Ultimate Digital SAT and ACT Q&A: Your Top 10 Test Prep Questions Answered

Navigating college admissions testing and changing requirements at college and universities can seem daunting. However, armed with the right knowledge and resources, you and your child can confidently tackle this pivotal phase, whether your student is gearing up for testing now or in the future.

From deciphering if one test holds more weight in the eyes of admissions officers to determining the optimal testing strategy for your child, we’ve got you covered!

With years of experience helping students achieve their best scores on both the SAT and ACT, our Test Prep Tutor Pete Pecoraro is here to offer his expertise and insight to your family’s ten most pressing test prep questions.

1. Which test do colleges and universities like better? The ACT or Digital SAT?

College admission evaluators universally accept both tests. There is no favorite, so admissions evaluators at colleges and universities are agnostic in their approach. Scores from either test would be considered valid parts of a student’s application, so students can go either way.

2. Is the SAT or ACT better for my child?

The the overall answer is… it depends. It depends on the student, his or her strengths and weaknesses, and how he or she feels about certain subjects.

One of the key branches on the decision tree, in my opinion, is math. How do you feel about high-end or difficult math classes? Because 50% of the SAT scores are based on math. 25% of the ACT will come from math. So that’s a huge difference right there. 

Think about how you’re doing in math. Do you perceive highly equational math as part of your skill set? Is that a strength, or is that a little more of a weakness? 

And then how do you feel about timing? Time limits are in place for both tests, but the SAT allows a little bit more time per question than any other part of the ACT.  That sounds very good and can be very good in practice or theory. On the other hand, some of those questions are much more dense, and you’ll need time to unpack them. But for the most part, you have to move faster on the ACT for more linear and findable questions, but you have to do it quickly.

3. How far in advance should students start preparing the Digital SAT or ACT?

We strongly suggest starting test preparation four to six months before the intended test date. This is when families should start considering test prep options, finding a qualified test prep tutor, and organizing for the test prep journey. This timeline allows for a well-paced and less stressful preparation. For instance, if a student plans to take the test in the winter or fall of their junior year, it’s ideal to start thinking about test prep in late summer or at the beginning of the school year.

4. What are the best ways to prepare for the Digital SAT or ACT?

In terms of preparation, one of the best things a student can do is find a qualified tutor. That’s an excellent way of getting ready for the test, getting used to its style, learning tips tricks and methods that will pay off. Another very beneficial thing to do is to purchase an official test guide. The official study guide books that are made available by the publishers of the ACT and SAT. Other test guides can be used as supplemental materials.  

5. What are the benefits from working one-on-one with a tutor rather than a group test prep setting?

The benefits of working one-on-one are multifold! I think one of the most important benefits is students get to ask questions their way without needing to be concerned about other students. Our test prep sessions at Educational Connections are totally devoted to one student. 

The other main benefit is that you can set priorities. There may be certain subject areas that that you need help with that another student in a group test prep class has already mastered. One-on-one test prep tutoring is tailored to each student’s individual needs. Imagine trying to do that when there are other students, like in a four-on-one situation or larger group setting, where other students have strengths that’s a weakness to you (or the other way around). It’s going to be harder to set those priorities. Students also build a stronger bond and rapport when working one-on-one with a single teacher, and the tutor can better gauge your child’s strengths and weaknesses.

6. What is the breakdown of each test?

The Digital SAT is composed of two main subject areas- 1. Reading & Writing and 2. Math. They are repeated in the forms of modules, so you could think of it as three pieces but the SAT groups all of those areas in just two scores. 

The ACT is actually made up of four different subjects and scores and they go in this order: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Science is a unique subject section on the ACT that does appear on the SAT.

7. How does the adaptive element work on the Digital SAT?

The SAT is now a digital test, so there’s no more paper and pencil version. Their software and application is built to adjust. That’s what adaptive means. It will adjust based on student performance.

There is a set of easy to medium questions for the first module of reading and writing, and the first module of math. Based on how that goes in terms of accuracy, number of questions the student gets right, and types of questions, the second module will adjust in difficulty. It may get harder or easier. It will typically get easier if the student has an average or sub-average performance on the first module. Now, that sounds like a good thing, but it will cap the ceiling of points that the student could earn. On the flip side, when the test adapts to more difficult questions, the upper boundary or the ceiling goes up, and the student has the potential to earn a higher score.

8. How many times should students take the test?

I recommend students take the test two or three times. Once you get past three, I think there are diminishing returns. The score you have at that point is probably what you’ll end up with, so there’s very little payoff to taking it four or more times.

The first time a student takes the SAT or ACT is usually to establish a baseline score. It’s new to them, so nerves and stress might often play into it. The second time, the student generally feels more comfortable and performs better. Then, for score verification or superscoring, the student can take it a third time.

9. What is superscoring?

Superscoring is a scoring method that’s used to blend the student’s best subject scores on any given test to create a higher composite score. On the SAT, there are two separate subject scores; on the ACT, there are four subject scores.  

Let’s say, for example, that the first time a student takes the SAT, they earn a 600 in math. The second time, they earned a 640 on math. The 640 would become part of their superscore. So, the very highest score on any single subject becomes the score that’s used to calculate a superscore.

10. How can students calm their nerves on test day?

The students I work with are ready because they’ve already done a lot of test preparation through tutoring. I tell my students to think, “I’ve done a lot of work. I’m ready for this. Even if I think that might not be true, I’ve already done a significant amount of work to prepare me for this.”

I remind them to have peace of mind that there will be things on the test that they already know how to do because they’ve already done them in our tutoring sessions. 

If students get nervous during the test, I tell them to stop and take a cleansing breath. That frequently helps calm the heart and calm your nerves a little bit. If you find yourself in a frustrating situation, try to be mindful of your breathing. Take a breath. Skip a problem if it’s driving you crazy… just move past it. Treat it like a speed bump. You can go back to it if you have time at the end. Then take heart in knowing that just by virtue of having a tutor and putting in work before test day, you’re ready to do your best

Ready to see your child excel on the SAT or ACT?

Reserve your free consultation now and let one of our tutors, like Pete, help your child thrive on their journey to college.