(Part of the “Learning With Loudoun Test Prep” series)
Consider the dreaded college entrance test. Each year, millions of high school students attempt to navigate the intricacies of this well-known standardized test that can literally determine futures. Figuring out when, where and how many times to take it can be as challenging as the actual four-hour exam.
An additional conundrum faces many: Which test is best to take: the SAT or the ACT? Such confusion abounds because rules and requirements change periodically as colleges and universities process hundreds of thousands of student applications annually — all containing the all-important test scores.
Here, from the experts at Loudoun Test Prep, a quick update on the current state of SAT and ACT:
Question: What is the difference between the SAT and the ACT?
Answer: The SAT is more of an aptitude test containing math sections and verbal sections only; the ACT is more of an achievement test that also evaluates math and verbal skills but contains an additional science section.
SAT questions are a bit “trickier” and sometimes more complex than ACT questions, which tend to be more straightforward. On the ACT, however, there are more questions to answer in the given time, i.e. 60 math questions in 60 min. On the SAT, there are 54 math questions in 70 minutes.
Q: What kind of math is tested and what is included in the verbal sections?
A: Both the SAT and ACT include math up to Algebra II and Geometry. The ACT includes some math not found on the SAT (matrices, logarithms, trigonometry).
The SAT verbal portion tests vocabulary and reading comprehension for the Reading score, grammar and sentence construction for the Writing score and a separate essay is required. The ACT also contains reading comprehension and grammar questions but offers an optional essay and eliminates the vocabulary portion. The ACT science section requires extrapolation and application of data from graphs and charts.
Q: What is the scoring used on these tests?
A: A perfect SAT score is 2400 (800 is the maximum for each of the three sections: Math, Reading and Writing). A perfect ACT score is 36 for each of the sections (Math, Science, Verbal).
For the SAT, scores in the range of 1850-2000 are considered very good; scores over 2000 are considered a must for top-tier universities. For the ACT, scores in the range of 28-30 are considered very good; 31 and higher is required for many top universities, although the range can change depending on average scores for the schools to which you are applying.
Q: What colleges/universities take which test?
A: Although East Coast and southern schools once preferred the SAT and Midwestern and West Coast schools requested only the ACT, most schools nationwide now accept either or both tests. University websites usually specify.
Q: Do the tests cost money and do I need to reserve a spot?
A: Each test requires prior registration and a fee. Go to satcollegeboard.org for SAT signup and dates; for ACT, go to actstudent.org.
Q: What is a Q&A service and do I need to order it?
A: Yes, do order the Q&A service which provides helpful feedback after a student takes the test. It is a more comprehensive breakdown of student’s scores and answers. When registering for the SAT, remember to elect the Question and Answer service (for certain test dates) http://sat.collegeboard.org/scores/verify-sat-scores. About a month after you receive your scores, College Board will send you a copy of the test you took, along with your answers and the correct answers.
For the ACT, the service is called “Test Information Release” and only available for certain test dates. http://www.actstudent.org/scores/release.html.
Q: How many times each year are tests offered?
A: Both tests are offered on a variable schedule during most months of the school year. Neither is offered in the summer. Schedules are posted on the individual websites:(http://sat.collegeboard.org or http://www.actstudent.org); high school guidance counselors also should be able to provide this information.
Q: Once I decide on a test, how many times should I take it?
A: There is no limit, but most students take each test multiple times. Many Northern Virginia students take the SAT three times and the ACT once or twice.
Q: Is it better to get these tests completely finished during the junior year of high school or is better to start during junior year and finish in senior year?
A: The answer to this question depends on many factors, including personal preference and convenience, the student’s GPA, academic acumen and timing in terms of applying for early or regular admission. Many students prefer to take all the tests during junior year so that they are ready for early admission at the beginning of the senior year. Others choose to start in junior year and finish in the fall of senior year to benefit from junior year classes in math, science and English.
For math, it is preferable to take the SAT/ACT after completing Algebra II. For the verbal sections, higher level English skills and familiarity with advanced literature is a plus.
Q: Is there an optimum time during the school year to take these tests?
A: Mostly, it is a matter of individual preference, schedules and need but, in general, October is a great time for seniors who need one more test try before sending in early admission college applications. Months to avoid include: January (test dates often conflict with midterm exams), May (AP exams), and June (year-end projects and finals).
Q: What is a super score?
A: Sometimes referred to as “cherry picking,” this is the top score taken from each section of a test taken multiple times and added together to form a superlative score. For example, if a student takes the SAT three times and receives three different scores for Reading – a 520, a 580 and a 540 – the 580 would be the one chosen and added to the top Math and Writing scores to create a higher composite score.
Q: Do all colleges and universities allow super scoring?
A: No, not all. Several Virginia schools — and many other high-ranking and Ivy League schools — require the best scores from a single testing session. Visit individual school websites for specific requirements and details.
*For additional help, contact Loudoun Test Prep at https://www.loudountestprep.com/contact-us/ for more information about the college test prep experience.