New Summer SAT Date Announced! Should My Rising Junior Take This Test?

Your child just finished 10th grade and now he wants to prepare for the first-ever summer SAT—what?! Is this a good idea, or a wasted effort?

Now that the SAT has announced a late summer test date—August 26th—for the first time ever, you might be wondering if this should be your rising junior’s first attempt.

Taking the August SAT might be a good match if your child

1. Has Determined the SAT is the Right Test.

Before taking the SAT or ACT, you will want your child to take a practice SAT and ACT to determine the test that is the best match. Do not use the actual August SAT as a “practice” or “trial” run. Sign up here to take a free full length practice test of both the SAT and ACT before school is out to determine the right test for your child.

2. Took Pre-calculus/Trig as a Sophomore.

Math on the SAT goes up to trigonometry, so your child should not be taking the SAT unless he has already taken pre-calculus. You don’t want your child to take his first real exam before he has been instructed in all the content.

3. Is a Recruited Athlete.

If your child is a recruited athlete and tests must be completed prior to spring, then preparing for and taking the August SAT is a slam dunk move. Utilizing the summer for prep leading up to the August SAT will allow your recruited athlete the knock out an exam before school even starts, giving him another 1-2 chances to take the test again in the fall.

4. Has Heavy Spring Commitments.

For children with heavy spring commitments—including sports schedules, band or orchestra events, or other training and travel commitments for an extracurricular—taking the summer SAT as their first time and then subsequent tests in the fall will leave their schedules open in the spring. Taking the August SAT, or an early fall ACT if that is the test of choice, would alleviate stress for your child who will need and want to devote time and energy to his extracurricular activities come spring time.

If we can be of help in designing a test preparation program best suited for your child, or if you are interested in learning about the services our tutors can provide, email our test prep manager, Payton, at [email protected] or submit a Get a Tutor form today!

Choosing & Preparing for the ACT or SAT

Our Test Prep Tutors evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses during their first session. Each session targets areas where improvement will have the greatest impact on test scores. But what happens if you’re unsure of which test your child to take? When do you start preparing for these exams? What even is the difference between the two!?

Our Test Prep Coordinator, Payton Marshall, let’s us in on everything you and your child needs to know when preparing for college entrance exams.


What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?

The ACT and the SAT are two very different tests.

The ACT is a much faster paced test and includes a lot of questions in a shorter amount of time. It is formatted similarly to tests your child takes in school right now. The content is information they have learned throughout their high school career.

The SAT is more of a strength test and tests your child’s critical thinking skills. She has to use the analytical side of her brain. Although there are fewer questions on the SAT, they are longer and wordier and take more time to answer.


Should my kid take both tests? How do I know which one is better for them?

There is no need for your child to take both the ACT and the SAT. All colleges across the country take either the SAT or the ACT, and one is not looked at as better than the other when determining your child’s acceptance.

Some parents will ask, “Does it matter what my son wants to major in? If they’re going to be an engineer, should they take this test over that test?” It makes no difference. Both tests are looked at equally, so your child should pick the test that is better suited for him or her.

To find out which test is better suited for your child, it’s best to look at a practice ACT or SAT score, his PSAT result, or other practice tests he may have. Our Test Prep Coordinator works to compare scores from different tests to determine which test has a higher score. Some kids also know which test they would like to take because they have a preference for one over the other.

Once the preferred test is selected, your student can begin preparing and channel all of their focus on that one test, which is must more advisable than dividing attention and energy over preparing for both tests.


When is the best time to take the test? How many times should my kid take the test?

Most Juniors will take the real test for the first time in the spring of their Junior year. Usually, Juniors will take it anywhere from two to three times later that spring and early summer. Sometimes they’ll take it one more time in the fall of their Senior year. Typically, if you can get all two or three tests out in the spring of their Junior year, it’s best, because most kids aren’t extremely diligent about preparing over the summer for a fall test. Usually, they take it the two to three times just to make sure that they can get the best score possible. Maybe one day the testing room was too cold, or they had a bad headache or something like that. By taking it two to three times, they can maximize their score. By the spring of their Junior year, they have learned all the academic content that they need to be prepared for the test.


What is the best way to prepare for these tests? When should you start if you want to take a test in March or May?

The first step is to determine where your child is in the process and where he wants to be. Take note of which schools he wants to apply to and what kind of exam requirements they have. Have a conversation with him about what his score goals are and where they are regarding completing that goal. If he is planning to take the test in March, for example, then January – after the holidays – is the best time to start preparing. Our test prep tutors would encourage him to take the test in March, then again in June to compare scores. Since slow and steady preparation is the best approach, doing one session per week leading up to the test is one of the best options. He can sleep on it overnight, practice throughout the week and then meet with the tutor the next week to review.

Obviously, there’s more than one way to prepare for tests. You can, of course, prepare on your own. If your kid is good at self-study, she can pick up a book and prepare herself. There are plenty of free online sources out there that help with this kind of test preparation. While most high school Juniors are not that self-driven, some are indeed able to do this.

You could also sign up for a group class. There are plenty of group classes available. However, group classes are at the mercy of the group. Everyone gets the same curriculum, and the instructor goes through the class at the group’s pace, not the individual student’s pace. There is also the one-to-one approach, where the tutor focuses directly on your student to find his or her strengths and weaknesses and work on their weaknesses to try and increase scores.


If your student needs guidance on which test to take, contact us at 703.934.8282 to speak to our Test Prep Coordinator.

Is The New SAT Harder Than the Old One?

ScantronThere are major changes to the SAT and it is important to know some key differences about this test to best help your child. It seems that some changes are beneficial while other factors make the test much more difficult.

One major change is that there are no longer point deductions for incorrect answers, which was the case with the old test and made it tricky to know when to guess and when to skip questions.

Another change is that now there are only 4 answer choices compared to 5, which increases the chances of guessing correctly. With the new test, students should always guess on questions they are unsure about to maximize their score.


But do more substantial changes to the content make the test harder? Let’s look and see…

More time, but also wordier questions…

Though students are given more time per question compared to the old test, the questions are also much wordier. The New SAT focuses on giving background information and putting problems into context. For example, in the Writing and Language portion, instead of focusing on specific sentences to correct, students must now read a passage and figure out the best correction.  Gone are the days where students only needed to interpret grammatical errors.

With the Writing and Language problems now embedded within a passage, this means that students will need to read around the question for context to understand what to change in each question. Additionally, there are also more rhetorical questions that require students to understand passages and determine sentence placements.

Math & the new SAT

Significant changes to the Math Section in the New SAT include:

  • Content covers through trigonometry
  • Wordy problems mean more reading is involved
  • 1/3 of the questions test students’ ability to interpret and use data

On the old SAT, students who were strong in math were able to excel because the test was designed to test a student’s ability in math. Now, even though the Math section constitutes half of the overall points possible, this may not be an advantage for students who are strong in math but weak in reading since there is quite a lot of reading involved in the Math portion of the test.

The no-calculator portion

As you may know, many students now overly rely on calculators to solve math problems. Because many math classes in school allow calculators, kids may have forgotten how to solve some fundamental algebra problems without a calculator. Knowing that there will be a portion that does not allow calculators, the Math test can now seem a lot more intimidating to kids.

Adding to the difficulty, the new test now includes concepts through trigonometry, which is more than the Algebra 2 that was required on the old test. This means that students who have not taken trigonometry by the time of taking the test will have a harder time with the more advanced math content.

The essay: better or worse?

Looking at the completely redesigned essay on the New SAT, it is much more formulaic than before and tailored towards what students use in English class. Students are given a passage and asked to write an essay about how well the author conveys his or her ideas. Examining a passage and writing about how well the author persuades an audience is really just a typical “passage analysis” essay taught in high school English class.

Although more time is required to read and understand the prompt and passage with this new test, students also get double the time they had before to write their essays. With much more time to plan and write, this new Essay may be easier for students who tend to do well in high school English class and are strong at writing.

The all-important question: should my child take the new SAT?

In many ways the content on the New SAT is now more difficult than the old SAT. For this reasons, we are seeing a huge trend towards taking the ACT for current juniors.

If your child is deciding between taking the New SAT and the ACT, one thing we would recommend is taking a diagnostic test under testing conditions. Taking a mock test gives the best representation of how your child will do on the actual test. Comparing your child’s New SAT and ACT scores will help determine where your child’s strengths lie and how to best tackle the exam.

At Educational Connections we offer free mock tests each month in Fairfax. Click here for a list of our upcoming test dates.


What’s a Good ACT Score & How to Achieve It

Girl studyingA common question we get from students and parents is what is a good score on the ACT. Here in the DC area, average ACT scores are a lot higher than the national average, which is around 21 (the maximum score is 36).

Here  is a detailed breakdown for the national distributions for ACT Test Scores.

Scores from standardized tests are often talked about in terms of percentiles.  Here’s what that means: A 24 composite score on the ACT is in the 75th percentile, which means that the student did better than 75% of his peers.

While it is good to know one’s standing on a national level compared to peers taking the test, when figuring out what a good score is, the key is to know where the student wants to go to college; after all, the ACT is a tool to help students get into college, so it makes sense that the target score should really be set based on which schools the student wants to attend.

Step 1: Setting a Goal

Even before setting a goal, the very first step a student should do is to take an ACT diagnostic. Diagnostic tests will indicate to students where they are starting from and help in forming an achievable goal score.

Next, it is a good idea to write a list of colleges students want to apply to and figure out the average scores of students who are accepted at each college. A good way to do this is to use a reliable source such as College Data or the College Board. Then search each school on the list and write down both the average GPA and test scores for matriculating students.

When making the list of schools, it may be a good idea to consult with high school counselors. Oftentimes, high schools will have a list of average GPA and test scores of students who get into different colleges each year. This information can be very useful since it suggests a more accurate goal score for which students should aim to get into specific colleges.

At the end of this process, by looking at both the ACT diagnostic score and the average test scores of each school, students should have a better idea of what they need to do to increase their chances of acceptance into their goal schools.

Step 2: Achieving Your Goals

After setting goals, students should make a plan to reach these goals. Kids often get overwhelmed and do not feel motivated when there is a singular, overarching goal. Setting small goals is often helpful in approaching the bigger goal.

A good way to start is by breaking down ACT test prep into manageable tasks (i.e. 30 minutes of reading on Monday, 30 minutes of math on Tuesday, etc). Then make sure to write these mini-goals down on a calendar and put the calendar somewhere visible to more than just the student. Sometimes just saying “Wow, I see you put in a lot of time on this and finished all the work planned for this week” can really help motivate kids.

And if your student is still having trouble starting the preparation? Set the most micro-goals you can imagine.  Successfully completing just a few problems or a few minutes of work often gives the student a boost, which propels her to move forward.


Tutoring Decreases Math Anxiety

Tutor and student

Do anxiety and frustration hold your child back when it comes to math? If so, there’s help.

A recent study from Stanford University Medical Center found that one-on-one math tutoring can help reduce anxiety about doing math problems.  Once anxiety is reduced, performance improves.

Anxiety doesn’t just affect kids who struggle with math. In fact, those who already excel at math can also feel a high level of worry, which may affect students’ career choices later in life by discouraging them from following math and science career paths.

To combat anxiety, the study showed that students who received one-on-one tutoring exhibited less activity in the amygdala (the fear center in the brain) after about 8 weeks of tutoring. In contrast to methods that target other parts of the brain to control anxiety, tutoring targets the root of the problem.

Researchers are currently investigating whether tutoring can help with anxiety in subjects other than math that involve complex problem-solving. Read more about how tutoring can relieve math anxiety by changing fear circuits.