March 12, 2019

SAT and ACT Prep Questions: Explanations Are Your Secret Weapon

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The Importance of Practice Tests

Taking a practice SAT or ACT is the quickest way to improve your score.  Practicing helps you become familiar with the format and question style of the college entrance exams.  Once you know what to expect, you no longer need to read the instructions in depth (you can just skim), which saves some time too.

Although it's impossible to predict exactly what questions will be on any given SAT or ACT, a good indicator is what material has been on the tests before.  Because probably 95% of the test will cover the same concepts as found in more recent exams, studying newly released SATs or ACTs is a great way to become familiar with the tested material.

Learning from Your Mistakes

Just as important as knowing the kinds of questions that will be asked is determining which practice questions you answered incorrectly and understanding why.  Unfortunately, the explanations provided in most prep materials don't help you understand why the wrong answers are wrong and the right answer is right.

For example, many study aids will give you the unhelpful answer that an answer is wrong because it isn't right.  Also, explanations that include technical terms or difficult words can leave you more confused than you were before reading the explanation.

Understanding your mistakes is a very important part of the learning process and helps you maximize your scores.  Therefore, it's crucial to use study materials that provide detailed explanations.

What Makes a Good Explanation

After answering a question incorrectly, usually the first thing you want to know is why the answer you chose is wrong.  A good wrong-answer explanation will include possible reasons for choosing an answer and then explain what makes that reasoning faulty.

For example, in a reading question, you may have made a logical inference that isn't supported by the passage.  In a writing question, you may not have known the rule for which punctuation mark to use in the given sentence.  In a math question, maybe you didn't complete all the necessary steps.  In a science question, you may have referenced the wrong graph.  Whatever the reason, you need to clearly understand what mistake you made so that you don't make the same mistake on a similar question during the actual SAT or ACT.

Just as important as understanding why the incorrect answer is wrong is understanding why the correct answer is right.  The reasoning used to pick the best choice should be explained in detail.  For a reading question, that could be pointing to the exact place in the passage where the answer is found.  For a writing question, that could mean using a diagram to thoroughly explain a specific grammar rule.  For math, it might mean explaining how to solve the problem step-by-step.  For science, you may need to read an explanation detailing which part of a figure needs to be referenced to find the answer.  For all the tested sections, it is invaluable to understand time-saving tips and tricks to quickly and correctly answer the questions.

Finding the Best Questions and Explanations

Sometimes it's hard to find SAT or ACT preparation materials that not only cover the types of questions tested but also offer effective explanations.  Obviously, released SATs and ACTs will have the best practice questions, but unfortunately, they usually offer very sparse explanations that don't help you understand your mistakes.  Choosing another study option that offers more in-depth explanations is highly beneficial.

UWorld SAT and ACT question banks offer such explanations.  At UWorld, experienced educators who are subject-matter experts have broken down each test and created questions that closely model SAT and ACT questions.  They explain in detail not only the correct answer but also each of the incorrect answers.  It's like having a personal tutor, but more convenient because this online learning system can be accessed on most electronic devices, including computers, tablets, and phones.  That means students can study anywhere, any time.

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