Is the question testing your knowledge of Production of Writing, Knowledge of Language, or Conventions of Standard English? 

Once you’ve identified the type of question, remember that there’s only one right answer. Don’t get tripped up by answers that are “close” to being right. Prove each answer wrong, and then use the process of elimination until you get to the exact right answer. 

To take a deep dive into the ACT English section, which includes tips and strategies on how to maximize your score, check out our other post here: ACT English: Everything You Need to Know


The ACT Math Section

The Math section of the ACT is the longest section of the ACT at 60 minutes. Therefore, making sure to fight fatigue is important in this section. The math tested on the ACT Math will not only test your problem-solving skills, but also require you to have knowledge of certain essential concepts in many areas, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics, as well as general quantitative reasoning skills.

The breakdown of the math section is as follows: 

Preparing for Higher Math (57-60%)

  • Number & Quantity (7-10%)

Questions like these will require students to demonstrate their knowledge of real 

and complex number systems. This will include knowledge of integer and rational 

exponents, and vectors and matrices.

  • Algebra (12-15%)

Students will be asked to evaluate different algebraic expressions. They will also 

be asked to evaluate linear, polynomial, radical, and exponential relationships.

  • Functions (12-15%)

Functions include linear, radical, piecewise, polynomial, and logarithmic functions. Students will also be asked to manipulate and translate functions.

  • Geometry (12-15%)

Students will be asked to define and apply the relationships of shapes and solids, as well as solve for missing values in triangles, circles, and other figures.

  • Statistics (8-12%)

Using their knowledge of statistics, students will calculate probabilities and analyze data. 

Integrating Essential Skills (40-43%)

This section will cover skills such as rates and percentages; proportional relationships; area, surface area and volume; and average and median. You will also be asked to solve more complex problems that combine different concepts into one problem. 

For maximum success on the Math ACT section, identify any gaps in your mathematical knowledge by using an ACT diagnostic test. Once you’ve identified any concepts you need review on, make a plan to go over each concept until you feel confident tackling every type of math question that appears on the ACT. 

Here’s a brief look of the concepts you’ll need to master for the Math ACT: 

  • Geometry
  • Statistics & Probability
  • Functions
  • Algebra 1 and 2
  • Number and Quantity
  • Pre-Algebra
  • Rates and Percentages
  • Ratios and Proportions
  • Volume, Surface Area, Area
  • Average and Median
  • Modeling

For a further breakdown of every math concept you need for the Math ACT section, check out our post: ACT Math: Everything You Need to Know

Learning basic standardized testing strategies will help to make the ACT Math not only less fatiguing, but will improve the accuracy of your answers. Make sure to work on: 

  • Using the process of elimination to your advantage
  • Interpreting word problems to make sure you know what the question is asking
  • Plugging in your own numbers for variables to make abstract concepts more concrete
  • Plugging numbers from the answers back into problems to improve both speed and accuracy for questions with variables
  • Becoming confident in your quantitative reasoning abilities 

Sometimes it helps to consult an expert to learn standardized testing strategies. Our private tutors can help break down the ACT Math section in a way that makes it easy and doable. Contact us today to learn more about how our private tutors can help you. 


The ACT Reading Section

The ACT Reading test asks students to answer 40 questions in 35 minutes. Therefore, time management is crucial in this section! 

This section has four sections which have either one passage or two shorter passages, along with a set of accompanying multiple-choice questions, and will test your reading comprehension abilities. The topics of the passages include social studies, natural sciences, prose fiction, and the humanities. 

While the reading section can seem intimidating at first, the types of questions that will appear are very predictable. The types of questions students can expect to see on the test are questions that ask students to: 

  • Find and interpret details
  • Identify the main idea of a passage or paragraph
  • Interpret cause and effect relationships
  • Draw inferences
  • Identify the meaning of vocabulary in context
  • Determine sequence of events
  • Identify “tone,” or an author’s point of view or attitude

How can you succeed in getting correct answers for all these different types of questions? First, make sure to answer the easiest questions first. Conquer the easier passages to preserve your mental energy for the harder passages later. Take notes on the passage as you read, highlighting important information you’ll need later. 

Then, make sure you can always prove your answer in the text. Lastly, get to know common wrong answer choices, such as extreme answers, vague answer choices, answers that make too large of a leap from the text, or answers that have the right facts from the passage, but don’t actually answer the question being asked. 

Our private tutors are experts on identifying common incorrect answers on the ACT Reading. You can contact us to learn more about how private tutoring can help you become an expert on the most common “wrong” answers. 

That being said, sometimes using the above test-taking strategies might not be enough– in that case, make good use of the process of elimination to disprove every wrong answer until you’re absolutely positive that your answer is correct. 

Want to take a deep dive into the ACT Reading section, which includes more tips and strategies on how to maximize your score? Check out our other post, ACT Reading: Everything You Need to Know


The ACT Science Section

The ACT Science section tests basic science concepts, but in ways that might be confusing to students. Since the science concepts have to be standardized to students across the country, the concepts themselves aren’t advanced, but the way they’re presented require a high level of analysis and thought. 

The breakdown of the ACT Science section is as follows:

Interpretation of Data (40-50%)

Students will be asked to interpret data presented in scientific tables, graphs, and diagrams; they will need to recognize trends and reason mathematically based on the data presented. 

Scientific Investigation (20-30%)

With questions that utilize Scientific Investigation, students will need to understand experimental tools, procedures, and designs, such as in scenarios that involve controls and variables, as well as the possible outcomes of experiments. 

Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (25-35%)

In this section, you’ll be asked to make predictions about the outcomes of experiments based on given models or data. You’ll also be asked to evaluate the validity of information based on how an experiment is designed or data is presented. 

For maximum success on the Science ACT section, get familiar with quickly scanning the text to find the evidence that will answer each question. You’ll need to work efficiently and accurately, especially when analyzing different charts and tables. 

Regular practice and a dedicated study plan will help you work with precision on test day. A private tutor can help you hold you accountable to your study plan. Contact us to learn more about how one of our private tutors can help create a personalized study plan for you. 

Want to take a deep dive into the ACT Science section? Check out our other post, The ACT Science Section: Everything You Need to Know


The ACT Essay

You’ll also have the opportunity to write an essay that will be evaluated on a scale from 2-12. You’ll receive a score from 1-6 from two trained readers. This part of the ACT is optional and won’t be factored into your final score, known as your composite score. Your essay will be graded on the strength of your: 

  • Ideas and Analysis
  • Development and Support
  • Organization
  • Language Use and Conventions

Since the essay is optional, should you bother writing one as part of your ACT test? 

Very few schools actually require the ACT writing, and we recommend taking it only if you’re targeting one of the few schools that does. 

Remember that every reader will probably spend a short amount of time analyzing your essay for quality. That means, you need to make it clear to the reader right away that you’ve organized your essay in a logical way, and that you’re ready to prove your perspective. 

Make it clear what your perspective is on the issue. Then, use concrete and specific examples to illustrate each point you make. It’s also important to show sophistication of organization in your essay. Use topic sentences that make it clear what point you’ll make in each paragraph, and use transitions to help your essay flow logically from point to point. 


How is the ACT scored?

It’s important to know how the ACT is scored, especially if you want to take diagnostic and practice tests– which you definitely should! To learn about how to proctor your own ACT diagnostic, check out our post here: How to Proctor Your Own ACT Test 

For the ACT, you get a raw score which is then computed into a scaled score for each section: English, Reading, Math, and Science. (Your writing score isn’t part of your composite score). Then, these four scores are averaged to give you a composite score, which can range from 1 (the lowest) to 36 (the highest). 

To calculate your raw score on a diagnostic test, give yourself a point for every answer that you get right. Don’t give yourself any points for any answers you get wrong or leave blank, but don’t take any points away, either. There’s no wrong answer penalty on the ACT. 

Once you add up all your points for a section, you can convert them using one of ACT’s scaling charts. Each test is slightly different, so each scaling chart will be a little different from test to test, but it should give you a close estimate. 

Scale Score Test 1 English Test 2 Mathematics Test 3 Reading Test 4 Science
36 72-75 58-60 39-40 38-40
35 70-71 56-57 38 37
34 68-69 54-55 37 36
33 67 53 35-36 35
32 66 51-52 34 34
31 65 49-50 33
30 64 48 33
29 62-63 46-47 32 32
28 61 44-45 31 31
27 60 41-43 30
26 58-59 39-40 29 30
25 56-57 37-38 28 28-29
24 53-55 35-36 27 26-27
23 51-52 33-34 26 25
22 48-50 31-32 24-25 23-24
21 45-47 30 23 22

Excerpt from scoring table from the 2022-2023 Preparing for the ACT from www.actstudent.org

Once you’ve scored each section using the scaling chart, average your four sections. That will give you your composite score. 


What is considered a “good” ACT score?

A good ACT score depends on what your goals are. What schools are you trying to gain admission to? The average ACT score in 2022 was 19.8 – so if you do better than that, you’re doing better than the national average! You can learn about the latest average scores in our post here: Average ACT Scores: The Latest Data

However, better than the national average might not be enough to get you into your target school. You should check out what your target school’s incoming freshmen score on the ACT on average. The average test score at your target school will give you a better idea of what to aim for when taking the ACT. 

To give you an idea, Class of 2025 admits to Harvard had an average ACT score of 34. To learn more about what’s a “good” score on the ACT, check out our post here: Your Guide to a Good ACT Score in 2023


When should I take the ACT?

You should take the ACT at least one year before you plan to enroll in your chosen college or university – so for example, if you’re going to enroll in Fall 2025, you should take the ACT in the fall of 2024 the latest, so that you have the opportunity to possibly take multiple tests before January, when most schools have their deadlines. 

However, many students elect to take the ACT in the spring of their junior year for the first time, so that they have a chance to improve their score if needed. Make sure to keep track of the testing dates for the year, so you have plenty of opportunities to retake the test if you want. 

For a more in-depth guide as to when to take the ACT and sample testing schedules, check out our post When should you take the SAT or ACT


How do I know if I’m ready to take the ACT?

One of the easiest ways to know if you’re ready to take the ACT is to take a diagnostic test. You should take the test under conditions as close to the real test as possible – you should do the test timed, asking a parent or friend to help you if at all possible. 

If you want a guide to proctoring your own test, check out our post here: How to Proctor Your Own ACT Test 

Since one of the challenges of the test is the short amount of time given to answer a lot of questions, it’s important to get a sense of the timing of the test. 


What are some ways to prepare for the ACT?

One of the most important ways to prepare for the ACT: practice, practice, practice! The more you can get familiar with the types of questions you’ll see on testing day, the more likely you’ll snag a higher score. 

Our Step-by-Step Guide to the ACT helps you plan out a study timeline to help you figure out how much time you’ll need to put aside for studying leading up to the test once you’ve set your goal score. Download it for free to begin planning how you’ll prep for this important test!

Try to set aside regular time to do practice problems, especially focusing on practice test questions you struggled with. The ACT website offers from free options for online ACT practice: https://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/test-preparation/free-act-test-prep.html 

You don’t have to do it all alone, either. Finding a private tutor to help you make a strategic study plan is a great way to find out what concepts and question types you should be focusing on. A private tutor can help you not only make your study plan, they can hold you accountable with homework and study time. If you’re ready to learn more about what services we offer, contact us today: https://prepmaven.com/contact-us/ 

We also have a comprehensive guide to preparing for the ACT so that you’ll be your best on test day. You can check it out here: https://prepmaven.com/blog/test-prep/how-to-prepare-act 


What’s the difference between the ACT and the SAT?

You might have asked yourself, should I take the ACT or the SAT? What’s the difference? While schools accept both for admissions, it is important to consider the key differences between both tests and take whatever test plays to your advantages. 

Because the ACT has four separate sections, it’s easier to “bury” a weaker math score, since it will be averaged in among three other sections, whereas on the SAT, the math score will make up 50% of your total score. 

On the other hand, the ACT tests a few advanced math concepts (like matrices and logs) not tested on the SAT. 

The ACT is also a fast-paced test – students will be expected to answer more questions in a shorter amount of time. Some students also find the ACT more straightforward and the questions less ambiguous. 

However, more and more students are choosing to take both tests and see which test they can score higher on. 

To see the ACT and SAT compared in greater detail, check out our post SAT vs ACT.


Next Steps

Only you can decide if taking the ACT is right for you. If you’re looking to score admission into a competitive school, you’ll likely want to take either the SAT or the ACT. Taking one or both of these tests can improve your chances of admission. 

You’ll also need to decide if your strengths are more suited to the SAT or the ACT. (That’s why you should check out our post, SAT vs ACT!) 

And if you do decide to take the ACT, you’re not alone! We can help you prepare for this important test with tutoring services from our highly skilled private tutors. They’ve helped hundreds of students get into the schools of their dreams and conquer standardized tests like the ACT. 

Contact us today to find out more about what we can offer you to help boost your ACT scores and get into the school of your dreams. And don’t forget to download our FREE Step-By-Step Guide to Making an ACT Prep Plan!




How to Prepare for the ACT: Your Comprehensive Guide

How to Prepare for the ACT: Your Comprehensive Guide

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s step-by-step strategy guide to preparing for the ACT

Most students will have to take either the SAT or ACT when they’re applying to college. If you’ve decided to take the ACT, you might have a lot of questions– but most importantly, how can you best prepare yourself for this important college admissions test? 

Since 2005, we’ve helped students rock their ACT exam and boost their chances for admissions to their dream schools. 

Read on to learn how you can use our tried-and-true strategies to prepare an ACT study plan that will maximize your chances for success on the ACT. 

Want our step-by-step guide to strategize your best prep plan for the ACT, which includes prep resources, a timeline, and study tips? Download our strategic planning guide here.

Jump to section:
Why the ACT?
Get to know the ACT
Creating a Preparation Plan for the ACT: Be Strategic
  Take a Diagnostic
  Set Your Goals
  Strategize Your Prep
  Find Consistency in Your Prep
  Learn Important ACT Testing Skills
  Measure Your Progress and Keep Re-Evaluating
Next Steps


Why the ACT? 

Like the SAT, the ACT is a standardized test that many colleges use as an element of consideration when looking at what students they’ll admit to their school. 

Many U.S. colleges accept both the SAT and ACT, so deciding which test to take is a highly individualized decision that depends on a few different factors. 

Some students might find the ACT caters better to their learning styles or the academic concepts they’re more familiar with. For example, the SAT doesn’t have a Science section, whereas the ACT does. Students may feel their strengths in science as a subject make them a good candidate for taking the ACT. 

Sometimes students even decide to take both the ACT and SAT to see what test they perform better on. 

To learn more about the differences between the SAT and ACT and for additional guidance on choosing the SAT vs ACT, check out this post.


Get to know the ACT

The ACT consists of English, Math, Reading, and Science sections. There is also an optional essay for which students will be expected to analyze an issue and give an essay response to discuss their perspective on the issue, including specific evidence and examples. 

Section Number of Questions Time
English 75 40 minutes
Math 60 60 minutes
Reading 40 35 minutes
Science 40 35 minutes
Essay 1 prompt 40 minutes

To learn more about the structure of the test, what kind of questions you’ll face, and more, check out our comprehensive posts about each section of the test: 

Each section of the ACT is scored from 1-36, with 1 being the lowest score and 36 being the highest. 

ACT Section Score Range
English 1-36
Math 1-36
Reading 1-36
Science 1-36

Your score report will show both your section scores and an average called a composite score. To learn more about scoring on the ACT and what’s considered a competitive score, check out our posts about ACT scoring below: 


Creating a Preparation Plan for the ACT: Be Strategic

What’s the difference between an effective ACT study plan and one that falls short? The short answer is strategy

The ACT, while not easy, is learnable in that it’s predictable: it covers a finite number of concepts. 

If you can learn to target your weaknesses on the ACT test, you’ll spend more time on learning what you need, and you won't waste valuable time on what you don’t need. 

You can allocate your study time to any weak spots that need addressing. There’s no reason to spend time working on practice questions you would get right if you took the test tomorrow. 

Remember, the idea is to maximize your potential score, which means getting as many correct answers as possible. 

Creating effective strategies for an ACT prep plan includes knowing yourself as a test-taker and recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses: are you good at recognizing patterns, but not so great with time management? Do you get fatigued by long tests, but have all the academic concepts firmly learned? 

Again, use predictability to your advantage. The ACT can be learned. Of course, sometimes doing this all alone can be daunting–and that’s why we’re here to help. Consider reaching out for help in the form of preparation services or private tutoring. Contact us to learn more about what kind of ACT prep services we offer. 

Want to get started on building your own strategic prep plan for the ACT? Download our guide for free here PrepMaven’s step-by-step strategy guide to preparing for the ACT!

Take a Diagnostic

The first step to creating your strategic ACT prep plan is to take a diagnostic test–a timed, full-length practice test under conditions as close to the big day as possible. ACT.org offers several full-length practice tests, which can be found here

The ACT’s official practice tests are a great resource. Make sure to do your test under testing conditions that are as close to the real test as possible including the real time constraints of the test. Ask a parent, friend, or private tutor to help you proctor the test. 

For tips on proctoring your own ACT test, check out our post here: How to Proctor Your Own ACT Test.

Score your test yourself or ask someone to help you. For your raw score in each section, you receive one point for each correct answer, with no penalty for wrong answers. 

Convert your raw score into a composite score. We have a handy score conversion chart in our post here: https://prepmaven.com/blog/test-prep/act-scoring/. Add up your scores from each section, then divide by 4 to get your composite score. 

After the ACT exam, take a few moments to reflect: 

  • What did you find most difficult about the exam? Did that correspond with your actual scores, or did you do worse on a section than you expected? Better on a section than you expected? 
  • Did you have enough time for each section or did you find yourself running out on any particular section? The English section? The Math section? The Reading section? The Science section? The ACT essay? 
  • Were you tired by the end of the ACT, or did you feel okay? 
  • Did the concepts that appear on the ACT feel familiar, or were many academic concepts new to you? 

Set Your Goals

After you’ve taken the diagnostic and scored it, set your goals and the time frame in which you want to achieve them. How many points would you like to earn by your final test date? Do you want to improve significantly in one section in particular? What’s your target score? What do you think is realistic for you by your test date? 

It’s important to set your goal score to give you something to work towards. 

Consider setting a timeline that helps you measure your progress towards your goals. For example, by January, I’ll have improved by 1 point in each section, or 1 point on my composite score. Or, in the next two months, I want to improve by three points in my Math section. 

Use regular practice exams, proctored under realistic testing conditions, to measure your progress. 

Strategize Your Prep

As we mentioned, plan to focus only on the topics you need to. Again, this is a great place for reflection: 

  • Did a particular type of question confuse you? 
  • Did the instructions confuse you? 
  • Did you select answers that were correct but did not answer the question being asked? 
  • Are your incorrect answers still confusing to you, or are they now resolved? 

If this seems like a lot to take on yourself, don’t worry–it is! That’s why many students choose to take prep courses or hire private tutors to help them through preparing for the ACT. They can help them choose the right prep books and create a personalized study plan. 

Here at PrepMaven, one of our private tutors will analyze your diagnostic test for you, identify what types of questions tripped you up, and help create a prep plan tailored towards your specific needs and goals. If you want to learn more, contact us to learn more about how we can help. 

Still want to build your strategic study plan yourself? Our step-by-step guide can help. Download it for free here! PrepMaven’s step-by-step strategy guide to preparing for the ACT

Find Consistency in Your Prep

One important element in creating your ACT preparation study plan will be deciding how you will stay consistent with your study sessions. Plan how much time you will devote to ACT prep. How much ACT homework can you get to each week? 

Can you make a regular study schedule that you can stick to? It’s important to home in on the academic concepts and types of questions you need to review so you can maximize your time spent on review alongside a busy school and extracurricular schedule. 

This is another place where setting realistic goals for yourself can help. Set week-to-week goals–for example, I’ll spend 45 minutes, three times a week, on ACT prep homework. Hold yourself to that schedule, even if it feels difficult at times. 

Again, this is another place where a private tutor can help, not only with a study guide and plan but also with accountability. A private tutor will not only assign homework, but check in with you week-to-week to see how it’s going. 

Learn Important ACT Testing Skills

One important element in creating your strategic ACT test prep is to make sure you’re comfortable with ACT testing skills in general. 

Process of Elimination. Because the ACT utilizes multiple choice questions, using process of elimination is a crucial testing strategy. Eliminate answers you know are definitely wrong, then use the yes/no/maybe method to narrow your answers down to one or two options. 

If you’re between two answers, choose the one that seems best to you. While there’s no guessing penalty on the ACT, if you can improve your chances to get an answer right, then you should!

Tackle easier questions first. One of the biggest challenges of the ACT test is managing time. There are strict time limits for a numerous number of questions. Don’t get stymied by difficult questions when there are easier ones that you could be answering. Tackle the questions that you know first, then go back and work on the more difficult questions. 

Practice being more efficient. Don’t feel as though you need to do the test just like a school assignment. Remember, no one is going to grade you on your effort, but just on how many answers you got right! There are ways to complete the test more efficiently, even if it means not using your traditional academic skills–plugging in answer choices, using your own answers, eliminating unreasonable answers, and more. 

Make sure you answer what the question is actually asking. One way the ACT likes to trip students up is by putting things that are correct and true in the answer choices–but that don’t answer the question. Make sure you’re 100% clear on what the question is asking of you before you choose your answer. 

Measure Your Progress and Keep Re-Evaluating

Measure your progress at regular intervals with practice tests. You might find that you need to change your prep plan, or that new areas need strengthening, or that old ones have shaped up and can be left behind for now. 


Next Steps

With a thoughtful plan, the proper resources, and a consistent practice schedule, you can make significant improvements to your baseline ACT score and help your chances of getting into your dream school.

Again, don’t feel like you have to do this all alone!  Our expert tutors can customize a study plan tailored to your strengths and weaknesses, teach you the most effective strategies for improving your scores, and help you follow through with your study plan. 

Contact us to learn how one of our highly experienced tutors can help you formulate a strategic prep plan that can carry you through to success on the ACT. 

And don’t forget to download our step-by-step guide to preparing a strategic prep plan to the ACT for book recommendations, timeline guides, and more! You can download the guide for free here.  PrepMaven’s step-by-step strategy guide to preparing for the ACT


Related ACT Posts



How to prepare for the ISEE

How to Prepare for the ISEE: A Guide to Getting Ready for Test Day

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s step-by-step strategy guide to preparing for the ISEE

Taking the ISEE

The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is an important component of private school admissions. If you or your student is planning to apply to private school, scoring well on the ISEE helps to boost your chances for successful admission to your school of choice. 

The first step to achieving this goal, whether you’re working independently or with a private tutoring company, should be to formulate a strategic ISEE study plan. 

Since 2005, we’ve helped students boost their ISEE scores and get into their top choice private schools.

In this post, we’ll share valuable information about when  to start prepping for the ISEE, how to create a strategic ISEE study plan, and how to best prepare your student or yourself for success on your testing day. 

Want a step-by-step-guide on how to prepare for the ISEE? Our Step-by-Step Guide to Making an ISEE Plan covers ISEE test prep strategy, a month-to-month test plan guide, quirks of the ISEE, and resources you can use to maximize your score. Download our guide for free here. 

Jump to section:
What is the ISEE?
Keys to Preparing for the ISEE
  Start Early
  Take a Diagnostic
  Analyze the Diagnostic
  Determine Your Resources
  Learn the Test Itself
  Strategically review important concepts 
  Use the predictability of the test to your advantage
Ready to get started? 


What is the ISEE?

The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is a standardized test that many private schools require as part of the admissions process.  Be sure to reach out to the school’s admissions office to understand their testing requirements.  

A strong score, along with other strong application materials, can boost a student’s chances for admissions at the school of their choice. 

For more detailed information about the ISEE, check out our post: What is the ISEE?


Keys to Preparing for the ISEE

1. Start early 

If you do elect to take the ISEE, it’s important to start prepping early. Sometimes students prepare too last-minute for the ISEE test and find themselves rushing to learn the test and its concepts. 

We suggest you start prepping as soon as possible, but generally not less than three months prior to your testing date if possible. 

Some students choose to start preparing 1+ years beforehand, which is a great way to effectively build vocabulary, learn academic concepts that appear on the ISEE that may not have been covered in their school curriculum, and develop standardized testing skills. 

Because students are limited to taking the ISEE three times, it’s important that they are ready to earn a high percentile score on their first, second, or third try. 

Starting early and getting to know the structure of the test, and identifying any weaknesses such as gaps in academic knowledge or any issues with time management skills, will help control exam stress and maximize a student’s chance for success on the ISEE. 

2. Take a diagnostic 

Take a full-length practice test under actual testing circumstances. Time (or have a friend or parent time) each part of the test, and do the entire test in one session with real time constraints. 

Finish each section under the time limit indicated on the exam. Taking a diagnostic will help students measure their progress and compare their starting score to their final score.  We include suggestions for resources, including practice tests, in our step-by-step strategy guide

3. Analyze the diagnostic 

Score the test. It will be hard to have an exact picture of an ISEE score from a practice test because ISEE scores are compared to other students’ who took the test on that date; their percentile rank is determined by their test performance compared to other students. 

This is then converted to something called a “stanine score.” This stanine score is what most committees consider for admissions. 

It can be difficult to determine an accurate score report from a practice test because of the confusing way that ISEE scores the test. You can read more about ISEE scoring in our post about the ISEE here: What is the ISEE.

One way to estimate a stanine score is to take the number of correct answers and then divide it by the total number of questions, then multiply that result by 100. The percentage can be estimated as follows:

  • 90% or above - 9 stanine score
  • 80 - 89% - 8 stanine score
  • 70 - 79% - 7 stanine score

And so on. While this won’t give an exact stanine score, it will help students to estimate their performance on the ISEE test. 

However, the ISEE test analysis can go further than just stanine scores and percentile scores. Again, this is another instance where an experienced tutor can help by creating a personalized, targeted study guide. The ISEE diagnostic should be analyzed for academic concepts where a student is weaker. 

Instead of reviewing all the academic concepts on the tests, students should focus only on the concepts they need. By determining which question type is the most difficult for the individual student and using our free ISEE study guide, the student can maximize their study time.

4. Determine your resources 

Once the student decides what concepts they will need to review, they should determine what learning tools are available to them and what practice materials are best for them. 

Students should ask themselves: What books will I use? Are there additional resources online that will be helpful to me? 

PrepMaven helps guide students to the right resources to use to prepare for the ISEE and resources for additional practice exercises. 

They also provide complete practice tests for students to measure their progress. Contact us today to learn more about what ISEE prep packages we offer and how we can boost your student’s chances for success on the ISEE. 

5. Learn the test itself 

Learn the different levels of the ISEE, and what you’ll be responsible for on the test. Get to know the ISEE, what’s on it, what the different timed sections consist of, the types of questions you’ll see, and what you should expect on the day of the test. 

ISEE Levels
Level Grades
Primary 2-4
Lower 5-6
Middle 7-8
Upper 9-12

Students will answer multiple choice questions and one essay question. The amount of questions and time on each section will depend on whether the student is taking a Primary Level, Lower Level, or Middle Level/Upper Level ISEE exam. There are time sections that differ in timing depending on the level of the test. 

Primary Level

Section Questions Timing
Auditory Comprehension (Only for Grade 2) 1 audio passage w/ 6 questions 7 minutes
Reading Grade 2: 18 Questions Grade 2: 20 minutes
Grade 3: 24 Questions Grade 3: 28 minutes
Grade 4: 28 Questions Grade 4: 30 minutes
Math Grade 2: 24 Multiple Choice Grade 2: 26 minutes
Grade 3: 24 Multiple Choice Grade 3: 26 minutes
Grade 4: 28 Multiple Choice Grade 4: 30 minutes

Lower Level

Section Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 34 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 38 35 minutes
Break - 10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 25 25 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 30 30 minutes
Break - 10 minutes
Essay 1 30 minutes

Middle Level and Upper Level

Section Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 40 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 37 35 minutes
Break - 10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 36 35 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 47 40 minutes
Break - 10 minutes
Essay 1 30 minutes

6. Strategically review important concepts such as vocabulary, reading concepts, and mathematics topics 

Some ways to get started prepping for test day:

  • Review vocabulary. Consult a list of vocabulary that commonly appears on the ISEE, and consider making flashcards or asking a parent or friend to quiz you week-to-week to see how your vocabulary skills are building up and how your level of knowledge is improving. 
  • Read both to build skills and for enjoyment. Reading regularly builds important reading and verbal skills. Head to your local library and build important ISEE skills while enjoying a good book. 
  • Build important mathematics skills for success on the two math sections of the exam. Target any math weaknesses that the diagnostic test reveals. Take time to do regular homework with practice questions and practice drills, targeting any skills in math that need improvement. 
  • Build a comprehensive study plan and stick to a study schedule to prepare in time for your ISEE testing date. Again, a private tutor can help you use the right prep materials and applicable practice exercises combined with a practice schedule to fulfill an efficient and effective study process. 
  • Consistent practice is key! It can be very helpful to have someone help to keep you accountable despite busy schedules from school and extracurriculars. 

7. Use the predictability of the test to your advantage 

There are aspects of the test that can be confusing at first–however, it’s important to think like a test-maker, not a test-taker. The average student may not be used to some of the unusual aspects of standardized tests and how they differ from in-school testing. 

Once you learn the quirks of the test and exam format, you can use the predictability and regularity of the test to your advantage. The higher the level of knowledge you build about the exam, the better! Building your comfort level and confidence level with the exam will mean anxiety reduction and thus more success on the day of the test. 

Since the ISEE test covers a finite number of concepts, it’s possible to learn all the concepts that will be covered on the test. 

The test’s structure doesn’t change, so it’s also possible to learn important test-taking skills that will help improve your chances of a better score. These skills also combat test anxiety because they’re simple, straightforward ideas that can be used even if the ISEE is a difficult test. Some important skills are: 

  • Process of elimination: narrow down the answer choices to one or two possibilities. 
  • Time management insights: making sure you don’t spend too long on any one question, and even doing the test out of order if it means answering questions accurately and quickly. 
  • Not falling into the usual tricks and traps of the ISEE. Again, working with an ISEE test prep professional, such as one of PrepMaven’s tutors, can help you avoid the most common mistakes made by students on the ISEE. 

Ready to get started? 

Navigating how to prepare for the ISEE is daunting. The ISEE itself is complicated in structure and it can be difficult to know how much time to devote to the various topics you’ll be tested on. 

A professional tutor will help you strategize a prep plan, assign you homework to build skills from week to week, hold you accountable for putting in prep and practice time, and measure your progress. 

Maximize your chances for success by contacting us today to learn how a personalized ISEE prep plan can work for you. 

Our Step-by-Step Guide to Making an ISEE Plan covers ISEE test prep strategy, a month-to-month test plan guide, quirks of the ISEE, and resources you can use to maximize your score. Download our guide for free here. 


What is the ISEE? What you need to know

What is the ISEE?  What you need to know

Bonus Material: Download our FREE set of ISEE practice questions

Your Introduction to the ISEE test

The ISEE is an important part of the admissions process for independent schools admissions. 

However, many students and families either aren’t familiar with the ISEE, or aren’t sure if it’s the right test for them. 

PrepMaven has over 20 years of experience helping students maxime their ISEE scores and gain admittance into their top choice private schools.  We help students understand the test inside and out and learn the most effective ISEE test-taking strategies.

Read on to learn more about the test, with examples of questions from each section of the ISEE. Below, you can download a set of free ISEE sample questions to help you decide if your academic strengths align with the ISEE. 

Jump to section:

What is the ISEE and why do I need it?
What are the different levels of the ISEE?
What are the different sections of the ISEE?
Verbal Reasoning
Quantitative Reasoning
Reading Comprehension
Mathematics Achievement
The Advantages of the ISEE
Are there any disadvantages to taking the ISEE?
Should I take the ISEE?


What is the ISEE and why do I need it? 

The ISEE is the Independent School Entrance Examination, a standardized test some private middle and high schools use as an entrance exam for admissions. 

Students applying for admissions to private schools– boarding schools, prep schools, or other types of elite independent schools– will need to take either the ISEE or SSAT, depending on the school’s preference. Check out your target school’s website or speak to an admissions representative to confirm what test their admissions department prefers. 

While the ISEE won’t make or break a student’s admissions application, a strong score can boost a student’s chances for admission to the school of their choice. 

Being familiar with the ISEE’s structure and knowing how to maximize your score can mean a stronger admissions application. Get to know the ISEE and how your own academic strengths can help you ace the different sections of the test. 

And because the test is so competitive, we usually recommend working with an expert tutor who can help your child maximize their ISEE score – Reach out today!


What are the different levels of the ISEE test? 

Students will take the ISEE that corresponds with whatever grade level they’re seeking admission to in the coming year. The different testing levels are: 

ISEE Levels
Level Grades
Primary 2-4
Lower 5-6
Middle 7-8
Upper 9-12

Primary Level. The Primary ISEE tests for independent school entry for grades 2-4 and includes 18 reading questions, 24 math questions, six questions based on a listening comprehension section, and a writing prompt with a picture. All questions besides the writing prompt are multiple choice questions, with students being offered four answer choices. 

Section Questions Timing
Auditory Comprehension (Only for Grade 2) 1 audio passage w/ 6 questions 7 minutes
Reading Grade 2: 18 Questions Grade 2: 20 minutes
Grade 3: 24 Questions Grade 3: 28 minutes
Grade 4: 28 Questions Grade 4: 30 minutes
Math Grade 2: 24 Multiple Choice Grade 2: 26 minutes
Grade 3: 24 Multiple Choice Grade 3: 26 minutes
Grade 4: 28 Multiple Choice Grade 4: 30 minutes

Lower Level. The Lower ISEE tests for independent school entry for grades 5 and 6 and includes 34 verbal reasoning questions, 38 quantitative reasoning questions, 30 math achievement questions, five reading passages with five questions per reading passage, and an essay prompt.  

All questions besides the writing prompt are multiple choice questions, with students being offered four answer choices. 

Section Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 34 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 38 35 minutes
Break - 10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 25 25 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 30 30 minutes
Break - 10 minutes
Essay 1 30 minutes

Middle Level and Upper Level. The Middle and Upper ISEE tests for independent school entry for grades 7 to 12 and includes 40 verbal reasoning questions, 47 quantitative reasoning questions, 37 math achievement questions, six reading passages with six corresponding questions per reading passage, and an essay prompt.  

All questions besides the writing prompt are multiple choice questions, with students being offered four answer choices. 

Section Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 40 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 37 35 minutes
Break - 10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 36 35 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 47 40 minutes
Break - 10 minutes
Essay 1 30 minutes

Ready to get started right away with practicing for the ISEE? Download our FREE set of practice questions here.


What are the different sections of the ISEE? 

Verbal Reasoning 

Aspects of students’ verbal reasoning ability will be tested through synonym questions and sentence completion questions. For Middle and Upper levels, this section is 20 minutes long.  

Synonyms. Students will be expected to successfully identify words by answering synonym questions. This section will test students’ knowledge of vocabulary. 

Sample question

ARRESTING

  1. Legal
  2. Striking
  3. Confusing
  4. Terrifying

ANSWER: B

Sentence Completions. Students will be asked to complete sentences with the correct vocabulary word and will be tested on their knowledge of vocabulary in context. These “fill-in-the-blank” questions will have one or two blanks to complete.   

Sample Question

The ____________ to assess the success of the study was flawed. 

  1. Scientist
  2. Achievement
  3. Mechanism
  4. Acquisition

ANSWER: C

Quantitative Reasoning 

In this section, students will use logic and implement mathematical principles to answer questions accurately. For Middle and Upper Levels, this section is 35 minutes long. Some examples of questions students might see are: 

Word Problems:

If Janet needs 3 dozen brownies for 36 students, how many dozen brownies will she need for 60 students? 

  1. 12
  2. 5
  3. 24
  4. 2
  5. 8

ANSWER: B

Quantitative Comparison Problems: 

Column A Column B
The surface area of a cube with a side of 4 The area of a square with a side of 8

  1. if the quantity in Column A is greater
  2. if the quantity in Column B is greater
  3. if the quantities are equal
  4. if the relationship cannot be determined from the information given

ANSWER: C

Reading Comprehension

In this section, students will be expected to read passages and accurately answer corresponding questions about each passage. There are six reading passages, with accompanying questions for each passage. For Upper and Middle Levels, this section is 35 minutes long. 

Sample Question

The word “mark” as used in the sentence “It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! — do you mark me well?” most likely means

  1. Understand
  2. Aim 
  3. Symbol
  4. Draw

ANSWER: A

Mathematics Achievement

The Mathematics Achievement section includes more complex mathematics topics than the Quantitative Reasoning section and touches on concepts such as geometry, equations, data analysis, probability, algebraic concepts, and more.

Sample Question

If Jamie is v years old and Isabelle is 9 years younger than Jamie, which of the following gives Isabelle’s age, in years?

  1. 2v+1
  2. v+9
  3. 9-v
  4. v-9

ANSWER: D

Essay

The ISEE also includes an essay portion. Students will be given a prompt and are expected to write an essay that showcases their writing abilities as well as their ability to think analytically and write persuasively. 

While the essay isn’t graded, schools will see your essay, so it is best to use this opportunity to showcase your personality while still using proper spelling and grammar. Students are given 30 minutes of writing time to write their essay on the ISEE. 

Sample Question

Who do you most admire and why do they inspire you?

Want more practice? Download our FREE set of ISEE practice questions here. 


The Advantages of the ISEE

There are some definite advantages to taking the ISEE compared to other independent school standardized tests, such as the SSAT: 

It’s the only test available for certain primary level admissions. The ISEE is the only testing option for schools that require admission for grade 2; therefore, students seeking admission for independent schools for grade 2 that require standardized testing will have to seek out the ISEE.

Some schools prefer the ISEE. Some schools prefer students to take the ISEE instead of the SSAT. It’s best to check with your target schools to see what test they prefer from their applicants. 

The ISEE offers more testing dates than the SSAT. Students with a packed schedule and limited time to squeeze in a test date might find the ISEE works better with their hectic schedule. 

There’s no guessing penalty on the ISEE. There is no penalty for wrong answers on the ISEE, whereas on the SSAT there is a ¼ point penalty for each wrong answer. That means students can guess on questions and possibly pick up more points on the exam without facing any negative repercussions. 

The ISEE favors students who love to read. Reading passages are longer on the ISEE. Therefore, if a student is used to taking on lengthier reading challenges, the ISEE might be a great fit. 

Students who love analytical thinking excel with ISEE essay prompts. The ISEE essay is an expository essay; if a student prefers a more logical and factual approach to writing, they may prefer the ISEE.

There are no analogies on the ISEE. Many students find the analogy section of the SSAT baffling and daunting. If this is a major challenge for a student, the ISEE fortunately does not require students to answer analogy questions. 

The ISEE highlights math student rockstars. Some students find the mathematics sections on the ISEE more challenging, but conversely, the language arts section less challenging. If a student wants to highlight their mathematics abilities, the ISEE could be a great option for independent school testing. On the other hand, if a student feels less confident in their language arts abilities, the ISEE might be a good alternative to the SSAT, which can be more challenging in the verbal and reading sections.  


Are there any disadvantages to taking the ISEE? 

Many students and parents struggle with the question of whether the ISEE or SSAT is a better standardized test for them. While there are many advantages to the ISEE exam, there might be some disadvantages that lead students to select the SSAT instead: 

Some students might get easily distracted during the Reading Comprehension portion of the exam. The passages are longer than on the SSAT and less varied; the SSAT includes poetry in addition to fiction and nonfiction. 

The mathematics portions of the ISEE are considered more difficult than the SSAT.  Conversely, the SSAT tends to be more challenging in testing students’ verbal abilities. 

If a student feels stronger in their language arts abilities compared to their mathematics abilities, the ISEE may not be the best choice compared to the SSAT, which tends to be more challenging in the verbal/reading sections and slightly less challenging in the mathematics sections.

Students can only take the ISEE a limited number of times. You can only take the ISEE up to three times. Therefore, students should feel confident they will score well before taking their exam. Taking practice exams or seeking help with test prep is a great way to make sure students make the most of their testing opportunity.

Creative students might not prefer the essay on the ISEE. Because the ISEE essay prompt is expository, students who prefer creative writing may not prefer the ISEE essay section.

To compare the ISEE to other standardized tests for independent schools like the SSAT, check out our post ISEE vs SSAT: Comparing the Private School Admissions Tests. 


Should I take the ISEE? 

There are many factors to consider when choosing an exam for independent school admissions. Students should consider their own academic strengths and weaknesses, any anxieties they have around testing, and what styles of mathematics, reading, and writing they like best. 

The ISEE can be a great option for students seeking independent school admission, but there are many options to weigh when choosing a standardized testing option with your admissions application. 

Setting yourself up for success on the big day might include taking ISEE practice tests, trying out practice questions, or seeking out professional test prep services. With students being limited to 3 test dates with the ISEE, it’s important students have taken multiple practice tests before the day of the exam and feel ready to perform at their best, preferably during the first or second testing session. 

PrepMaven can match you with a highly qualified tutor to make sure you’re at your best on test day and know exactly what to expect. 

Reach out today to prepare yourself to rock the ISEE and make your admissions package the most competitive it can be. 

Want to get more familiar with the types of questions you’ll see on the ISEE? PrepMaven offers practice questions that you can download FREE by clicking here.