Frequently Asked Questions
Does my child still need to take the test? I understand many schools are “test optional,” meaning the student can decide whether to send in a set of scores.
Just remember – “test optional” is not the same as “test blind”. If a school is “test blind”, indicating they will not consider test scores even if scores are sent, then a student can omit sending scores and be confident that they will be measured equally against every other application.
However, if a school allows a student the option of submitting test scores, then a set of strong scores remains an extra indicator that could strengthen the full “picture” of a student’s application and help a student stand out among a competitive applicant pool.
This puts many students in a chicken-egg situation: how do they know whether their scores will help or hurt them? What if they study and take the exam, only to find that their scores don’t show them to an advantage? But if they don’t send in scores, will they be disadvantaged?
At the end of the day, most students will find that their scores will bolster their chances for admission to some schools, make no difference for others, and perhaps clarify that some schools must be considered “reaches” for admissions.
Thus, effective standardized test preparation can accomplish several things at once: clarify and possibly expand higher education options, both in choice of school and possibly merit aid, and strengthen academic performance during the high school years.
Which test should my child take – The SAT or the ACT?
Interestingly, with each revision, the tests are resembling each other more and more: both do not penalize for wrong answers, both allow students to take each test multiple times, and most universities will allow students to present the best subscores of multiple testings of either test to present a “superscore” for consideration.
There have been certain, notable differences: until recently, the SAT demanded strong reading comprehension skills, required working math questions without the use of a calculator, but did not feature an independent science section.
In contrast, the ACT has a unique science section, limits the reading section to 35 minutes, and allows the use of a calculator on all math questions, making it the prime choice for students who prefer math and science (and the use of a calculator).
However, starting in March 2024, a completely revised, digital version of the SAT will be administered. Only 2.5 hours in length (vs. 3.5 hours for the traditional SAT and ACT), it has eliminated the lengthy reading passage format and will allow the use of a calculator for all math questions. This will likely appeal to many students. And while there is still no dedicated science section, both verbal and quantitative questions are worded in a way that demands a knowledge of scientific concepts and vocabulary, intending to affirm to schools and universities a student’s foundational understanding of the natural sciences.
Ultimately, the student should try both formats and choose, based on personal preference and any possible, perceived score advantage. In all cases, the preparation is largely the same, so a student should not feel he or she is “locked into” a test format.
When should a student take the test?
Again, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The general rule of thumb is that a student should take these tests when he/she can fit them into his/her busy schedule with the least amount of anxiety. This means working around athletic or extra-curricular commitments, exam periods, and other competing activities. His or her goal should be to take each test at least once by the end of junior year, and preferably one of the tests twice.
That said, because SAT will shift to digital format during the 2023-2024 academic year and it is unclear whether a paper SAT score can be combined with a digital SAT for a super-score, a student will definitely want to consider test preference (and performance during practice) when deciding on timing: he/she may want to strategically plan on taking either several traditional SAT testings the fall of 2023, hold off and plan on several digital SAT testings beginning the spring of 2024, or concentrate on the ACT, which remains unchanged.
And of course, if necessary, he or she will still have additional opportunities at the beginning of senior year, though this period is often stressful and hectic as work on college applications begins.
How many hours of tutoring does a student need?
It depends on each individual.
The time needed for a particular student will depend on where his/her current test scores are, where he or she would like them to be, and how many hours he/she is able to put in outside of our sessions.
At Action Test Prep, we work on three areas:
The approach to the test
This involves learning how the test is written, how its test writers think, and how to maximize one's scores within those parameters. Standardized tests differ greatly from classic school exams and require specific strategies for success.
Help in subject areas
If we need to fill gaps in academic content such as writing and grammar, reading comprehension, or math, this will require more time and sessions.
Performance under testing conditions
Even after a student has mastered both content and an understanding of the test, he or she needs to practice performing under stressful exam conditions, as well.
Ultimately, these factors combine to make an extremely variable range of hours needed. Some students have required as little as 15 hours of tutoring, while others have put in over 150 hours to achieve their desired scores. On average, most students do best with at least 30 hours of instruction, spread out over a 3-6 month period. At Action Test Prep, we require a minimum booking of 10 sessions (1.5 hours per session) to start with.
How does one register for the tests? Does each school provide the testing (like they do with the PSAT and Aspire tests)?
While somes schools do provide a school-wide test day for their students for the SAT or ACT, most do not. High schools that do not build test days into their academic calendars may still be official testing sites (locations designated to administer the exams to all registered students, regardless of whether or not they attend that specific high school), but it is up to the student to register to take these tests.
To register for the SAT, which is administered by the CollegeBoard, a student must create his or her own online account here. This account will allow a student to register for upcoming testing dates, check his or her SAT results once available, and also see AP scores, if the he/she chooses to take AP exams (those are administered by the CollegeBoard, as well).
To register for the ACT, administered by the ACT organization, students should create their accounts (which are different from their CollegeBoard accounts) here. Students may use their online accounts to register for upcoming ACT test dates and to check their scores once they become available.