Prepping for a standardized test can be a lot easier when you understand the nuts and bolts of the exam. But, how to decide whether your child should be taking the SAT or the ACT? While there is no magic formula that can guarantee which test your child will score higher on, there are distinct nuances of each test that set them apart from one another. Knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses can help make a determination.
In a recent Facebook Live session, “How to Prep For the ACT,” we explored this predicament with expert tutor Loren Dunn, of Noodle Pros, and discovered that only by having them take a practice test of each one can you come to that determination. If the scores of the two practice tests differ greatly, it makes sense that the one your child scored higher on will be the one he or she will continue to prepare for. If there is no measurable difference in scores (Loren did state that the tests are more similar than dissimilar), the decision can come down to something as basic as preference.
Really, what DOES differentiate the ACT from the SAT?
Historically, the ACT was harder because you were asked to do more in less time. For those students who have issues with time management, the SAT might be a better fit.
Doesn’t the ACT have a Science portion?
Yes, it does. But as Loren pointed out, the Science section is primarily about reading charts and graphs, and interpreting data. There is very little actual Science content (as there would be on a SAT subject test) and what there is is very general. (“No memorizing of the Periodic Table.”)
Are there Math tips for the ACT?
Loren admits that the Math on the ACT has definitely gotten more difficult and suggests you eliminate mistakes by writing down your math. He also offers this advice…
Geometry – definitely needs to be reviewed because it’s been a while since a high school Junior has even thought about Geometry. He recommends keeping a few equations (circles equations, Pythagorean triples, and quadratic equations) in your “back pocket.”
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Any Vocabulary tips for the ACT?
Loren believes that becoming adept at vocabulary is something that has real value for students beyond the tests themselves. (Really, when will we need to remember quadratic equations ever again?) Vocabulary building, learning two or more new words a day, can be started as early as 9th grade with the use of flash cards. While the ACT does not contain a lot of questions explicitly about difficult/rare vocabulary words, it does focus on common words that have multiple meanings. Building a vocabulary can help a student avoid hitting a limit in the Reading Comprehension section.
Got any general tips?
Once you’ve read something 3x and are still having problems with it, leave it, create some distance between you and the question, and come back to it later. Loren believes that once a question is misread, we are wired to misread it again and again. A little distance will help you see the error later.
Keep in mind that the more difficult questions appear earlier in the test than they had been in the past. Plan to go through the test twice: First tackle all the easy questions, and then backtrack.
Using a watch to pace yourself can be helpful, but don’t use it for the first time on test day. Trying it out beforehand can help you determine whether it will be a benefit or a distraction.
Taking the test is not only a mentally exhausting activity, but a physically exhausting activity as well. Eat right…take breaks…calm down.
Can test prep really help?
Of course! But focus on incremental increases. Take a practice test once a month, and more often as it gets closer to the actual test time. A major benefit of the ACT is that there are many more actual tests available (approximately 40) to practice on than SAT practice exams, and these reflect the reality of the tests more consistently.
It IS possible to “over prep.” Parents should know when students have been over-saturated, and pay attention to them when they say they are “done.” Plan to take the test in the spring of Junior year and come back and take it again in the fall of Senior year. Students who are not too overwhelmed could take a stab at it in the fall of Junior year, and competitive athletes will need to work around their sports seasons. Conveying to your student that these tests are important, but not the beginning and end of their lives, will go a long way.
Watch the Facebook Live here.