SAT v. ACT: More Myths, Part II
Tiptoeing into a Larchmont yoga studio the other day, I noticed a change, but not just a seasonal one. Next to a pale yoga mat and green water bottle, I expected to see a lazy summer novel tucked within the beach bag. Instead, a bold red ACT Prep book flashed behind the bottle.
Now that fall is around the corner, what is the best way to prepare for those tortuous standardized tests? First of all, SAT vs. ACT—which is better, and for whom? Our common sense tells us that some myths need to be debunked.
Myth #1: Guess on both exams, and always choose choice “c”.
FACT: Guessing is encouraged on the SAT only if you can narrow down your choices, because there is a penalty for random guessing. For the ACT, you should guess on everything, since there is no penalty for wrong answers. And don’t listen to the advice of other students regarding “a” or “c”. Ask an experienced tutor or teacher.
Myth #2: 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 #3: You need strong science background for the ACT.
FACT: Not really. Knowledge of chemistry, biology and physics is not essential. The science section on the ACT is actually a very fast reading skills test. Rather, you need expert time management skills and lots of practice to do well.
Myth #4: The SAT math is easier. No trigonometry!
FACT: It’s true that the ACT math includes trigonometry, while the SAT doesn’t. But, in general, the ACT math is more like the math problems you learned in school. In contrast, the SAT is logic and aptitude-based, filled with booby traps, and very demanding at the end. If you think you are a strong math student, try solving the last three-four problems in every math SAT section!
Myth #5: I can wait till senior year to take either exam.
FACT: Test prep experts are increasingly advising students to start fall of junior year to think about which test fits their best skills. Students may take both exams in junior year, or take a joint diagnostic test given by some coaches. After receiving the results, decide to take either an ACT or SAT preparation course (or a dual one), then retake the test once or twice from junior to senior years. To be sure, many students find these flexible choices difficult to navigate. If that’s you, register with an experienced tutor who can help you choose the best options and dates and then prep for them.
Myth #6: 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 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 gain in total SAT score or a 2-4 point average increase on ACT.
Want to know more about college admissions? Catch Theresa Michna speaking at the 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 Yin Michna, M.A., is an educator/teacher who coaches private and group classes in SAT and ACT prep and college essays. She has helped countless students make the choice between exams. A parent of three grown children, she has been an adjunct at Pace University and Manhattanville College. Visit her at www.TheresaMichna.com.