SAT Critical Reading: Beware Bad Advice

If there is a section that the average student dreads most on the SAT, it is the Critical Reading. Why? Well, because of the “critical reading.” Try saying those words around any high schooler and notice the unconscious subtle curl of their lips.

SAT reading passages are usually dry, complex, and insipid (there’s an SAT word for you.) To contend with this, many students are recommended to employ “tricky” strategies for the reading passages to save time and preserve attention. Some of these tricks include reading the questions first, skimming the passage, and reading the first and last line of each paragraph. In short, these tips are awful.

The SAT Critical Reading section does not test your understanding of a passage’s plot; it tests your understanding of its meaning – a huge difference. Want to know how to get a better score on the SAT Critical Reading? Read the passages.

“But there’s not enough time to read the passage and answer the questions.”

The first excuse a student throws is that there is not enough time to read all the passages and get to the majority of the questions. Yes, pacing is a skill that has to be mastered on the SAT to get a high score; however, this doesn’t mean skimming the passages to gain time for answering questions. Again, the SAT tests your understanding of a passage’s meaning.  Students often don’t realize that by devoting adequate time to reading the passages, they gain a much better sense for the meaning of a passage thereby cutting down time spent answering questions while improving accuracy.

Let’s look at the test. The longest Critical Reading section is 24 questions and 25 minutes long. A sample section I’m looking at right now has five sentence completion questions followed by two short paragraph-long passages with two questions each, and two longer passages with six and nine questions, respectively. Let’s assume that the sentence completion section takes five minutes to complete (this is being very generous), leaving 20 minutes for the reading passages. In these particular passages there are 1314 words total. The average reading speed of a high school student is about 250 words per minute. (I’ll even slow it down a bit to 225 words per minute account for the extra focus required to get through the dullness of these passages and the length of the test.)  Therefore, the passages in this particular section would take just under six minutes to read. That leaves about 45 seconds to devote to each question – well more than enough time to read the question and answer choices, recall information, and even refer back to the text to make answer selections.

Why “Tricky” SAT Reading Strategies Backfire

What happens when students employ these aforementioned “time saving strategies” is that they get to the questions and, because they do not grasp the meaning of the passage, they end up referring back to the passage and reading select parts for each question, often more than once, so much that it would have been quicker to simply have read the passage in the first place.

These “tricky” strategies may help if you are reading to determine the plot line, but, again, you’re looking for meaning. SAT questions are going to ask you things that require contextual understanding, not a regurgitation of what is written. You’ll be asked about the authors’ attitudes, opinions, and assumptions; characters’ motivations; rhetorical devices; and main ideas. To do well, you must read and understand each passage fully. For the majority of critical reading questions, you should be able to provide your own version of an answer to every question without even looking at the five answer options.

So, if someone recommends a time-saving strategy for the Critical Reading section that involves anything less than reading the passages in their entirety: beware. Instead, prep time should focus on honing active reading strategies and understanding the meaning behind the passages.

SAT Tips from an Expert Test Prep Tutor

Jason King is at the top of his game when it comes to preparing students for the SAT. As an Educational Connections tutor, Jason typically helps his students throughout Northern Virginia achieve impressive score gains through his holistic approach. I recently asked Jason to share some of his test prep experience as well as his expert opinion on some SAT topics that parents and students are often curious about.

Nick:  What is your favorite part about preparing students for the SAT?

Jason:  There are usually two types of SAT prep students – the ones that don’t think they’ll do very well and those who feel like they just need help getting past a certain number. For the first, I love being able to give them strategies and pointers that help them do better than they ever expected. Especially when there’s a concept they never thought they’d “get” that suddenly becomes clear. For the latter, I love the look when they finally see where they were making the errors that were keeping their scores down.

Nick:  What do you find to be the biggest hurdle for most of your SAT prep students? Why do you think this is?

Jason:  The main hurdle seems to be them believing that they’re not good in a particular subject on the test or that they’re just not good test-takers in general; that, for whatever reason, they are simply incapable of doing well on the test. I think this primarily stems from a weakness in a subject or insecurity in general. I’m a firm believer that looking at the test not as a judgment of the student’s abilities, but as a puzzle or game that requires certain strategies in conjunction with general knowledge to successfully conquer will help most students.  Once they see it’s not as much about what they may or may not know, but rather how to find the best answer for what the question is asking, then they generally have less of this confidence block.

Nick:  If your students only took away one thing from your time spent preparing them for the SAT, what would you want it to be?

Jason: This is a tough one! If I must choose a single take away, I suppose it would be to read each question and answer carefully, looking for clues therein to help eliminate bad answer choices and find the best possible answer instead. But since each student has different strengths and weaknesses, this answer will change to best fit the individual student.

Nick: For parents of students who will be taking the SAT in 2-3 years, what advice do you have?

Jason: Students should start reading outside of school assignments and building a Vocabulary Bank of unfamiliar words. Reading builds grammar skills, writing skills, and comprehension skills, so that’s half the test right there. Work with your kids, asking detailed questions about what they’re reading, both in terms of what’s going on in the story as well as how the story was constructed by the author. Similar to a Vocabulary Bank, begin a Math Rules Bank of hard to remember rules and laws so they can refresh these oft-forgotten rules leading up to the test. Finally, work on timed writing. Completing an essay overnight is entirely different than completing one in 25 minutes; it’s a new, often not well-practiced skill.

Nick: Is there anything productive that students can do to prepare for the SAT if they’re starting late in the game, i.e., the test is in a couple of weeks?

Jason: Read advanced articles (The Economist, science journals, etc), and review them with their parents. These will have advanced vocabulary and compositional structure. Also begin compiling a list of forgotten or uncertain math rules (exponents, coordinate geometry distance formula, midpoint formula, etc). Complete a section or two each night in a prep book then review them the next night trying to look for why their mistakes were made. Note if mistakes are repeated on certain question types, if so, these are the candidates for skipping.

Nick:  Do you believe that the SAT accurately measures a student’s readiness for college?

Jason:  Honestly, I think the SAT mostly measures the student’s ability to take the SAT. That said, in a broader sense, the retention of concepts over the years and the ability to receive and apply new information are both necessary for college. The math sections show that the student has mastered an earlier idea and can expand on it. The reading comprehension sections show that the student can be presented with entirely new information and extract the pertinent ideas. If either of these areas is lacking, that will be a serious liability in college.

Nick:  A recent study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) entitled “Preparation for College Admissions Exams” states that commercial SAT prep, on average, garners students score increases of around 30 points and recommends that students use books or the internet independently to prepare themselves for the test. What are your thoughts on this recommendation from the NACAC?

Jason: I think it would take an exceptionally self-aware student to guide their own preparation. I have had students who put in a lot of time studying on their own who mostly want me to check their answers and explain some questions/answers to them. They usually don’t have the score increases I see with students willing to follow our program. While the test isn’t entirely strategy, a strong strategy is needed. Recognition of troublesome question types, avoidance of attractor answers, bolstering of weak subject areas, and determining the quickest ways to answer questions (as opposed to the most thorough way to answer questions) are areas that most students will not be able to master on their own. The student has to do the work, but even the greatest minds need some guidance and direction sometimes.

Questions about the SAT? Interested in working with Jason? Drop me a line at [email protected]

Why You Should Avoid Doing a lot of Math on the SAT

SAT Math, SAT Test

When I used to tutor SAT prep, it was nails on a chalkboard to me when students said with despair, “I’m just bad at math.”

“Right,” I would say. “You’re probably also bad at building bridges, dancing the lead in Swan Lake, and performing open heart surgery. Why? Because you haven’t properly learned and practiced how to do those things. Just because you don’t excel at something now does not mean that you are incapable of doing so. Math can be really tricky, but I know that if you change your attitude and put forth the effort, it will get a lot easier for you. Besides, the cool thing about the SAT is that it really has little to do with how good you are at math. Rather, the SAT tests your math habits.”

I have worked with several students in the McLean and Great Falls areas who are phenomenal math students, taking the most challenging courses offered and garnering top grades, but who started out really struggling on the math sections of the SAT. The reason for this is quite simple. SAT math is not difficult, but determining which math you need to do on the SAT is hard, and it takes a lot of practice to perfect.

Consider the following problem to illustrate this idea:

Each of 5 people had a blank card on which they wrote a positive integer. If the arithmetic mean of these integers is 15, what is the greatest possible integer that could be on one of the cards?

Right away, the math prodigy student taking multivariable calculus begins formulating equations at near calculator speed to maximize one of five variables. Utter madness.

Rather, a question such as this requires a bit of logical thinking and proper setup. Good SAT students contemplate before acting. They figure out exactly what is being asked of them before they jump in to start solving an imaginary math problem of their own creation.

For this problem, a great SAT student would think like this:

1. Ok, I have 5 different positive integers whose average equals 15.

2. This means that when these 5 integers are added together and divided by 5, the result is 15. (A+B+C+D+E) / 5 = 15

3. By multiplying both sides of this equation by 5, I now know that my 5 integers added together equal 75. A+B+C+D+E = 75

4. I need to figure out the highest value that one of these integers can be. Let’s say I want E to be my highest value.

5. What I know about this simple addition equation (A+B+C+D+E = 75) is that if I want to make E as high as possible, then A, B, C, and D need to be as low as possible.

6. The problem tells me that each card contains a positive integer. It does not, however, say “different” integer.

7. The lowest positive integer is 1. Therefore, I will make A, B, C, and D all equal to 1. 1+1+1+1+E = 75

8. Now I have a simple algebra problem where I need to solve for one variable. I subtract 4 from both sides to arrive at E = 71.

This process was not difficult. There are no differential equations or advanced number theory involoved. Students often get caught up in the idea that they need to be using specific formulas to solve problems and that plugging in numbers and assigning variables are taboo. However, these beliefs will do more harm than good. You need to have the right systems in place and you need to train yourself to avoid math in favor of logical reasoning, counter-intuitive as is may be.

To improve your math score, stop worrying about math! Instead, focus on SAT math (there is a difference!) and the strategies you need to conquer it. There are countless materials and resources available to help you accomplish this. Should you need guidance, please email me at [email protected]

Planning for the SAT: Why You Need to Think about the Test Well Ahead of Time

If you’re panicking about SAT prep, stop! Well, actually, let me clarify: if your student isn’t taking the test for six more months, stop panicking. However, if your student is taking the test in a week and he hasn’t even so much as looked at a practice test, I hope you have a teenage savant on your hands.

Yes, preparing for the SAT can be extremely stressful for both students and parents, but having a preparation plan in place will be your single greatest tool in destroying the test. What I love so much about the SAT is that, with the right mindset and concerted effort, nearly any student can garner an impressive score on the test. What is troubling is that most students do not.

Finding a Happy Medium

The SAT can be a phenomenal way to boost a college application. Theoretically, a junior with less than stellar grades could intensely study for the SAT for a year, get an incredible score, and bolster his college apps. But that’s not the way the world works. Most likely, the student who puts a year of focused study into preparing for the SAT is the student who has a 5.5 GPA, is president of three honor societies, and is working on a cure for cancer when she’s not volunteering at the orphanage.  I get it – it’s unrealistic to expect the average student to put in the tremendous effort it takes to get an incredible SAT score.

I hear from many parents that their students’ schedule is too busy to prep. To that I say: Does he not have a summer vacation during which he could devote a few hours each week? Why can’t he cut his World of Warcraft time in half for a few months? Does she really need to attend that many social functions each week? If 5.5 GPA, Nobel-recipient-in-the-making girl can devote hours each week to test prep for a year, I don’t think three to four hours a week for a few months is too much to ask.

Beginning to Plan for the SAT

So what can you do to maximize scores that is realistic? To start, make sure that your student takes a full-length practice SAT and ACT sometime in the window of the second half of sophomore year and beginning of junior year. With all colleges now accepting either test, students have the advantage of choosing which test is best suited to them. Some students may find that the ACT is more up their alley. Students should know fairly early on which test they will take so that they can focus their preparation efforts on that test alone.

This practice test will be your student’s guiding light in preparing for the SAT. It will initially serve as a diagnostic highlighting what skills need the most work and later as a benchmark for measuring progress on the next practice test. The next step will be to create a goal score and range. Doing so requires students to have some idea of their college aspirations.

A tutor or prep course can be a great way to keep students focused and accountable and to provide guidance on goal setting and the best ways to prepare. Ultimately, though, the student will determine how productive his prep efforts are. All practice is not created equal and this may be the single most difficult concept for students to understand when it comes to test prep. Doing a few math exercises here and there is not going to cut it. Your student must have a plan in place in which practice tests are scheduled and time is devoted to reviewing every last incorrect or omitted question within his range. The key to maximizing one’s SAT score is learning from one’s mistakes.

Whether your student decides to go through formal prep or go it alone (this is a topic for another day), she must plan her prep well in advance, taking a diagnostic, setting a goal and range, and scheduling as many practice tests and review sessions as possible, especially in the four to five months leading up to the test.

If you need guidance or advice on your student’s prep program, please email me @ [email protected].

3 Harmful Misconceptions about the SAT

As the famous saying goes, “the only thing worse than no information is misinformation.” Unfortunately, there is a great deal of conflicting and counterproductive advice surrounding the SAT. Below are three of the most harmful misconceptions that students have about the college entrance exam.

1. “If I learn SAT strategies really well, I have a great chance of getting a higher score.”

This is partly true. You can’t expect to do well without strategies; however, you definitely can’t do well without tactics. Imagine a chess player who reads chess strategy books all day but rarely plays the game. He might play better than your average Joe, but he’s not going to be exceptional. Alternatively, consider someone who has never read a chess book but who has played 1,500 games of chess. That person is probably a standout player because she’s learned what to do in a situation-by-situation basis, both tactically and strategically. The same argument holds true for the SAT. If you learn vocabulary, key grammar facts, math operations, and reading comprehension tricks through practice, you will be better able to pick up and use strategies to maximize your score. That’s why any good prep program will include multiple simulated practice tests.

2. “I heard that the SAT is a test of intelligence and that there’s nothing you can do to study for it.”

Today, most high school juniors do some form of preparation for the SAT, formal or informal. However, if they adopt this defeatist attitude, their preparation will be in vain. While various studies suggest a correlation between high SAT scores and college preparedness, many believe that the SAT measures one thing: how good you are at taking the SAT. Whatever you believe, you can and should study for the test. From learning the 14 grammar concepts tested on the SAT to practicing active reading strategies, there is a great deal of things you can study to improve your score. One of the best ways to improve is to take practice tests. The key here is to make sure you’re getting feedback on your performance by reviewing problems you got right and wrong and why. Remember: all practice is not created equal!

3. “I do really well in school, but I’m just not a great test taker so it’s not worth it to prepare for the SAT.”

If you can get As in math and English, with hard work and dedicated practice, you can achieve a high SAT score. The SAT is just like any other skill and anyone can improve at a skill with the right mindset and commitment.

What makes the SAT different from other tests? Not much, really. The SAT is a logical reasoning exam that asks questions on simple material in very tricky ways. If you have completed 9th grade, you have learned everything you need to know in order to score well on the SAT. The issue is that the way the test asks questions is intentionally complicated. For example, instead of asking what the area of a square is with a side length of 18, the SAT will ask what the area of a square is that has the same side length as the radius of a circle with a circumference of 36π. Once you get used to the format and style of the exam and get some focused practice time under your belt, solving questions such as this become significantly easier.

Mastering the SAT is a long-term process; it takes some forethought to plan ahead and make sure that you have enough time to practice before taking the real thing. Typically, you’ll want to allot four to five months prior to your test to prepare. Easier said than done, right? With school, extracurricular activities, and social commitments, it can be a difficult feat to independently manage your own preparation. If so, you may consider an individual test prep tutor who can not only work with you to build content and strategy knowledge, but also hold you accountable and guide you in a program that focuses on your weaknesses. Whatever form of preparation you choose, just be sure that these common misconceptions don’t hold you back from maximizing your score!

Does Reading the Newspaper Increase SAT and ACT Scores?

To prepare for the reading sections of the SAT and ACT, many students are encouraged to read the newspaper daily. This can be effective – if a student begins at a very young age.

The reality is that reading comprehension skills develop over time and reading The Post for two months before the test isn’t the most effective way to prepare. The best way to prepare for the critical reading sections on the SAT, for example, is to practice critical reading sections on the SAT! It seems obvious, but too often students spend time reading non-relevant material in order to prepare for these tests. The reading sections on the SAT and ACT are their own beasts; questions and answer choices are expressly written to test students on meaning. Most high schools, unfortunately, test their students for content and this is what students are used to. This is why the reading sections on the college entrance exams are notoriously difficult.

So while building reading skills from an early age is the best bet for doing well on the reading comprehension sections, reading the newspaper for a few months in hopes of bumping up one’s SAT or ACT score will be less effective than practicing the test sections themselves.

3 Quick Tips for Conquering the SAT

1. Begin with the end in mind: Set a Goal
In short, students who score well on the SAT set goals for themselves – students with low scores do not. If you have no idea where you’re trying to go, how are you supposed to get there? We follow this principle in our everyday lives, yet many students fail to set a target score when it comes to the SAT.

2. Frequent practice tests are essential
Practice makes perfect. If you want your child to get a better score, the best way to get there is to have him take as many full-length, timed practice tests as possible. Full length tests increase mental endurance, produce more familiarity and comfort with the test, allow students to practice pacing, create a tracking system for measuring improvement, and (with careful post-test review) improve skills.

3. Tactics first, strategies later
Strategies are overall concepts that guide one’s actions. Tactics are specific actions intended to realize one’s strategic objectives. Tactics take much longer to learn than strategies. Examples of SAT tactics are knowledge of vocabulary, mathematical properties, and grammatical principles. If a student doesn’t have solid tactics in place, strategies become ineffective. The sooner a student begins strengthening her tactics, the better.

5 Reasons Smart Students Struggle on the SAT

As college admissions become more competitive each year and the term “safety school” becomes a fading notion for many students, good SAT scores are all the more important in bolstering the strength of college applications. Though even with the increasing importance of good test scores, many smart students fall into common traps that prevent them from doing as well as they can on the college entrance exam.

Here are 5 pitfalls many students fall prey to when it comes to the SAT:

  1. Being overconfident – Many students who do well academically struggle the first time they take the SAT. The SAT rewards students for exercising critical thinking. Overconfident students often do not dedicate enough time to questions and they find themselves tricked by “trap” or “attractor” answer choices.
  2. Arguing with the test – In school, students are often rewarded for the effort or reason they display. An English teacher may not agree with a student’s interpretation of a text, but a sound, analytical argument is often as important as being right or wrong when it comes to the grade. The SAT is not as forgiving. There is one (and only one) correct answer. This is especially important on the critical reading section. When students try to justify incorrect answer choices, they waste valuable time and end up losing points.
  3. Not being an avid reader – Many students do just fine in high school without reading more than the bare minimum to complete their assignments. A lack of time is usually the culprit for this, but students who don’t read regularly outside of their school assignments are at a marked disadvantage on the SAT when compared to students who are avid readers. The SAT requires students to read and process dense information in a short amount of time. While it is unrealistic for all students to be bookworms, students can dedicate a short amount of time each day to reading for pleasure.
  4. Being unprepared – Though test prep has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade, many students still take the SAT “blind.” Yet there are many things students can do to prepare for taking the test such as: preparing examples to use in the SAT essay, learning the fifteen grammar rules that appear in the writing section, memorizing the most common SAT vocabulary words, and learning how to use the multiple choice format to their advantage on the math section.
  5. Not practicing – Skills and knowledge that translate to good grades in high school do not necessarily translate to good SAT scores. As with any sport or skill, improving one’s score and doing well on the SAT take practice. Every student planning to take the SAT should, at a bare minimum, secure a copy of the College Board’s SAT Prep Guide and devote several hours to practicing the questions. The best preparation, however, comes in the form of an expert, one-on-one tutor. A tutor can systematically guide the student through the test’s content and teach the necessary tactics and strategies to score well.

While there is debate over whether SAT scores are truly indicative of a student’s aptitude, it is undeniable that SAT scores play a large part in admissions decisions at colleges nationwide. In fact, the National Association for College Admission Counseling reports that about 60% of all colleges consider scores from standardized admission test to be of “considerable importance” in the admission decision.

Be sure that your student is aware of these common pitfalls well before he or she takes the SAT. And if you’re considering preparing your student for a spring test date, the time to act is now! Please feel free to contact Educational Connections to speak with one of our Assistant Directors to learn what the best course of action is for preparing your student for the SAT.

What’s a “Good” Score on the SAT?

When parents call our office to arrange for SAT tutoring, they often ask, “What does my child need on the SAT to get into her dream school?” The answer differs from student to student based on her aspirations, but one thing remains true, the SAT is one of the most stressful aspects of the college application process for parents and students alike.

Though the SAT is just one aspect of the college application process, it can make or break an application. The test is comprised of four different parts: The Essay, Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. The essay aside, each section’s scores range from 200-800, making the combined perfect score 2400. The national average score for each section is around 500, meaning the “average” student will score somewhere in the 1500 range.

Though math tends to be a subject of worry for many students, statistically it’s the section on which students score the highest. Of the 1.65 million students who took the SAT in 2011, the mean scores were: 497 for critical reading, 514 for math, and 489 for writing, leveling out to a total score of 1500.

What Scores Do Colleges Want?

Now that we have a grasp on what is average we can try to answer the question, what is good? What is defined as a “good SAT score” really varies from school to school. Some universities weigh SAT scores more heavily than others in their admissions process. It’s always best to look up the school’s SAT range for admitted students from the previous academic year.

SAT score ranges are available on a number of websites, but one of the most popular is Students can search for colleges based on specific criteria (geographic location, SAT score range, GPA, collegiate sports, etc.). Once they’ve identified schools of interest, the site generates a calendar with application deadlines and displays a whole lot of data about every college and university in the U.S. It also displays SAT ranges, and saves a student’s SAT scores, so he can see if he’s within or outside of the SAT score range for his desired schools. The site even does the same for ACT scores!

When thinking about score ranges, keep in mind that each school takes the scores of the middle 50% of their admitted students. But also be aware that 25% of students who were admitted scored below the lowest numbers on their range. On paper, a school may seem out of reach, but if the student’s application is strong in other ways, he or she may still be in the ballpark.

Scores for Local Schools

Take a look at the score ranges for several universities and colleges.

• American University: Critical Reading: 600-700 Mathematics: 570-670 Writing: 580-680
• Georgetown University: Critical Reading: 640-750 Mathematics: 650-750
• James Madison University: Critical Reading: 540-640 Mathematics: 550-650 Writing: 540-640
• Old Dominion University: Critical Reading: 460-560 Mathematics: 460-550 Writing: 440-550
• Towson University: Critical Reading: 490-580 Mathematics: 500-590 Writing: 500-590
• University of Maryland: Critical Reading: 580-680 Mathematics: 610-710
• University of Virginia: Critical Reading: 610-720 Mathematics: 630-740 Writing: 620-720
• William and Mary: Critical Reading: 620-730 Mathematics: 620-720 Writing: 620-720

You may have noticed that not every school includes the writing score in its SAT range. This is because the writing portion of the SAT is relatively new, and it’s becoming more and more accepted over time. Writing skills however, should not be overlooked as they are a crucial part of the admissions process, and a student’s success in college.

Might Be Cliché, but There Is a College for Everyone

Although each institution has its own definition of what’s “good”, SAT scores by no means determine a student’s acceptance or denial to a university. Knowing your student’s perspective schools’ SAT range, can help the student prepare for the SAT, set goals for herself, and make a solid list of safety, reach and target schools.

Let us know if you think your child might need assistance preparing for the SAT or ACT. We’re here to help!


Learn more about our services at:
Ann Dolin, M.Ed. [email protected] 703-934-8282 or 301-469-6060

Consider the ACT as an Alternative to the SAT

The SAT exam has always been the college admissions test of choice along the East Coast. However this trend is changing as the ACT gains popularity. The ACT, for years dominant in the central states, is now also gaining popularity on the East Coast. Students are now presented with a choice of college admissions tests.

The most recent example of this change was seen in one Georgia high school in Marietta County where there was a 36 percent increase in students taking the ACT compared to only a 7.45 percent increase in students taking the SAT test (Marietta Daily Journal).

Another example was seen in Washington, D.C., still a primarily SAT dominant area, but whose school officials have noticed an increase in “more local seniors trying both tests, rather than seeking to improve their SAT scores by retaking it” (Washington Post ). And that’s the beauty of having an alternative test to the SAT, the fact that students have a choice and are not limited to relying on the success of one test to demonstrate their academic standing to a desired college or university.

You might be asking yourself why the sudden emergence of more ACT test takers on the East Coast? All colleges now accept both the SAT and ACT for college admission, including the most competitive schools such as those in The Ivy League.  This can drastically widen the pool of test takers who may have been previously hindered by their performance on the SAT and now have a chance to try an alternative test that might better reflect their academic abilities.

Another reason could be that the SAT is viewed by some as measuring a student’s innate ability to learn, whereas the ACT is seen as a test of what the student has actually learned.  While both tests are accepted by colleges, there are differences. The ACT questions are typically seen as more straightforward, while those on the SAT are trickier and more reasoning oriented.

Many colleges now understand that not every student fits the “cookie cutter” mold for only one test. Knowing about the differences between the SAT and ACT provides students with some flexibility. For example, the ACT includes a science section, which is not on the SAT, and an optional essay section (mandatory on the SAT). Students and parents now have the opportunity to choose the test which best fits their child.

For a quick, 90 second tutorial on which test may be best for your child, check out our SAT vs. ACT video.  And don’t forget — here at ECTutoring, we offer a free ACT practice test so that students can compare these scores to their PSAT scores.  Often, this information helps students to understand which test they should focus on when preparing for college entrance exams.


This guest blog post was written by Daniel Ascher, M.Ed., President of A+ Test Prep and Tutoring,, a Philadelphia area provider of one-to-one test preparation tutoring.