As college admissions become more competitive, good scores on entrance exams are becoming even more important. Studying, learning testing strategy and taking practice exams can help students’ scores advance from good to great, which could mean a dream college is within reach.

No matter which schools students want to attend, investing in the right tools can help prep them for these exams. While there are many pricey prep programs, some exam prep resources are low cost or free. Here’s a quick break down of the exams and some quick tips:

So, what's the SAT?

This test, which lasts 3 3/4 hours, measures a student’s ability, not their knowledge. The format is multiple-choice and has three sections: writing, critical thinking and math.

Many students also take an SAT subject test, assessing knowledge in one of five categories including English, math, history, science and languages. Each of these multiple-choice tests takes one hour.

Over 6.7 million students took the SAT or PSAT (pre-SAT) this past year.

“Many students download apps for smart phones and tablets with daily SAT and ACT test questions and tips.”

...and the ACT?

This multiple-choice exam, which lasts nearly three hours, measures what a student has learned in school. It has four tests: English, reading, math and science. Since some colleges require writing tests, students can choose to take an ACT Plus Writing exam.

Over 1.8 million students take this test every year.

How do I prepare?

There are many ways for students to get ready for the SAT and the ACT, including prep guidebooks available at libraries and at bookstores. Typically these books have full practice tests, hundreds of sample questions and test-taking strategies. Online videos and virtual tutorials, with real-time question and answers, can help students prepare as well.

Test prep is even available on-the-go. Many students download apps for smart phones and tablets with daily SAT and ACT test questions and tips.

Where do I start?

Not all schools require the same materials, and each test is different. Ask academic counselors at your child’s high school to help you figure out which tests students need to take. If you already know which colleges your child wants to apply to, check with their respective admissions offices to see what tests are required.

As far as finding good study resources, often high schools and libraries offer SAT and ACT prep classes for free. Study groups with fellow test takers can be beneficial too. Students should study daily and take full practice tests. Remember, they can always take the tests again to improve their scores.