Stephanie Doty, Premier Tutor and Operations Coordinator

Test Prep Strategies Blog

Test prep can be daunting. Some students are already pretty overwhelmed with schoolwork, after school jobs, and various other daily tasks that making time to prep and knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. Usually, this is when parents enlist the help of tutors to give direction and help the students navigate through how to prep for the test.

One major factor of test prep is understanding strategy and we really emphasize understanding here. You may have run into some tutors who say that simple tricks can make the test really easy but honestly, if you do not understand what the strategy is doing, you may have some issues. We will be discussing a few strategies down below, but these strategies do not work like a magic trick. They require practice, patience, and an open mind.


For both the SAT and ACT, we want to start really on with an important tool that can be incredibly helpful for you. The first thing you need to start with before you start reading or even skimming is to know your Personal Order of Difficulty. What is your Personal Order of Difficulty otherwise known as POOD?

Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. There are typically a few different types of passages in the reading section. Are you a fan of history? Science? Literature?

Did one of those options make your stomach turn? Well, you might want to consider doing that passage last. Using your Personal Order of Difficulty helps you determine where to start in the reading section. Forcing yourself to work with a passage you dislike the most early on can set a tone for the rest of the section or even the rest of the test.

Another common practice is using POE which stands for Process of Elimination. This is when we walk through answer choices and eliminate questions that are not correct. Keep markings like slashes and checkmarks next to your answer choices to help you keep track of which answer choices are right and wrong.

Then we begin to break down the questions for each passage. To determine which questions you should do now, we have to consider a few things.

  1. Is the question easy to answer?
    1. Yes- the questions answers are easy to find in the passage and tend to match the language of the passage easily.
    2. Maybe not- reasoning questions tend to be more difficult to answer quickly. These questions tend to use vocabulary like “infers”, “implies”, or “suggests”.
  2. Is the answer Easy to find?
    1. Yes- the question includes a paragraph or line reference that the test taker can locate and find the answer in that area.
    2. Maybe not- questions that use the passage in a general sense may be harder to answer.

After answering these few questions, we begin to construct a clearer order of how you can go through your questions. We want to have this clear map for ourselves because we do not actually intend on reading the whole passage. We want to stop and read only what we have to read. Follow this line of questions to swiftly work your way through the passage.

If you run into a question that seems too difficult to answer use your POOD and try to eliminate answers with POE. If it still seems difficult to answer- pick a letter as your answer and move on. Do not sit staring at questions for too long and if you have time at the end of the section, you can go back and look over it.

Writing and Language

The Writing and Language section, otherwise referred to as the Grammar section, differs from the reading section quite a bit.

The first step of approaching the Grammar section is to remember that making sure that the answers to the questions are clear, concise, consistent, and complete.

The second thing you will notice is that there are very few stated questions in our section.

In the question above, we can clearly see that we have no stated question. Despite our lack of written question, there is a question. We use two distinct questions to figure out our question. We ask what is the same in each answer choice and what is changing.

In our example above, we can see that the words are the same, but the comma placement is changing. Therefore, we can assume our question is testing us on where the commas should be in our sentence.

When we encounter each question, it is important to read everything around our underlined section. Everything that is around our underlined part of the passage is written grammatically correctly and helps give us clues to guide us to our correct answer. Using other words around our underlined portion helps us choose the answers that work the most consistently in the passage.

Additionally, we want to use our POE again. If you are running through the questions and find one that could be difficult for you, eliminate the answers that do not fix the error and then compare the rest of the answers until you select a choice.

The last two parts of the strategy are very simple. Do not be afraid that the “No Change” answer is a trick; it is a totally viable answer choice. Secondly, do not rely on your ear to decide what sounds the most correct.


The best way to start the math section is to go with your gut and use your POOD to guide you. In the math section, our POOD helps us determine what questions we should do now, later, or never. Now questions are questions you find easier and can do quickly. Later questions are questions you will come back to at some point during the exam. Never questions are questions you will not attempt and use your LOTD.

With this guide now implemented, we can begin talking strategy for this section. Firstly, use your POE to help your separate your answers to guess on harder questions.

On harder questions, you can estimate or ballpark to get to the right answer. If the answers seem too large or too small, use your POE to eliminate them.

Word Problems tend to be harder for many students. The best way to start is by reading the question and underlining the question. Do not start calculating anything yet. Then look for clues and use POE. Finally, break it down into bite sized pieces and avoid tricky phrasing that is purposely trying to confuse you.

Use your time wisely in this exam, be careful of how you use your calculator, and focus on your accuracy over speed.

Science (for ACT only)

Now, I know the science section can seem intimidating if science is not your strongest suit. Honestly, a bulk of this section is asking you to focus on trends and relationships between figures or viewpoints.

Aside from a few questions that are focused on actual science, many of the questions are based on common sense.

The science section is comprised of passages and much like the reading section, it is important to use your POOD. The questions are different and not as easily organized as the reading questions. Keep in mind that for this section you will need to look up values, make predictions, synthesize information, and draw conclusions.

As previously mentioned, remember to not focus too much on passages that are too difficult.

Overall, each section has its own challenges, but these basic strategies can give you at least a new set of tools for the exam. While some of the approaches seem to overlap, they are the most ideal for students who are new to test prep. More experienced test prep students will need to learn more detail approaches to section that suit their particular needs.

If you or your child is interested in getting started with test prep, feel free to schedule a free consult and session to learn about the Kyo Standard Method.