Prepping for the SAT and ACT Tests

Mark Rosenberg is the founder of Seattle SAT Prep, a Seattle-based test prep service for the SAT, PSAT, ACT, and GRE tests. He is our guest author in today’s post on how to best prepare yourself for the SAT and ACT.

Materials for Study

Before you begin studying, we recommend that you gather the following materials which will allow you to maximize your study time.


  • Graphing calculator: I recommend the TI-83 or TI-84 calculator for the SAT and ACT tests.
  • #2 pencils: Both mechanical and regular (on practice tests and on the test use a dull pencil to bubble in more quickly and use a sharp pencil to show your work).
  • Amazon Kindle: The Amazon Kindle has extraordinary tools that assist with learning vocabulary. The cost can be as little as approximately $35 if purchased from Amazon warehouse. Looking up a word on the Kindle is very different than looking up a word using Google. First, looking up the word can be done much more quickly on the Kindle. Simply tap the word and the definition appears. (With a feature called Word Wise definitions of difficult words even appear right above the word on the page.) More importantly, the word, the definition, and the sentence it appears in our automatically added to a list called vocabulary builder. Each time the student looks up the word that new sentence it appears in is also added to the vocabulary builder. The benefits are invaluable. There is significant research that shows that the way this tool works (reteaching vocabulary in context rather than by rote memorization) is far more effective than simply trying to memorize a list of words which can be both frustrating and logistically difficult. Think of how a child acquires language: words are connected in context and in relation to each other and each time a word is learned in a new way that word acquires a new level of depth. (Also, words can have multiple meanings and seeing a word in different contexts can show this.) Standardized tests require both breadth and depth of vocabulary in order to understand a passage and also to understand questions. This tool is particularly useful for students who speak English as a second language and or have a learning disability or a cognitive issue like ADD or ADHD.Note: please do not purchase the Kindle Fire; only purchase a Kindle E-Reader or Kindle Paperwhite as only the readers have this feature.

For SAT Prep Tutoring

My Recommended Books

    1. Up Your Score: SAT: The Underground Guide by Larry Berger, Michael Colton, Manek Mistry et al. (any version after 2016 when the test was revised). Studying for any standardized test is a difficult task and is often overwhelming. Up Your Score For the SAT uses friendly and approachable language at the high school diction level that is often informal. (Other books use a formal tone that can be discouraging). Notably, it describes how reading literature that is enjoyable is scientifically proven to increase a student’s comprehension. Therefore, reading enjoyable things outside of test passages actually is emphasized as an important skill. I cannot agree more. The grammar is also taught in a very approachable form. The math section might be a bit informal for some students and in that case we recommend Ivy Globals New SAT Guide.Note: Up Your Score includes a list of vocabulary to memorize. This list is an abbreviated form of the list of words found in a previous edition for the previous version of the SAT test. It is no longer relevant. Having a broad and deep vocabulary level is best for the new SAT and ACT tests. I suggest reading broadly and deeply while looking up words as you go. There is no longer a predictable list of vocabulary that will be tested. I recommend the Merriam-Webster app for looking up words. You can also use it in conjunction with the quizlet and/or index cards to remember words in Up Your Score.
    2. The Official SAT Study Guide by The College Board. This features previously used tests administered by the college board. As noted below, tests from third parties are not equivalent and should not be substituted.
    3. For students concentrating on reading skills and for students beginning their junior year for both the SAT and the ACT: The Official SAT Study Guide (second edition with 10 practice tests for the previous version of the SAT) by The College Board features different levels of reading material and ranks the level of difficulty of questions for more accurate benchmarking and improvement. Reading passages move from easy to medium to hard. (On the new test all passages are hard.) If there are less than three passages it is likely per test it is likely that those passages are easy and/or medium. Questions can be ranked in terms of difficulty from level I through five. Five is the hardest. They can also ranked E for easy, and for medium and H for hard.Note: Amazon will provide a link to purchase a more recent edition. Do not click on that link. That link will bring you to item number two.For students working without a tutor, answers and explanations to the questions can be found in Explanations for “The Official SAT Study Guide” Questions: Detailed Explanations for the Answers for Every Question by Henry Davis.


For ACT Prep Tutoring

My Recommended Books

  1. Up Your Score: ACT, The Underground Guide by Chris Arp and Ava Chen, Jon Fish, Zack Swafford. As noted earlier, the Up Your Score books acknowledge that ACT prep is an unpleasant task and in doing so move on to use informal language to make it as bearable and enjoyable as possible. That is best suited for the reading, grammar, and science sections. For students who want a more formal approach to math we recommend Ivy Global’s ACT Guide.
  2. The Official ACT Prep Guide published by ACT. Note: this book includes a link to online content. Students process information differently online than they do offline in print. Since the test will be taken in print, I recommend working only with pencil and paper. In fact, one of the most important strategies is to mark up the test booklet as much as possible and to always show work. For both the SAT and ACT, using official practice tests is extremely important and there is no substitute. Practice tests found in 3rd party books from institutions that offer test prep are not rigorously created and vetted and we believe some actually double as marketing materials designed to lead students into the classroom at the institution.


ACT® is a registered trademark of ACT®, Inc
SAT® is a registered trademark of the College Board and the Educational Testing Service.
Seattle SAT Prep asserts no copyright ownership over ACT materials and its services and products are not, in any way, connected to, affiliated with, or endorsed by ACT, Inc. or the College Board and the Educational Testing Service.

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