Time to Learn the Ropes of the New ACT Essay

Kids studying

Yes, that’s right, there are yet again changes to the ACT test.

If your child is taking the exam on or after September 12th, 2015, then he or she (and you!) will need to learn the ropes of the new ACT essay.

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

Change is in the air

Here’s how things are changing:

Time

Students will have 40 minutes to complete the essay instead of 30 minutes.

Content

There will be a description of a controversial issue, like whether smoking should be permitted in public spaces or if it poses too much of a public health risk.  Then there will be three perspectives on the issue that students need to read and evaluate.

It’s up to the student to either adopt one of the perspectives as their own, come up with an entirely new perspective, or take bits and pieces of the stated perspectives to create a position.

Scoring

The four categories of scoring are:

  • Ideas and analysis (argument/thesis)
  • Organization, (introduction, body, conclusion)
  • Development and support (evidence)
  • Language use (grammar and mechanics)

Each section will be scored from 1-6 by two independent graders.  The result? A final scaled score of 1-36 (don’t try to figure out the math..).

The folks at the Online Writing Lab hosted by Purdue University know what they’re talking about when it comes to grammar, so have your child check it out for a quick review.  And be sure they review comma use!

 

How can your child take advantage of the changes?

Save yourself from getting overwhelmed by the changes by conveying to your child how she can make them work in her favor.

First off: make an outline!

Just because students now have extra time to write doesn’t mean that they ought to start writing as soon as the proctor says “Open your booklet and begin.”

Instead, students should use the extra time to plan their essay.

Completing a 5-minute outline always results in a better-organized essay than skipping it entirely.  Ask any teacher and if they don’t agree, send me a message because I need to have a little chat with them…

Think of the outline as a roadmap (or in today’s world, a GPS): without it, you end up wandering and lost, which is an inefficient expenditure of time and energy.

Remind your child that essay graders are looking for a standard 5 paragraph essay, so the easiest way to approach the outline is to spend about 1 minute jotting down notes for each section: introduction, body paragraphs 1,2, and 3, and conclusion.

Second: craft an argument!

An argument is basically a thesis statement that clearly takes a side or position on a topic.  Graders want to see that the student can understand multiple perspectives on a given topic and come up with evidence to support one over another.

PSST! Here’s a secret: the student can “stretch” the truth of his response!

Let me explain…

There is no rule that says your child must write about how he or she truly feels about a topic.  While picking the position that you actually identify with usually leads to better and easier writing, sometimes, especially with controversial or personal topics, it is more difficult.

So encourage your child to pick whichever position he can make the strongest case for—even if it goes against what he actually believes.  This is an exercise in good writing, not ethics.

And third: brush up on these skills

  • Evaluating, relating, and synthesizing multiple perspectives: how are they the same and different? What are the pros and cons of each? What is each missing? What kinds of people does the perspective take into consideration and whom does it ignore?
  • Articulating a clear (i.e. NOT ambiguous) thesis statement. The ACT essay is not a time to be complex and fancy: pick one position and put a ring on it for the whole essay!
  • Gathering evidence: how are you going to prove you are right? Can you draw on your own (perhaps embellished) experience? Can you think of logical reasons why your position is the better or correct one?

How can you help your child practice these skills?

Ask how they feel about current event news items and then challenge them to take an alternative perspective and disprove themselves.

Dinner table talk is about to get way more interesting!

If we can help your child prepare for the ACT or any standardized test, please don’t hesitate to check out our tutoring options or shoot Erin and email at [email protected].

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The Best ACT and SAT Test Prep Apps

While preparing for an upcoming tutor training seminar, I was researching apps created to help high school students. There were a handful of truly amazing apps designed to help students in the main content areas: math, science, social studies, and English. But I was blown away by how many remarkable apps were on the market to help students prepare for the ACT and the SAT. Below are what I consider to be The best ACT and SAT test prep apps.

These apps are engaging, addicting, fun, and most importantly educational. I found myself playing with some of them for hours on end, despite having taken the SAT over a decade ago.

1. SAT Up!, free

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I wrote a blog a while ago about my love of “SAT Up!” When I originally came across it, there was nothing else like it on the market. It brought out my inner competitive spirit, as I spent countless evenings trying to remember SAT strategies and tricks to boost my overall score.
While “SAT Up” is engaging, the real advantage of the app is the analysis it provides you with. You can take small quizzes of any SAT section and it tells you what type of question you’re really struggling with and the areas where you are excelling. This data is key to any customized test prep program allowing students and their tutors to hone in on specific weaknesses.

2. SAT Vocab by MindSnacks, free

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Regardless of what type of SAT prep program your child is doing, he or she will need to practice vocabulary independently. SAT Vocab by MindSnacks, takes what has always been a dreaded SAT study task and makes it fun. Students are able to practice vocabulary sets (to get more than the basic pack, users are required to make an in-app purchase), then play various games that allow them to test their memory of those words. At the end of each game, students are given a report on how close they are to mastering each vocabulary word.

3. The Official SAT Question of the Day, free

BEST SAT Apps
One thing to be careful of when searching for the apps to prepare for the SAT or ACT is the accuracy of the content. The Official SAT Question of the Day app is created by The College Board, the company that creates the SAT, meaning you know that you are getting legitimate data and content. What I like about this app, is the simplicity of it. It doesn’t require more than 2 minutes per day, but it helps any student do a little bit of practice. Each day the student will be given one question, which can be from any section of the test. Once they answer it they’re able to read an explanation and also get stats on the questions (how many people answered it correctly).

4. ACT Up, free

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Since my initial discovery of SAT Up, ScoreBeyond, the company that created the app, has added ACT Up. It’s essentially a similar app targeted towards the ACT. Students begin by taking a 12 question diagnostic test. ACT UP’s software then creates targeted, daily “workouts” based on the student’s diagnostic and study habits.
Similarly to SAT UP, the great part of ACT Up is the comparative feature. It gives you a lot of data about your individual progress and allows you to compare your stats with others.

There are hundreds of other SAT and ACT prep apps on the marketplace, some are better than others. But the four listed above are my top four choices! One thing I would advise any student or parent considering hitting up the app store for SAT or ACT prep, is to remember that these apps are meant to be supplemental. They’re great to incorporate into your SAT or ACT study plan, but they shouldn’t take the place of a traditional SAT or ACT test prep program such as one-on-one tutoring or group classes. To see the best results, students should pair sessions with an expert tutor and constant practice using homework assignments and applications!

 

When to Take ACT or SAT

How to Do Well on ACT English

The ACT English test requires students to play the role of editor, correcting grammar errors and improving the flow of five less than perfect passages.

ACT English Format and Content

Students are given 45 minutes to answer 75 multiple-choice questions, which are divided evenly among the five passages. Essentially, in order to master the English test, students need to learn 23 discrete rules, which cover two main types of questions: grammar and rhetorical skills. Grammar questions test the classic rules of Standard written English. The most frequent topics tested are punctuation (15% of questions), illogical connectors (8% of questions), redundancy (7% of questions), and improper verb tense (6% of questions). Rhetorical skills questions test students’ ability to comprehend the flow and function of a passage. The most frequent topics tested are adding or deleting information (8% of questions) and effective wording (8% of questions). Pay special attention to the topics in the course book that are marked by stars, as these are the most frequent concepts tested on ACT English.

Questions on the English test are presented in two forms: underlined questions, which refer to a specific part of a passage and boxed and overall questions, which refer to larger samples of the passage or the passage as a whole. Boxed and overall questions are often rhetorical and are typically more time-consuming.

As students make their way through the passages, they should answer the questions along the way but some questions, such as the boxed and overall questions, will be more complicated and may require a more in depth understanding of the passage. These questions should be circled and revisited later.

ACT English Strategy

In general, the most effective step by step method for tackling underline questions on the English test is as follows: First, read the portion of the passage in question and listen for a mistake. Second, if there is an error you can identify, give your own correction. Next, quickly scan the answer choices. If your answer shows up, choose it and move on. If not, or if you were unable to come up with an answer choice, try to determine what grammar topic is being tested from the answer options. Test each answer choice in the context of the passage and cross out those that do not work. Finally, plug in the remaining choices and choose the answer that sounds best.

Let’s look at an example of an underlined question:

In 1980, scientist John Smith and his son, geologist Steve Smith announced a startling discovery.

A. NO CHANGE

B. son, geologist Steve Smith,

C. son geologist, Steve Smith,

D. son geologist Steve Smith,

When a student reads this sentence to himself, an error may not be blatantly apparent; however, the sentence sounds a bit off, even though a student may not be able to explain why or provide a solution. Scanning the answer options, it is clear that this question is testing comma placement, the single most frequent punctuation error on the English test. Each of the answer options has a comma in a different location. The next step is to go through each answer choice, exaggerating the pauses denoted by the commas. This is the easiest way to determine comma placement.

Choice A: The sentence as it is: In 1980, scientist John Smith and his son, geologist Steve Smith announced a startling discovery, makes it sound as if only Steve Smith announced the discovery. In fact, it was both he and his father. We can eliminate A.

Choice B: In 1980, scientist John Smith and his son, geologist Steve Smith, announced a startling discovery. These pauses sound comfortable and the sentence now states that both men announced the discovery. Let’s keep choice B.

Choice C: In 1980, scientist John Smith and his son geologist, Steven Smith, announced a startling discovery. In this case, “his son geologist” sounds jumbled. We can eliminate C.

Choice D: In 1980, scientist John Smith and his son geologist Steve Smith, announced a startling discovery. Here we have “his son geologist” again. Eliminate D. We’ve now eliminated all choices but one.

B is our answer.

Often, students get hung up on an answer choice because it sounds wrong but they can’t articulate or explain why it’s wrong and they are hesitant to select it. In the example we just looked at, it would be nice if the student could explain that choice B is correct because it correctly places the commas around the appositive in the sentence; however, this is not necessary. The brain functions with a very sophisticated grammatical system, mostly at the subconscious level. If an answer choice sounds wrong, it is probably wrong. Select that answer and move on.

ACT vs. SAT – Which Should You Take?

If you’re from the eastern US, you likely took the SAT in high school to apply to college. While the SAT is still more popular than the ACT in the Washington DC metro area, we don’t expect that to hold true for long. In fact, in 2012 there were more students nationally who took the ACT than those who took the SAT. There are various reasons for this, one of which has been the ACT’s strong marketing efforts to get its test into school districts nationwide. But also, all colleges and universities now accept either the SAT or the ACT for admission. Several years ago this wasn’t the case – many schools accepted one or the other. Now, in most cases, students can choose which test they prefer. The SAT and ACT do have significant overlaps in content; however, they are quite different tests, at least for the time being (learn about the changes to the SAT set to take effect spring 2016). Let’s take a look.

Neither the SAT nor the ACT is purely an aptitude or content-based test. The SAT measures mostly verbal and quantitative reasoning, while the ACT measures mostly achievement related to high school curriculum. The difficulty of any standardized test stems from both the difficulty of individual questions and the degree to which time is a factor. For most students, question difficulty presents the bigger challenge on the SAT, while pacing presents the bigger challenge on the ACT.

Here are the most important differences between the SAT and ACT:

First, the SAT is ten short sections taken in 3 hours and 45 minutes whereas the ACT is five longer sections called “tests” taken in 3 hours and 25 minutes. While SAT questions involve more reasoning and deduction skills, the ACT requires content mastery and a quick pace. Both are long tests and it’s important for students to get in as much simulated practice as possible so that they don’t fatigue on test day.

Second, for incorrect multiple choice answers on the SAT one quarter of a point is deducted. There are no deductions for incorrect answers on the ACT, so every question should be answered.

Third, the SAT writing section includes a limited set of grammar topics intended to test a student’s understanding of standard English grammar and usage, whereas the ACT tests punctuation and writing strategy and organization in addition to grammar and organization.

Fourth, SAT math covers Arithmetic, Algebra I and II, and Geometry, focusing on core math skills and solving “tricky” problems. ACT math, on the other hand tests pre-algebra through basic Trig in a more straightforward manner, with a greater emphasis on word problems.

Fifth, the SAT Critical Reading places an emphasis on vocabulary, which is tested through sentence completion questions. It includes 7 short and long reading passages, which follow the order of the passage and include a higher concentration of inference, tone, and purpose questions. The ACT Reading test places little to no emphasis on vocabulary and includes four long reading passages, each with 10 questions in random order that are straightforward but require a close reading of the passage.

Sixth, the SAT does not include a science section, while the ACT does. The ACT science test is a reasoning test requiring students to navigate complex diagrams and tables to find relevant information. Contrary to what many students think, the test does not require specific knowledge from science classes.

Finally, both tests include a writing component; however, the SAT provides test takers with a broad theme that can be approached formulaically or creatively, while the ACT presents a narrow topic that is relevant to high school students.

Not sure whether to take the SAT or ACT?

Often, when families contact us about test prep they aren’t sure which test their student will take. Sometimes, they want to arrange prep for both tests. Except in rare circumstances relating to recruited athletes and certain scholarships, we advise against preparing for both tests. By doing so a student is splitting his time between two tests when he could be optimizing it for one test, likely resulting in better improvement and a stronger overall score.

For undecided students, we ask them to complete a full length practice SAT and ACT. At EC Tutoring we’ve found that about a third of students prefer the SAT, a third prefer the ACT, and the remaining third do not have a strong preference either way. On top of personal preference, we can use a concordance table  to look at the student’s diagnostic scores on both tests to determine if he does better on one over the other. Ultimately, we want our students to prepare for one test and to be confident in their test of choice.

If your student needs guidance on which test to take, contact us at 703.934.8282 to speak to our test prep tutoring specialist.

ACT Aspire

In April 2014 the ACT will begin offering its new student readiness assessment system, ACT Aspire. The ACT website states that Aspire will be the “first computer-based, longitudinal assessment system,” providing feedback on a given student all the way from elementary school through college. The test will replace the ACT Explore and PLAN tests, which were designed for students in eighth through tenth grade. Neither Explore nor PLAN will be available after June 2014.

Aspire will allow schools to assess students much earlier than either of its predecessors, Explore and PLAN. Whereas  Explore was designed for students as young as eighth grade,  Aspire will debut with versions for students from third grade upward. Plus, the test may be a proving ground for the computer-based testing that will likely replace paper tests within the next few years.

ACT Aspire is the results of a partnership between ACT and Pearson in an effort to highlight progress toward ACT College Readiness Standards and Benchmarks as well as the Common Core State Standards. Unlike Plan and Explore, the Aspire tests will include more than multiple-choice question types,. There will be shorter and longer constructed-response questions, and the computer version will have technology-enhanced items that allow  interactivity.

The 60-minute reading test will include three constructed-response questions along with 18-19 multiple choice items and a few—or no—technology enhanced items. The writing test will consist of one 30-minute constructed response item, with no other item types. A 30- to 40-minute English test, designed to gauge students’ ability to revise and edit texts, will be composed of multiple-choice and technology-enhanced items.

The science and math tests, which will run 55 to 65 minutes, are heavier on constructed response items, and appear to have more questions overall than the other subjects.

One tricky transition issue for Aspire will be its use of a different scoring scale that the ACT college admissions test, which is scored on a two-digit score scale, from 1 to 36. Plan is scored from 1 to 32, and Explore from 1 to 25.

The Aspire tests, however, will be scored on a yet-to-be-determined three-digit score scale, to facilitate finer-grained reporting on results.

“The grade 3-11 tests need to be reported in a granular fashion to get down to where students might need help,” said Paul Weeks, ACT’s VP of customer engagement. “A two-digit score scale doesn’t lend itself to that kind of reporting; there aren’t enough score points.”

Categories ACT

What Parents Need to Know about the SAT and ACT: Part II

As promised, here’s part two of my advice for what parents need to know about the SAT and ACT. For more advice, see my previous post.

“My son is taking the SAT in March because that seemed to be the time that everyone else is taking it.”

Planning a test date arbitrarily is a very common and a very poor practice that seems to have become widespread. Many people take the SAT to “see what score they’re going to get.” However, you can see what score you’re going to get by taking a proctored practice test in simulated testing conditions and not have the result count against you.  Also, we’ve seen poor results from these “dry runs” deal damaging blows to many students’ confidence.

Students should take the SAT when they are ready, i.e., they are scoring within 100 points of their goal score on consecutive practice tests. Don’t register for the closest SAT simply because that’s what your friends are doing.

The basic sequence for determining when to take the SAT (or ACT) is as follows:

1) Figure out your goal score.

2) Figure out your current score with a diagnostic test.

3) Figure out  your test prep schedule and how long it will (probably) take to reach your target score.

4) Pick a test date after that point and register for it.

5) Take practice tests frequently during the preparation process to gauge and measure progress.

6) Figure out the last possible date you can take the test in case progress is slower than anticipated.

“I heard some parents ask their students to do practice problems right before the test as a “warm-up.” This seems like a bad idea to me.”

Peculiarly, students seem to almost always score better on later sections than they do on earlier ones. A lot of this has to do with getting in a test taking mindset. Have your student bring 5-10 questions from each section of the test he’s taking into the test waiting area and have him solve them before taking the test. Ideally, these are problems that he has solved before. The idea is to “boot up” his brain so that he can start the test warmed up.

The day before the test should be used to relax and rest up – cramming does not work. However, the moments before the test should be used for thinking and logical reasoning.

“My student has done every last problem of test prep homework and the practice tests that have been assigned to him, but his score is stagnant. What is going wrong?”

We can all but guarantee that the answer to this issue comes down to the quality of a student’s practice. ALL PRACTICE IS NOT CREATED EQUAL. Tutors will work with students to direct their practice and hold them accountable; however, much of the potential for progress lies directly with the student.

To make significant progress, students must adhere to the following general rules of test prep practice:

1. Feedback is essential for learning. We need feedback in order to improve and learn from mistakes. Students must review all of their work on homework and practice tests, looking back to see what they got right, wrong, and why. Practicing problems without evaluating performance is a pretty futile endeavor. This is often the step that is missing from students’ test prep programs and, in many cases, academic careers. Parents and tutors can only do so much to hold students accountable and help them realize the importance of reviewing their work. Ultimately, students have take it upon themselves to not only complete the work but review it as well.

2. Focus on weaknesses. Students preparing for the SAT or ACT should be focusing the bulk of their time on the areas in which they are weakest. While practicing things that you’re good at feels good, doing so does not provide the same opportunity for improvement as practicing things you’re not so good at. This is one of the reasons frequent practice tests are so important – to use as benchmarks for assessing improvements and weaknesses.

3. Have a goal in mind for each practice section. Specific, actionable goals are crucial for directing an effective test prep program. Our tutors work with students to make sure that they understand the reasons behind their test prep efforts and what the more immediate goals are, e.g., mastering percentages and proving it by answering eight percentage problems correctly in a row. Specific goals lead to faster, more focused progress.

“Should I sign my daughter up for a group class or one-on-one tutoring?”

Though private, individual tutoring is a premium service, it provides students with a level of personalized, tailored instruction that can’t be duplicated in a classroom or small group setting. One-on-one tutors provide expert instruction and undivided attention, leading to greater engagement and a higher degree of accountability.

In order to accommodate a range of students, group classes will briefly cover all concepts and strategies equally, whereas a private tutor customizes sessions to focus on a student’s biggest weaknesses resulting in higher score gains than simply doing a comprehensive, systematic overview of everything. Group classes can provide structure to a student preparing for the SAT or ACT, but a private tutor can really drive score increases.

What Parents Need to Know about the SAT and ACT

I realized that I sometimes take for granted the amount that I’ve learned about the SAT, ACT, and test prep over the last few years. Thinking back to when I was in high school getting ready to take the SAT, it’s clear that I knew then 10% of what I know now. And my parents – the extent of their knowledge was the repressed memories of an obsolete test that cooped them up in a gym for 4 hours preventing them from doing whatever it is they did in the 70’s.

Misinformation and a lack of information surrounding the SAT and the ACT seem to be common among parents of high school students. But parents who are knowledgeable about the tests can drastically help their students’ chances of obtaining their maximum scores and increasing their options. Therefore, I’ve decided to write up responses to some common statements and questions that parents often have about college admissions tests starting with…

“My daughter scored about the same on practice tests of the SAT and ACT, so she’s going to prepare for and take both tests to see if she does better on one.”

Some parents and students think that this strategy is increasing the odds of maximizing test scores.  However, typically, this doesn’t result in students miraculously scoring better on one test. There is really no reason to prepare for and take both tests. By focusing on one test instead of two, you are allowing yourself twice the amount of time and twice the opportunity to maximize your score.

If your scores are pretty similar on the SAT and ACT, go with your gut. Most students tend to prefer one test over the other.

“My daughter got a 27 on her ACT the first time she took it. That’s a good score—well above average. We are happy with that. I don’t think she’ll take the test again.”

A “good” test score is relative. Part of any good test prep program should include coming up with a goal score and range, most of which is predicated on the student’s target schools. While there is not a set prescription for the number of schools to apply to, many college admissions experts advise around 6. This group of schools should include reach, target, and safety schools. Regarding test scores, you should be scoring well above the 75th percentile for your safety schools, preferably above the 50th percentile for your target schools, and hopefully above the 25th percentile for your reach schools. You may notice that schools often report the test scores of their incoming freshmen class as a range, e.g., 29-33. These are the first and third quartiles which should give you a sense of how your scores stack up against the competition. You can find this info in the College Search section of collegeboard.org.

If a composite score of 27 is not above the 50th percentile of your target schools, you need to reassess and plan to take the test again.

As fodder for the retort from your student that clearly 25% of students got in with less than X score, explain to her that those students probably fit into one of the following categories:

  • recruited athletes, musicians, or special talents
  • children of highly charitable alumni
  • highly sought-after minorities
  • students who scored very well on the other sections and have astronomical GPAs
  • incredibly lucky

Unless your student can bank on being included in one of these select groups, she needs to reconsider.

“My student is a good student—he’s just not a good test taker. Is it true that the ACT might be better for him?”

We hear this one all the time: “My student is not a good test taker.” While certain students do suffer from test anxiety, which is a serious issue, if your student is getting As and Bs in school, he can do well on either test if he prepares correctly.  There are a few characteristics that may suggest a student would perform better on the ACT, but being a “bad tester” is not one of them.

To use the SAT as an example, many students view it as an abomination, as an impossible to conquer obstacle. However, the SAT is just a logical reasoning exam that asks very simple material in very tricky ways. Taking the SAT is exactly like any other skill on Earth—anyone can improve and do very well with smart practice. Ultimately, there is no such thing as a “good tester” and a “bad tester” – there are simply the people who take the time to figure out and practice the SAT and do well, and people with defeatist attitudes who don’t bother to put in the required effort to prepare.

“I’ve heard that the new SAT “Score Choice” policy means that students should take the test early and often.”

The SAT’s relatively recent “Score Choice” policy (which matches the longstanding ACT score reporting policy) gives students the option to select which scores they report to schools. Keep in mind that scores are reported on a test date basis only. For instance, you cannot send only your Writing score from one sitting and only your Math score from another. Which scores you report should depend on the school. Some schools only look a combined scores from single sitting; others will consider your superscore—the sum of your best section scores.  Also, some schools do not acknowledge “Score Choice” at all.

While the new policy removes some of the anxiety over retesting, it does not change the fact that most students will not peak on the SAT until spring of junior year or fall of senior year. Taking the SAT two or three times is still the appropriate plan for most students. Students considering taking the test as a “dry run” before January of junior year would be better served by taking a proctored practice test instead.  The feedback provided by a practice test is more immediate and more detailed. Aside from the cost and time involved, unprepared SAT performances can decrease a student’s confidence unnecessarily. Additionally, a student who took the SAT (or ACT) multiple times could be forced to reveal all scores if he or she decides to apply to any of the colleges that require entire testing histories.

More to come on what parents need to know about the SAT and ACT.

ACT versus SAT: Which is more popular?

For the first time in its over fifty year history, the ACT has become the most popular college entrance exam in the country, beating out the SAT. Though the difference in the number of test takers was minor (about 2,000 students), the trend over the years is unmistakable. In 2006, 1,206,455 students took the ACT and 1,465,744 took the SAT. In 2012, 1,666,017 took the ACT and 1,664,479 took the SAT.

Why is the ACT more popular than the SAT?

For a long time, the SAT and ACT were associated with their own geographical regions of the country. If you lived in the Midwest, you took the ACT. If you lived in the East or West, you took the SAT. While these associations are still true to an extent, i.e., the majority of Midwesterners take the ACT, with nearly all colleges and universities now accepting either admissions test, students are afforded the opportunity to choose which test they take. The ACT’s prevalence is also aided by the fact that, due to the ACT’s shrewd marketing efforts, some states have mandated that all high school students take the test to assess school performance. For instance, North Carolina, a state that historically has had a majority of SAT takers will see that statistic drastically shift as the state now requires high school juniors to take the ACT.

As we have seen directly in our experience at Educational Connections, the majority of students also seem to prefer the format of the ACT to that of the SAT. The type of student who tends to prefer and do well on the SAT is deliberate, methodical, and a problem solver. The student who tends to prefer and do well on the ACT is focused, quick, and a master of material. The SAT requires test takers to work their logical reasoning prowess, while the ACT demands a quick pace and strong content knowledge.

Further reasons for the preference towards the ACT include:

• The ACT is scored with no deduction for wrong answers, which eliminates the psychological hurdle of strategizing on the SAT to avoid incorrect answer penalties.
• The ACT has, for quite some time, offered “score choice,” which has only recently been added by the SAT, meaning that bad scores from one test administration will not permanently tarnish college applications.
• The ACT’s content (reading, math, English, science) is more familiar to students than that of the SAT.

How to know whether to take the SAT or ACT

The most clear cut way to determine which test to take is to have a student take a full length practice of each test. Many students find out that they really dislike one test and at least find the other one bearable. Also, once the tests are scored, you can search online for a “concordance table” or visit http://convertyourscore.org/ to determine on which test the student may have scored better. The test scores and the student’s preference will be the factors that determine which test he will prepare for and ultimately take.

Also, it should be mentioned that it is usually a bad idea to prepare for both tests to see which score can be more maximized, unless there is a specific reason for doing so, e.g., the schools a student is applying to require different test. Figuring out which test is better suited to a student and focusing preparation efforts on that test alone give the best shot at getting the highest possible score.