Shruthi Sivakumar: “How I Aced the SAT and ACT Tests?”

Editor’s Note: Recently, Shruthi Shivkumar who attends Peters Twp. High School, aced the SAT and ACT tests. Here she answers to our questions about her preparation and success.. Shruthi in the photo below is with her parents Shivkumar Anumalachetty and Narmada Sriraman  with sparklers during Deepavali.  



  • How did you get started preparing for the SAT exams?

I started with Mukund Uncle’s SAT prep class at the S V temple. His free weekly group classes gave tips and strategies for taking the test.

  • What goal did you set for yourself before you took the tests?

I set my goal for the real SATs for “above a 1500,” or a little over 750 in each section.  I was ready to take the test multiple times.

  • Did you go to any prep and coaching classes?

Mukund uncle referred me to Goldstein Test Prep. I had one-on-one classes with Mr. Goldstein because students aiming high have individual classes with Mr. Goldstein himself. They were incredibly helpful.

  • How many AP classes are you taking?

Several,  between the 10th and 12th grades in Biology, Physics I, US History, Psychology, Language, Statistics, Calculus, Chemistry,  Economics, Environmental Science, Literature, French.   My school does offer many AP classes.

  • How early on did you start your regimen of preparation?

I started when I was in the 10th grade.

  • How did you prepare? Did you set aside a predetermined time daily?

I set a goal for what I wanted to accomplish and not in what time. For example, I’d say, “OK, today I’m going to finish sections 1 and 2 of this practice test.” As I got closer to the deadline, I’d make sure to always finish within the time constraint for that particular section.

  • How many hours a day did you study for the test on an average?

Setting a strict “per day” time frame may not always work for busy students. Closer to the deadline, I spent three or four hours a week taking practice tests. I wouldn’t advise much intense preparation until you’re very close to taking the test. Doing practice tests closer to the actual date just kind of mentally prepared me.

  • The essay test is different since you need to think on your seat on a topic you don’t know ahead of time. Is the written essay compulsory?

The written essay is optional for most schools, but I’d say do it anyway just because you might change your mind about applying to that one school that does require it.  Most colleges know that it’s not a completely accurate reflection of your writing skills anyway.  It doesn’t factor into your whole SAT/ACT score- you get a separate essay score. Having an advanced or AP Language/Literature course beforehand will definitely prepare you for the essay. Try looking at those kind of review books.

  • How did you prepare for the written essay in the exam hall?  

I spent a few minutes, maybe 3 to 5, prewriting. Generally, writing teachers say to spend about 5-10% of your time prewriting. It’s good way to make sure you cover all the points you want to cover.

  • Did you prepare for acing the exam?  Or was it a situation in which you knew you did very well, but did not expect a clean sweep?

I definitely, definitely did not expect to ace it when I took it. I was hoping for at least a 1490-1500 so that I’d be happy for a first shot, but could then retake the test. I thought a perfect score was completely out of the question… …  and for sure, I honestly couldn’t believe it when I got it.

  • Is 3 to 4 months prep adequate for the English vocabulary section?

The best preparation for the English test is just reading. Read nonfiction, fiction… anything. The best way to familiarize yourself with the English language is to just constantly be exposed to different usages of it. I also write a lot, so English wasn’t so bad for me. Also, reading helps you for college after the tests are over.

  • What single piece of advice would you give a student preparing to take this exam next year?

Don’t spend way too much of your time preparing for it until maybe  two to three months before the test. Only then heavy practice benefits you, and not earlier. Earlier exposure is always good. But get to the “6 hours a week routine” when you’re close to the actual test.

  • Who motivates you to be a high achiever?

Working hard is instilled in me by my parents. I’m thankful for that.

  • Do you want to add anything else?

Mr. Goldstein told me to think of the SAT/ACT as a game. After a certain point, it is more about strategy and test-taking skills. Test makers try to trip you to make mistakes. So, make sure to practice those skills.

Don’t spend way too much time preparing for these tests where it takes time away from your extracurriculars. The admissions process is holistic: colleges want people, and not robots. Standardized test scores are not trophies; they are a sort of roadblock to get over. Getting very high scores doen’t get you a “golden star” at super selective schools. But having a 75th percentile score for a specific school will mean you’ve surpassed one of the many obstacles to get in. Hope this helps.  ♣


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