College Awareness

College Entrance Exams: How to Help Students with SAT and ACT Test Prep

Jenn Liu

Come on, fess up! You hate teaching SAT and ACT test prep! 

After all, “I love teaching test prep,” said no teacher EVER, right?

Since college entrance exam requirements have changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be wondering if you are now off the hook. 

As you may have heard, over three-fourths of colleges are now test-optional and several schools, including the UC schools, are now test-blind. But, like many teachers, you might be getting mixed messages. 

With test scores not being a requirement to get into most colleges and universities, at least for the next year or so (this could change in the future), do you even bother to teach college entrance test prep? Are there still scholarships that require test scores? Will test scores be used for anything else, such as course placement?

Time is valuable; clear answers would be nice.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer because it just depends and things are always changing. 

If your students are applying to test-optional schools and their grade point average is below the average of students accepted to their school of choice, then yes, SAT or ACT scores could enhance their application. However, keep in mind that 1) grades, not test scores, are the most important factor in college admission decisions, 2) high school courses, activities, recommendation letters, an interview, and application essays may also be considered, and 3) competitive schools will have higher expectations. With test-optional schools, high test scores may also give students an edge over the competition, when all other parts of the application are more or less equal. 

So, what do you do as a teacher or counselor when your students are likely applying to different schools with different admission criteria?

The answer is the same as how you would answer the question: Do you teach SAT and ACT test prep if all your students aren’t planning to go to college? Clearly, it’s hard to teach students anything if they don’t see the purpose. 

Here is some helpful advice:

Start by helping your students to understand what the SAT and ACT are, how they’re different, possible reasons to consider taking each test, and how to prepare.

Then, I would have all your students take a practice test to see how they do. If they have the chance to take the PSAT or ACT at school, this would be a great opportunity and I would encourage students to at least give the test a try and do their best, whether the tests are optional or required. Some students might do better than they would expect! Doing well on a practice test might be motivation for students to try either test again. You could point out that students usually do better the second time they take a college entrance test, whether it’s the SAT or ACT.

Next, I would have students look at a list of test-optional and test-blind schools.

If your students need help choosing a college, I have a great lesson here that can help!

In addition, I’d have your students do research on scholarships and see which require test scores. You could point out that the National Merit Scholarship Program uses PSAT scores, and likely many other scholarships use test SAT/ACT scores. But, chances are, many scholarships may also drop test score requirements, and many already have. At the same time, it’s worth considering taking the SAT and ACT can be good practice for future high-stakes tests such as the GRE and LSAT.

Finally, I would survey your students to find out if they would like you to do more SAT/ACT prep with them. If most of the class is interested, I would definitely find ways to integrate some test prep into your lessons. If most of the class is not interested, then I would at least make sure to share resources with those who are interested.


Check out the free test prep on Khan Academy, College Board, and ACT websites! Also, be sure to remind your students that research finds that students who read regularly do better on standardized tests. Here is a recommended reading list to improve vocabulary.

If you found this article helpful, share it with your teacher friends and colleagues!

Bold font

I'm Jenn, your new teacher friend.

I know how you feel about teaching college and career readiness. You care deeply about helping your students reach their dreams, but you have a lot on your plate already and not enough time to design more lessons. No worries--I can help!

more about me

Hey there!

Do you need engaging no-prep lessons and activities for a college and career readiness class?
These done-for-you resources for grades 9-12 will save you lots of planning time!

best seller

 Feeling lost trying to find visually appealing, informative, and interactive resources to teach your secondary students about college and career readiness? Get this Pear Deck Google Slides bundle!

best seller wITH pear deck

 Top Resources

Steal My Curriculum Planning Guide!

Wondering what you need to cover to be sure your students have the knowledge and skills they need to be college and career ready?
Here are 16 Essential Lessons to Get Your Students
College and Career Ready!

wow, i'll take it!

Free guide