Category Archives: Frequently Asked Questions

Questions that most students and parents are asking.

When is the best time to take the SAT or ACT?

When is the best time to take the SAT or ACT?

Do not believe any rumors that one SAT month is easier than another.  All SAT questions have already been given to students on experimental sections of previous tests.  The College Board is thus the first to know, empirically, if any of their questions are a little harder than what is typical.  All SATs go through a process of equating in order to make sure that scores are scaled according to any minor differences in difficulty.  See “Then we equate them”:

With this in mind, the tests are given all year round, so the ball is in your court.  The important SAT dates to remember this winter and spring, 2015, are January 24, March 14, May 2 and June 6.  For the ACT the crucial dates coming up are April 18th and June 13th.  Almost all colleges “superscore” the SAT, which means they only consider a student’s best scores from each individual section.  In order to take advantage of this and the repetitive nature of the test you should make sure that you fit in at least 2 SATs.  Even a third could prove to add a significant boast to your superscore, especially if you are willing to keep practicing.  Personally, each one of my 7 recent attempts at the SAT was better than the last, except for 1.  I think a similar logic applies to the ACT, although colleges do not typically superscore the ACT.

Many students take the SAT in May and June and then again in October if need be.  The advantage here is that these kids have had the maximum amount of time in order to prepare, including the full junior year of school, which does help, and possibly the summer going into senior year.  However, if you are going to also be taking SAT Subject tests you had better get an earlier start because these fall on the exact same dates and time as the regular SAT.  Also if you are going to need your time in May and June to study for APs or regents you also had better get an earlier start.  Other students are not excited about the prospect of SAT work lingering over the summer.  I would highly advise them to get started in January or March, because a summer full of boogie boarding is not likely to help them catch a subject-verb agreement problem come October.

Another element to consider is that the October, January and May SATs are sent back to students upon request for an additional 18$.  This could be a great tool in helping students to identify some common mistakes they are making.

If you are still thinking incessantly about when to try the first test, I say sooner rather than later won’t hurt.  Go get em tiger.



Is the ACT easier than the SAT?

Students and parents are often interested to hear whether or not the ACT would be a viable alternative to the SAT.  Rumor has it that the ACT is more aligned to the high school curriculum and is more straightforward.  The truth is that both tests are more similar than different in what they test and how; however, the ACT puts more emphasis on speed and focus, while the SAT is more about critical thinking.  From even a quick look at an ACT it becomes obvious that not only are there more questions, but they are also all tied to passages except for the Math.  Because the ACT so often ties questions to passages, the student must process and filter more information, and realize how pieces fit into a larger whole.  To compensate for this, the ACT test makers cannot make the individual questions quite as difficult as SAT questions can be.  As for the math, the ACT will occasionally test higher level concepts, such as logarithms and trigonometry.  The problems from such concepts are very simple if the student knows these areas of math cold, but if not, they are difficult to think through on the spot.  In contrast, even a tricky SAT math problem will rarely go beyond middle school mathematics.

Another significant difference is that the ACT has a Science section, and the SAT does not.  The ACT Science is more about filtering through data in charts and graphs than any real scientific reasoning or knowledge of science.  The addition of this section puts the Math on the ACT to a quarter of the composite score, whereas on the SAT, the Math can make up as much as half of the total score, if admissions is not counting the Writing score.

Because virtually all schools are accepting either the SAT or the ACT, it is wise to give both tests a try early on and decide, based on your scores, which is more apt to you.  Ultimately, students often score about the same on either test, so don’t let the decision give you too much anxiety.