A few weekends ago, my toes were tapping to the rhythm of an August Caramoor jazz concert. The fading sunset and cooler breezes suddenly made me aware of the nearness of fall. And fall means that higher education choices will soon loom before so many students.
What is the best way to prepare students for the SAT vs. ACT choices? Here are a few myths debunked.
Myth #1: The formats of SAT and ACT are similar.
FACT: Different layouts may affect student’s preference.
The SAT has 10 sections: Three Math, three Reading, three Writing and one Experimental. The pie chart directly to the right of the article, represents each section length in minutes, on the SAT:
SAT math is 33 1/3 percent of the exam. The SAT score is reported in three parts: Critical Reading, Math and Writing. The top score is 2400. Total time = 3 hours, 45 minutes.
The ACT has four sections. Each section yields one score (section's highest score=36). Content: Math, Reading, English and Science. There is an optional writing section. The second pie chart shows the length of each ACT section, in minutes. Once you complete a section (i.e., math), you will not be asked any more math questions for the rest of the ACT. This is a relief for some students.
Top compsite score = 36
Total time = 2 hours, 55 minutes
Myth #2: SAT Prep courses really don’t work.
FACT: The truth is, they do work as long as a student is willing to put in the time and effort. It is important to set your goals realistically, know your coach/teacher and know how much time you can put into studying. There are shortcuts, learned with a good tutor. For instance, a more powerful vocabulary can be acquired—with determination—in as little as two months, studying words roots or through customized drills.
With prep courses, students who study consistently for 10-12 weeks or more, may see a 200-275 point or greater increase in total score and a 2-4 point average increase on ACT scores.
Myth #3: If I dislike reading comprehension, I should take the ACT.
FACT: ACT Science and Reading require very fast reading. The Science section is 35 minutes, and contains seven passages; that means five minutes per passage, including questions. It’s a very fast run.. A similar challenge exists for the Reading passages. This is NOT a test for the slow-ish reader.
Myth #4: Test prep is the only thing that will help my score.
FACT: Not true! There are lots of ways that a student can improve his/her score. Coaches recommend the following, to increase both SAT and ACT skills.
- Read challenging books and magazines (NY Times, National Geographic, The Economist).
- Try a vocabulary builder, such as Hot Words for SAT by Carnevale.
- Learn a foreign language to boost your writing and analytic skills!
Last but not least, take some time to consider which exam will showcase your student’s best talents. Will switching gears quickly among 10 sections or four be more appealing? How fast a reader/synthesizer are you? How strong are your math skills as measured against the questions in the SAT? For more insights from a trainer, stay tuned for Part II.
Want to know more about college admissions? Catch Theresa Michna speaking at the on Sept. 13 and Oct. 1, discussing SAT exams and tips for writing the college essay. For more information, visit the Larchmont Library website here.
Theresa Michna is a professional SAT/ACT/essay writing coach. She is also a former adjunct at Manhattanville College, Pace University and a board member of the American International School Vienna. Please visit her website here.