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How to Use Your AP Test Prep for SAT and ACT Test Prep (and Vice Versa)

For many high school students, the spring of junior year (or sophomore year for the early birds) can feel like one really long test. With AP exams piled on SATs and ACTs, topped with Subject Tests and a smattering of the usual pop quizzes and final exams, it can be easy to get a little overwhelmed. But with good advanced scheduling and positive thinking, you can get through it, and come out stronger and smarter than ever. Promise.

If you find yourself studying for AP tests and the SAT or ACT at the same time, you should take comfort in the fact that the preparation you are doing for one standardized test is going to help you on another, even if it’s not in the same subject. Here’s why:

The good test-taking strategies you’ll learn apply to both AP Tests and the SAT and ACT

Practicing good test-taking strategies while prepping for AP tests will help you on the SAT and ACT and vice versa. Standardized tests are a skill that can be learned, and you can transfer this knowledge to other tests. This includes:

Strategic Use of Answer Choices
Part of the reason I love standardized tests is because, to me, they are like mysteries waiting to be solved with clues scattered all over the place (yes, that makes me a nerd, and yes, that’s why I work at Magoosh). Multiple choice questions are particularly great because the answer choices almost always give you important hints that can help you solve a problem more quickly or more cleverly. You can find the flaws that make an answer choice wrong. Or you can plug in numbers to solve algebraic equations, for example. When you learn to think about your answer choices as part of the question, rather than just dutifully going through the process of solving a problem and then finding your answer among the choices, it can radically improve your experience on ALL standardized tests, for the better.

Effective Time Management
One of the reasons many students struggle with standardized tests is because they approach them in the same way they approach school, plodding through questions in the order they appear from beginning to end. Liberate yourself from the chains of doing everything in order! Practice making quick decisions to skip questions and come back later. Like certain passage types better than others? Do those first. Practicing tests under strictly timed conditions helps you make quick, smart decisions--and this will apply to any standardized test you encounter.

Writing Under Pressure
The AP tests in literature, languages, and history all have writing components. The SAT and ACT also both have optional essays (but ones that are required or recommended by many colleges). Learning to cope with being blindsided by a topic, quickly brainstorming examples, budgeting your time for prewriting, and writing concisely are skills that will benefit you on all of these tests.

There is a strong overlap between AP Exams and SAT Subject Tests

If you taking an AP course, chances are there is an SAT Subject Test that matches it. The exceptions are AP Art, Computer Science, Psychology, Statistics, Environmental Science, Human Geography and Macro and Microeconomics, but this still leaves eighteen potential SAT subject tests that overlap with APs. The SAT is written by an organization called the College Board. And guess who produces the AP Exams? That’s right: the College Board. So you aren’t crazy if you think SAT Subject Tests look a lot like AP tests. Many students find subject tests to be easier versions of the multiple-choice portions of the AP tests they are already cramming for. This means that if you are well-prepared for the AP Literature exam, the SAT Literature test should feel like a breeze; if you have been cramming obscure facts for AP US History, SAT US History should feel like a piece of cake (or at least far more cake-like than the AP test).

Of course, it works out best if you plan to take SAT subject tests at around the same time as the AP tests (your knowledge of U.S. presidential exploits may fade over the summer). So this means the May or June SAT administration. However, the May SAT always falls smack in the middle of the AP testing period, so you should carefully think about whether a cozy Saturday morning curled up with the SAT might just push you over the edge. (I know many students who plan to take the ACT simply because the test dates mesh better with AP exams). The June SAT test date might be a more appealing option: you won’t have forgotten everything by this point and if you are studying for final exams around this time, well, bonus refresher.

Even if you don’t think you will need SAT subject tests for college applications, if you are taking an AP exam that has an overlapping SAT subject test, you might want to take it anyway (assuming you think you can score 650+ on it). Good scores on SAT subject tests will bolster your application even if they are not required and will certainly make it feel like your AP test prep is going the extra mile.

Strategic Scheduling

Even though it’s been well over ten years, I can still remember how depressing my weekly planner looked in the May of my junior year. AP test, followed by AP test, followed by two AP tests back-to-back, followed by a few hours of sleep, followed by the SAT. And repeat. And I know that many of the students I’ve tutored feel equally overwhelmed. And, of course, there’s prom and all sorts of end-of-the-school year events thrown in, just to keep things interesting. If you are planning on taking AP tests alongside of SAT, ACT, or SAT subject tests, you should know this well in advance and be prepared for it. There may be little you can do about a packed testing schedule, but please don’t also schedule a music festival with your friends or an extra soccer tournament. You’ll have enough on your plate. On the bright side, studying for APs and the SATs and ACTs at the same time might make you a lot more efficient at your studying than you would be otherwise.

Test Flexible Options

Finally, while AP scores are rarely used in college admissions, there are more and more colleges and universities that are embracing test optional and test flexible policies that allow students to choose what test scores they want considered. One famous example is NYU, which allows students to submit 3 AP exam scores instead of the SAT or ACT. So if you find that this is a better option for you, well then, your SAT and ACT test prep might just be covered by your AP prep.

Studying for so many tests at one time might seem daunting, but you’ll get through it! In my experience as a tutor, I’ve seen some of the largest gains made by students who were studying for multiple tests. The forced efficiency of a tight schedule combined with the cumulative effects of standardized test prep can be a great recipe for a superhuman test-taker.

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