How Not to Prepare for the ACT/SAT

With many of our member families going through the ACT/SAT process we thought we would talk to one of the leading SAT preparation experts in Asia, Jeremy Craig of Testtakers for some advice….

For centuries, aspiring civil servants in China spent years of their lives in study to prepare for examinations that focused on rote memorization of the classic Confucian texts.  This type of exam continues today in China with the “Gao Kao” (高考), the results of which dictate where students go to university.  The Gao Kao is best prepared for through sheer brute force and mock test after mock test.  This type of testing is common throughout other Asian nations and the normal preparation process lasts years and in many places offerings are made at shrines of various religions beseeching for divine help, such is the importance of these exams – in many cases the sole criterion for university admission.

The ACT or SAT is certainly an important part of the American university admissions process but, actually, there is no minimum score for any American university.  Every year elite schools reject students scoring full marks and accept other students scoring much lower who are more “complete” applicants. Hence, spending hundreds of hours on test prep at the expense of playing sports and participating in other CCAs is sheer folly.

Both the SAT and ACT are not tests of knowledge or memorization skills.  As the College Board states, it tests what you already have learned in school: Reading, Writing and Mathematics.  As such, learning how the test is constructed and specific strategies for different question types is the most efficient way to prepare.

Simply put, very very few students are capable of getting a perfect score, just as very very few people are capable of winning an Olympic medal, or very very few people are capable of becoming a chess master. To use a sports analogy close to my heart, I know that if I practice golf for 2 hours a day I would certainly improve but no matter what I do there is no way I could ever play against Tiger Woods in a tournament. It just isn’t going to happen. Similarly, diminishing returns kick in quite quickly in test preparation and I lament how many over-eager students look to start SAT preparation a year in advance or enroll in course after course chasing a few extra points.  For the purposes of getting into a great school, it just isn’t going to work.

So this begs the question: What should my child do over the holiday periods?  The short answer is nearly anything other than SAT preparation!

— Jeremy Craig, Testtakers Singapore

About Testtakers:  Our approach is based around learning new techniques and strategies rather than tedious practice and rote memorization.  Our programs range in length but seldom involve more than 30-45 hours or so of classroom time as we have found that is enough time to internalize the techniques and apply them to the test.  Our test preparation programs help students reach their highest potential score as quickly and efficiently as possible.   To find out more please email Jeremy on



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