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ABOUT THE TESTS

 
 
 

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE POINT OF THESE TESTS?

The SAT and ACT are entrance exams used by most colleges and universities to evaluate students. Neither test is an indicator of intelligence; rather, both tests are designed to measure the performance of students in specific areas of math, reading, and grammar. Each SAT and ACT is created over an immense period of time with the objective of evaluating a student’s reasoning abilities and, from his or her scores, predicting academic performance as a freshman in college. The bottom-line is that you can dramatically improve your odds of getting into the college of your choice by increasing your SAT or ACT score. That said, the tests are just one metric used by admissions officers to compare students in a standardized format; there are other key components to a student’s application, including grades and course selection, as well as extra curricular activities and a student’s college application essays.

ABOUT THE SAT

The SAT is composed of four multiple-choice sections as well as an optional essay. The first section, READING, contains several reading passages along with 52 multiple-choice questions and a time limit of 65 minutes. The second section, WRITING AND LANGUAGE, contains several passages along with 44 multiple-choice questions related to grammar and a time limit of 35 minutes. The third section is MATH without a calculator: 20 questions and a time limit of 25 minutes. The fourth section is MATH with calculator: 38 questions and time limit of 55 minutes.

Students tend to appreciate that there are fewer sections on the new SAT than the old version. But the sections are much longer in terms of content and time. Additionally, unlike the old SAT which penalized students for incorrect answers, the new SAT has no penalty for guessing; students should answer each and every question.

NOTE: Students should sign up for the SAT “WITH” essay. At the moment, most colleges do not take the essay into consideration when evaluating scores on the SAT, but students should opt in for the essay anyway.

ABOUT THE ACT

The ACT is composed of four multiple-choice sections: English (75 grammar questions, 45 minutes), Math (60 questions, 60 minutes), Reading (4 reading passages, 10 questions per passage, 35 minutes), Science (40 questions, 35 minutes). Students with solid grades, but not the best PSAT or SAT scores, sometimes score higher on the ACT. But be warned, while there are certainly instances in which a student’s performance on the ACT outpaces his or her SAT performance, the average difference is insignificant. But again, it’s a good idea to take both tests. Traditionally, students who perform well in their math and science classes sometimes prefer the ACT. We highly recommend students take practice tests for both the SAT and ACT. Your scores might indicate which test suits you better.

THE BOTTOM-LINE

Before you pick up a #2 pencil you’ll want to check the admissions information of the colleges you are applying to in order to find out which tests they require or recommend, including SAT II subject tests. Most northeastern colleges and universities require the SAT, but some don’t, and other schools (i.e. Amherst and The University of Pennsylvania) will accept the ACT in place of SAT II subject tests.

WHAT ARE SAT II SUBJECT TESTS?

In addition to the SAT and ACT, some colleges will ask or "highly recommend" that you submit scores from two or three SAT II subject tests. SAT II subject tests are one-hour timed multiple-choice tests that cover specific academic subjects. There are currently 20 SAT II subject tests, including U.S. History, World History, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Math IC and IIC, English Literature, French, Italian, and Spanish, among many others. A student may take up to three subject tests on any given SAT II test date. Language tests "with listening" are generally offered once per year (November).

Whether scores are required or "highly recommended," we advise students to prep adequately and take SAT II's that 1) you're most confident taking and 2) cover material you've recently studied. While it's always a good idea to demonstrate strength in Math, Science and a Foreign Language, you should take whichever subject tests can best highlight your academic strengths. If possible, it is also a good idea to factor in your future degree or major, particularly if you're planning on entering fields such as engineering or medicine or English literature, among others.

If you're planning on taking SAT II subject tests, it is important that you have a study plan in place and take as many full-length practice tests as possible.

ACT BONUS

Many colleges will accept a student's ACT score in lieu of SAT II subject tests. Moreover, many colleges (including Boston College, which asks students to submit their SAT scores as well as scores from two SAT II subject tests) will accept a student's ACT score in lieu of both the SAT and SAT II subject tests.