SAT/ACT Test Prep: First Steps

Unless your high schooler is applying to all test-blind schools (which is highly unlikely!), they should start focusing on SAT and ACT test prep during their sophomore and junior years.

So where do you begin? This blog breaks down everything parents should know to help their kids start prepping for college entrance exams.

Start with a Practice Test

Our first recommendation to juniors is to figure out which test they’re going to take. The SAT or the ACT? They can use practice tests to identify which test they’ll naturally score better on.

Since every college in America accepts both tests with no preference for one over the other, we recommend each student start by taking two practice tests— one for the SAT and one for the ACT. 

Schedule a Proctored Mock Test

If your child hasn’t yet taken practice tests, that’s the first step. To make it safe and easy, Educational Connections offers virtual, proctored mock tests on Saturday mornings.

You can click here to view our upcoming practice test dates and register for one. We’ve made it very easy to test right in your home so you can get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

After a student takes both mock tests, we can analyze the results to identify their best direction moving forward. For about ⅓ of students, there’s a clear best choice. The other ⅔ score about the same on both and base their decision on their comfort level with each test. 

Compare the SAT and ACT

If your child is one of those who score similarly on both practice tests, it’s helpful to understand the differences so you can make an informed decision about which one to take.

Let’s explore how they’re alike and different.

The SAT is considered a power test. There are fewer questions, but they’re wordier. They require critical thinking and lots of analysis. The challenge with this test is in trying to understand what exactly they’re asking you to do. 

The ACT, on the other hand, is considered a speed test. There are more questions, but they’re shorter and a bit more straightforward. Kids often say things like, “The ACT feels more like what I’ve learned in school, but the difficulty with the ACT is actually the pacing and the speed.”

The SAT has two math sections. One allows students to use a calculator and one does not. These sections add up to 800 points. There’s also evidence-based reading and writing for another 800 points, giving students a potential total of 1600 points.

The ACT has four sections: math, reading, writing (which is more like grammar), and science. The science section makes some students anxious, especially if they don’t love science, but the questions are more like reading comprehension questions. Students are presented with graphs and charts, and they’re asked to extrapolate information. It’s very coachable if you have a tutor to help. The total for all four ACT sections is 36 points. 

Both tests are long. The SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes. The ACT is only 15 minutes shorter, coming in at 3 hours and 35 minutes. For students with IEPs and 504 plans, the ACT has recently streamlined accommodation eligibility requirements. You can read about the changes here.

Help is Available to Decide Which Test is Best

If you’re not sure which test is best for your child, we can help you make an informed decision based on mock test results. Click here to schedule a free consultation with a test prep specialist, and we’ll walk you through everything you need to consider.

College Admissions Coaching Consultation

Once your child has completed mock tests and selected either the SAT or ACT to focus on, it’s time to dive into test prep.

Check out the next blog in our college admissions series to learn more: SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19.