Standardized tests enable admissions officers, whether at private middle/high schools or universities, to differentiate between two applicants who might otherwise seem academically identical. But let’s be honest — we all know that an “A” at one school isn’t always the same as an “A” at another. Standardized tests are meant to level the playing field and help colleges determine how challenging and thorough your school’s curriculum is, all while measuring your basic skill sets.
Unfortunately, because many students believe that good grades beget good standardized test scores (and vice versa), they fail to prepare for these tests. The fact is, GPA isn’t a reliable predictor because these tests don’t just test how much you know, but how well you take tests.
In the college admissions process, four hours of testing carries as much weight as four years of extracurricular activities.
Learning to navigate the standard tricks and traps, utilize strategies to help narrow down answers, and make the clock work for instead of against you can mean the difference between your top choice and a safety school. Contact us today to discover how!
- Which test should I take — the SAT or ACT?
- How much will my SAT or ACT score improve?
- When should I start test prep?
- How many sessions will I need?
Which test should I take — the SAT or ACT?
The most common strategic error high school students make: jumping into the SAT without considering the ACT. Both are accepted by all universities and respected equally, and with the redesigned SAT on the market, the ACT is actually the only known entity for Admissions Officers. In the past, the SAT was a better exam for students who struggled with pacing but excelled at thinking outside the box. The new version, however, is eerily reminiscent of the ACT’s format and question type — the most noticeable difference is that the new SAT’s Math section is far more challenging and tests students on higher level math. Since the ACT is a proven, trusted exam and the redesigned SAT is a tougher newcomer with a greater margin of uncertainty, it seems wise for most students to focus on the ACT.
It’s worth pointing out that, historically, College Board has been more liberal with accommodations, so if you are seeking extended time, you are perhaps more likely to have it granted for the SAT. For more information, please visit our Extended Time page.
NOTE: We do NOT recommend taking the exams that some companies and schools offer that are half ACT, half SAT, and basing your decision on which section you scored highest. If you got distracted on one section — or struggled on a single passage — your score would be skewed. Additionally, how would you possibly do well on a section you’ve never seen before (the ACT Science section, for instance) if you have no clue what it’s testing or how to approach it? These blind tests (which you take without any introduction to the material) are NOT good gauges of which you’ll do better on after learning some fundamental facts/strategies for each.
We will work together to determine which exam is best for your particular skill set. Do you excel at thinking outside the box? Are time limitations a problem for you? For those students who don’t know which exam they want to pursue, we offer a summer program that is an efficient, cost-effective way to truly determine which test is the best fit. We encourage you to visit our High School Summer Programs page to learn more about what the program offers, how it works, et cetera.
How much will my SAT or ACT score improve?
While all students obviously start from different points, the average SAT score increase for our students in the Class of 2016 was 320 points, and for the ACT, 4 points. Subject test improvement varied by subject.
When should I start test prep?
Many students begin prepping for the SAT/ACT as early as the summer before their junior year, while others put it off until fall of their senior year. Whether you fall in the first or last group (or somewhere in between), the important thing is that you wait until you have taken the necessary high school courses (particularly math) and leave yourself enough time to take the exam more than once.
Athletes on the recruitment path typically need to start preparing at the end of sophomore year or very beginning of junior year in order to have scores to share with coaches — but this does depend on the sport and division, as the recruitment timeline can vary.
From our experience, though, for the average high schooler, the optimal time for test prep is spring of Junior year; you’ve likely learned everything you need to know by this point, and you don’t have to balance college essays and applications, like you would in the fall of senior year. Our goal is for students to start preparing in January and wrap up their final test date (we encourage taking it 2-3 times) by June so you’re completely done by the time summer begins.
Based on your performance in school, extracurricular commitments, and college goals, we will determine the right time for you!
How many sessions will I need?
The answer to this, of course, depends entirely on what you hope to accomplish. Some students only want a few sessions to review the broad strokes of the SAT/ACT, while others set weekly or bi-weekly sessions that span several months to cover specific problem types and increase their scores as much as possible. Still others are looking for assistance preparing for Subject Tests and AP exams, as well. Based on the number of exams you are preparing for and the score improvement you are seeking, we will sit down and come up with a plan that fits your goals.