WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE ACT/SAT?
The GOOD NEWS is that there’s significant overlap between the SAT and ACT tests. In other words, even if your child starts by tutoring exclusively for the SAT, he or she is also gaining valuable knowledge and insights for the ACT, and vice versa. The “Science” section on the ACT is the only section that appears dramatically different from anything students see on the SAT, but even that difference is overhyped. The Science section on the ACT is essentially Reading Comprehension with the inclusion of graphs and tables, so the transition from SAT to ACT tutoring is not nearly as dramatic as many students and parents anticipate.
That said, it’s still important that students devote specific time and practice to each test. We are simply illustrating that you’re not at a disadvantage by focusing exclusively on one test and then shifting gears to the other. This is especially true given the overlap between the two tests. Our tutors will make sure you are prepared for both the ACT and SAT tests.
WHEN SHOULD MY CHILD TAKE HIS/HER TESTS?
We recommend that 11th graders sign up for either the December or March SAT as their first official test as long as they’re able to devote consistent prep in the summer and/or fall leading up to their official test date. If you’re planning on taking the December SAT it’s obviously beneficial to utilize the summer months to prepare ahead of this test. That said, we have many students who begin their prep in August and take their first official SAT in December. If students prefer to start with ACT prep we recommend either the February or April ACT as their first official test date.
Typically, students will focus exclusively on either the SAT or ACT at a certain point in the testing/tutoring process. This decision is based on the student’s scores and progress as well as the tutor’s evaluation. We normally recommend that students take at least one official SAT and one official ACT before committing exclusively to either test. Occasionally students exhibit similar strength and scores on both tests and continue taking both the SAT and ACT. But in most cases the student focuses on one of the tests based on scores, strengths, and preference.
It’s important to note that most students don’t score their highest on their first real SAT and ACT tests. However, the first official tests are vital in helping students get familiar with the test, the environment, the pacing, and the overall experience. Not surprisingly, students feel much more confident and relaxed when taking their second and third tests. That said, we always have students who score extraordinarily high on their first real SAT and ACT tests.
HOW DOES TUTORING WORK?
Sometimes we start with a handful of tutoring sessions followed soon after by a full-length timed diagnostic practice test. Other times we begin with a full-length timed diagnostic test, followed by tutoring sessions. It depends on the student’s needs and preferences, as well as his or her schedule. Either way, as the student gets started, we begin our assessment, targeting areas that are weak while simultaneously developing a personalized game-plan that will help the student score as high as possible when it counts most.
WHAT SHOULD I KNOW WHEN REGISTERING?
When registering for tests, make sure you sign up for tests “with essay,” which is what most colleges require or prefer. IMPORTANT: make sure to also sign up for the “Question and Answer” (for SAT) and “Test Information Release” (for ACT) services if they’re offered for your test dates. These services provide students with a copy of their actual test booklet as well as a detailed score report. This is a tremendous tool for students (and tutors) to see which questions were answered incorrectly and whether the mistakes were careless or fundamental. It’s a helpful resource for fine-tuning a student’s game-plan and eliminating careless mistakes as he or she continues with tutoring and testing. Parents should absolutely purchase the services for applicable test dates. For the SAT, the “Question and Answer” service ($20) is available for the August, May, and October test dates. For the ACT, the “Test Information Release” ($20) is available for the April, June, and December test dates.
WHAT IS “SCORE CHOICE” AND “SUPER SCORE?”
Students today have the advantage of “Score Choice” on the SAT. Score Choice allows students to send only the SAT scores they want to send to colleges. Colleges will then combine the highest scores from each part of submitted tests a student to reach what’s known as a “Super Score.” So let’s say a student scores very high in Reading on the March SAT; that student can then focus on the Math sections on subsequent SAT tests, knowing that he or she has a high Reading score essentially “in the bank.” The super score not only alleviates intense pressure for students, but it also helps students maximize time and effort during the tutoring and testing process. Note that a small number of colleges require students to submit all of their scores, which will invalidate the Score Choice option on the Collegeboard website. Students applying to these colleges may prefer to wait until they are better prepared for the SAT before they take their first official test. Even for colleges that Super Score the test, it’s important to consider the potential effect of a very low score on an otherwise strong score report.
Many parents and students ask: Do colleges super-score the ACT? The answer is “yes” AND “no.” Some colleges do and some don’t. As you begin scheduling your ACT and SAT and SAT Subject Tests, it’s important for students and parents to review the admissions pages on college websites to find out which tests each college requires and how the tests are evaluated. And, of course, we’re here to answer any and all questions you have as you begin scheduling your tutoring and tests.
WHAT ARE SAT 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 SUBJECT TESTS. (You’ll find SAT Subject Test requirements on each college’s website, and you can always ask us to find or confirm this information.) SAT Subject Tests are timed multiple-choice tests that cover specific academic subjects. There are currently 20 SAT Subject Tests, including U.S. History, World History, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Math Level 1 and 2, English Literature, French, Italian, and Spanish, along with many others. Each test is one hour. A student may take up to three subject tests on any given test date. We usually recommend that students space out the test dates and take no more than two Subject Tests on any given test date. Subject Tests “with listening” are generally offered once per year (November).
Whether scores are required or “highly recommended” at the college(s) where you’re applying, we advise students to prepare adequately and take Subject Tests that 1) you’re most confident taking and 2) cover material you’ve recently studied. Therefore, students should consider taking SAT Subject Tests as early as their freshman or sophomore year. While it’s always a good idea to demonstrate strength in Math, Science, and a Foreign Language, you should take the subject tests that highlight your specific 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, medicine, or finance. Some selective engineering and business programs require Math Level 2.
It’s worth mentioning that some colleges (including Boston College, which asks students to submit their SAT scores as well as scores from two Subject Tests) will accept a student’s ACT score in lieu of both the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. This is obviously a great option for students who score disproportionately better on the ACT than the SAT, or students who have limited time to prepare for both the SAT and the Subject Tests. That said, it is important for students to know in advance the tests that their prospective colleges recommend or require.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?
Once again, we are here to provide you with insight and information that helps you navigate the standardized testing and college application waters. As a parent once told us, “You guys are the best lighthouse and lightning rod anybody could ask for!” We pride ourselves on that standard of excellence, and we’re ready to help you!