###### My child is taking a practice test. Will that be enough prep for the SAT or ACT?

March 23, 2023###### When should my child start working on the Common App essay?

April 6, 2023Standardized tests, such as the SAT and the ACT, are meant to be a way to evaluate students on a level playing field, as opposed to only using a student’s transcripts. However, it’s important to note that test scores aren’t the only things colleges use to determine a student’s ability to handle the rigors of college – they’re just one piece of the puzzle. There are a number of testing options that students can utilize in order to best showcase their strengths and figuring out which one to choose can be daunting and confusing, but the answer is truly about preferences and strengths.

Students can choose between the SAT, ACT, AP, and IB, or International Baccalaureate, exams. Each test has its own merits, and when considering which ones are right for you, you need to consider the format of each test and what information you need to know in order to succeed. The SAT and ACT tests are the two most common standardized tests, in which students will be tested on their reading analysis, grammar, and mathematics skills. AP and IB exams, on the other hand, are subject specific tests administered at the end of either a semester-long or year-long course. These exams test the knowledge that students gained in the class and see how well they are able to interpret and solve similar problems. AP and IB classes are accelerated, challenging courses meant to prepare students for collegiate level courses. Many schools often look for students who have taken these types of accelerated courses, as it shows that they’re able to manage a heavier workload, but deciding which courses and how many to take shouldn’t be made lightly. These classes tend to move at a rapid pace with a heavier workload, so make sure that you are ready and able to handle that before deciding to take these classes.

Between the SAT and ACT, there isn’t one test that is viewed as better than the other in the eyes of admissions officers; it’s more important to decide which test format works best for you. The SAT is broken down into four sections: reading, writing, math without calculator, and math with calculator. The reading section has 52 questions to be answered in 65 minutes; the writing section has 44 questions to be answered in 35 minutes; the math without calculator section has 20 questions to be answered in 25 minutes; and the math with calculator section has 38 questions to be answered in 55 minutes. The questions themselves tend to be a bit more circuitous and take a little deciphering in order to answer fully, but with strategies, they can be tackled with ease. Additionally, the math section tests your knowledge of Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry concepts – classes that most students will have completed by junior year.

Similarly, the ACT is broken down into four sections as well, with one exception: reading, writing, math, and science. The reading section consists of 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes; the writing section consists of 75 questions to be answered in 45 minutes; the math section, which can be done entirely with a calculator, has 60 questions to be answered in 60 minutes; and the science section, similar to the reading section, has 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes. The questions on the ACT tend to be a bit more straightforward and easier to understand, which can make it feel like the easier choice. However, the math section does tend to be more challenging because it needs to be done with a calculator, and it encompasses more math knowledge: Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, and PreCalculus. This could pose a potential issue since traditionally PreCalculus is taken during junior year, so depending on when you schedule your test, there may be some math concepts that you haven’t learned.

When considering which test is going to be the best one for you, a great place to start is by taking a practice test of each to get a feeling for each test type. The ACT tends to be more curriculum based, testing your knowledge of the material, whereas the SAT tests how well you problem solve given a set of parameters. Both tests are about 3 hours long, but the breakdown of timing between the sections and total number of questions on the test are different. You need to get a feel for which layout works the best for you. Additionally, a common misconception is that students who excel in STEM fields should take the ACT because of the science section, but in reality, the science section is another reading section that requires strong close reading and data interpretation skills. Colleges don’t require that you take one test or the other, so rather than basing your choice on which one will look better, choose one that will allow you to succeed.

Success on either of these tests also comes down to proper preparation. In addition to taking practice tests, it’s important to work on skill building. After taking and scoring each practice test, take note of which areas you’re not quite as strong in. What questions are you consistently missing? Are you noticing any patterns in the questions you’re missing? It’s important to start by addressing those specific areas in order to start seeing real score improvements. It’s also essential to create a schedule for yourself so that you can systematically tackle each topic. Take it all one step at a time and pace yourself, making sure to build in breaks to recover periodically. Think of it like putting together a puzzle. Taking a practice test is looking at the puzzle as a whole, but skill building are the pieces that make it up. Each piece needs to be just right in order to fit together, and that takes a bit of work. Spend focused time each day working to get your fundamental skills as strong as possible.

Standardized testing is a significant part of putting together a competitive application, but it comes down to choosing the tests and classes that work best for you. The SAT and ACT are fundamentally different tests, but one isn’t easier for the other. They both have their challenges, so start by taking a practice test of each to figure out what style is better. Once you’ve settled on the test for you, it’s time to work on building up your skills in each of the sections. Take note of any trends that you notice in the questions you’re missing, and focus your efforts on building your strength. Standardized tests can be a bear, but by taking it one step at a time, you’ll be on your way.