ACT vs SAT: Changing the Game to Be Even More Complicated

In the Red Queen’s Race that is the the college admissions test market, the ACT has made its counter push to the SAT’s latest sprint. The ACT has announced a revision to the essay and the introduction of a new scoring rubric. The changes are scheduled to be rolled out some time in 2015.

The ACT essay, which had until now has consisted of a topic concerning high school life, will now have students “evaluate multiple perspectives on a complex issue and generate their own analysis based on reasoning, knowledge and experience.” Test takers will be expected to provide analysis from more than just their perspective on a specific topic. Further details about the nature of the new essay are scant, but it will still be optional and the time limit may be extended from the current 30 minutes.

The New SAT Part II: Reading is Fun and Mental

This is the second part of a series on the new version of the SAT. College Board will roll out more changes over the next 18 months as we await confirmation on the final form of the exam. It’s worth noting that these changes will affect test takers in 2016, but anyone planning to take the exam before that will be under the old system (search our blog for informative posts about that exam. We have some good stuff.  Did you miss the first installment? Check it out here)

Today’s post was brought to you by one of our lead teachers, John Mahone.


 

With the old SAT, the Reading part of the test consisted of Reading Comprehension, passages on various subjects with questions about theme, vocabulary, and other verbal concepts, and Sentence Completion, which required students to fill in the blank or blanks of sentences with the correct vocabulary words or words. On the current SAT, the Writing section of the test consists of one essay written from a specific prompt, and Improving Sentences, which ask students to read sentences and paragraphs, find the error, or identify the ways in which the sentences can be improved. The new exam will shift things around, as there will be a Reading Section, Writing and Language, Math, and an optional essay.

Let’s take a look at what’s new on “The Reading Test.”

The New SAT Part 1: An Overview

This is the first part of a series on the new SAT that will be doled out over the next 18 months as we await more information on the final form of the exam.  It’s worth noting that these changes will affect test takers in 2016, but anyone planning to take the exam before that will be under the old system (search our blog for informative posts about that exam.  We have some goods stuff.)

Today’s post was brought to you by one of our lead teachers, John Mahone. Without further ado, here’s some of what’s coming and what we’ve concluded. 

 

Following up on last month’s event, during which the College Board, amongst horse-drawn carriages and blaring bugles, expanded on the details for the coming changes to the SAT, which will be rolled out in 2016. On April 16th, College Board quietly dropped 208 pages of unanswered questions and teasers on the internet and the world. The first quarter of the tome lays out The College Board’s reasoning for changing the test (somehow without mentioning the words “market share”) and strategy on how to do so (somehow without saying “we copied the ACT.”) But let’s get to the useful stuff.

College Board Delivering Opportunity: Winners and Losers

Today the College Board, with all due fanfare and a corresponding webcast watched by thousands, announced upcoming changes to the SAT, which will go into effect with the October 2015 PSAT and then the Spring 2016 SAT. During this hour long speech, not only did College Board president, David Coleman, announce changes to the SAT but he set the tone once again for the direction he is planning on taking the global multi-million dollar non-profit organization.

 

Since you can read in articles and newspapers across the internet the specifics of the announced changes to the SAT (a bunch of links are at the bottom), I thought instead to give you the benefit of my perspective on the impact of the changes by pointing out the winners and losers of the day (as I see it based on the information currently at hand which is admittedly incomplete).

First, let’s look at today’s winners:

January SAT: Veronica’s Tale

Today's post is brought to you by one of our SAT teachers who recently took the SAT. We periodically send our teachers into the actual test to make sure we have the most current info on the test, the proctoring, and the experience so we can share that with those we're helping to prepare for it. While all of our teachers have taken the SAT in high school and have done many practice tests either at home or proctored in our office, the experience of going to a testing center always reminds us of what students actually go through. - Editor


BACKGROUND: Trust me, you won’t remember anything!
In the past, I’ve been embarrassed a few times by students who ask me about my own SAT scores and how I studied. The truth is that I don’t remember studying at all. I procrastinated opening my ten-dollar Barron’s book until the week before the test, and then I decided to register for a later administration instead of cramming in just a few days. I wouldn’t have taken it that day at all if my mother hadn’t insisted that it would be good practice. But I got lucky: when my scores came back, I discovered that I had surpassed my goal and didn’t need to test again. I suppose I should’ve done it anyway, just to try to improve, but at seventeen, I didn’t think that way. Needless to say, this isn’t a strategy I like to encourage, so I’ve tried to keep that story to myself. But perhaps because I wasn’t all that nervous, I find that I don’t remember the day of the SAT very well, even though it was only seven years ago. All I can recall is the vague feeling that it wasn’t as bad as it was hyped up to be, and also that Stuyvesant (where I took it) was way too big. Despite almost two years of teaching the test, as I was stuffing a graphing calculator and a few blunt pencils into my purse at the ungodly hour of 7am this Saturday, I found myself unsure what to expect.
THE TEST
I registered to take the test at Washington Irving High School, because I grew up near it but had never been inside. Once I got there, I found myself, yet again, surrounded by kids who were way more nervous than I was. I had made a fairly transparent attempt to go incognito under a baseball cap and a sweatshirt, but I don’t think the kids around me would have noticed if I were dressed like the Grim Reaper. They just sat in their seats, facing forward and sweating profusely, until the moment came to bubble our names in. Security was tougher than I remembered, even at Washington Irving, which a student had told me was the most relaxed testing center. We weren’t allowed to chew gum, drink water, or eat snacks in the classroom, even during the breaks, and we had to carry our printed photo-tickets and government-issued IDs with us everywhere, even to the bathroom. A kid next to me had a simple, dollar-store-type calculator on his desk with the cover on top, and he was asked to put it under his chair during a reading section, which I thought was a little unnecessary. The main conclusion I took away from the test was that this testing is harder on the kids than we like to admit. The students around me all looked on the verge of tears and were visibly pale by the end of it. And the addition of an experimental section (a section of the SAT that the college board uses to develop future tests — one which will not be added to your score, but which is also not identified on the test) is just cruel. On my test, it took the form of a math section with material I’d only seen on 1 of the many released test I’ve seen (some kind of polynomial function thing); for other kids, I found out later, it was a series of reading comprehension questions which referred to earlier questions rather than to the passage itself [Editor's note: This is as yet unverified.]. The slog of the four-hour test is bad enough without the additional shock of being tested in unexpected ways on unexpected material, in my view, and anyway, just knowing that one section was experimental makes you sort of paranoid.
On the whole, though, the taking the test was easier than I remembered [Editor's note: let's not forget that the writer has been teaching the SAT for a couple of years], which I found reassuring; the questions seemed clear and direct, for the most part, and the reading passages were engaging. Some observations from the test:
  • No matter how many hours-long written or oral exams you’ve taken in college, there is something uniquely tough about the length of the SAT. I think it has to do with the fact that you’re switching subjects and have such measly breaks.
  • Students didn’t eat enough. I was the only one who ate anything at all during the breaks (thanks for the granola bars, mom!) and, more alarmingly, the only one who brought and drank water. Lots of kids did use the toilets, which you pretty much had to run to because they were so far from the classroom we tested in. Based on my experience, I’d advise peeing before the test and rehydrating during it, not the other way around.
  • I was impressed by the alertness of the students. Nobody even seemed sleepy. I fear for when this tireless generation enters the job market. It is surprisingly easy to mis-bubble. I actually caught myself doing it three times (!) — two of them only because I was checking my work. Check your work, everyone!
  • The room I tested in was freezing at first, but slowly shifted to 78-and-humid in the course of the test. I always advise students to wear layers to the test, so that they can adjust for any unexpected indoor weather, and I’ve never been more glad that I followed my own advice. By the end of the exam I was in a tee shirt, regretting my woolen long underwear.
  • The general impression I had was that the students’ nervousness was a serious handicap to them. They all seemed jumpy and unhappy, and I can’t imagine producing a calm, logical essay if you felt the way they looked. Timed practice tests and going over old exams should make the test less intimidating, and being prepared to take the test more than once also helps reduce the pressure.
In conclusion, my advice for students taking the March or May tests:
- Plug in wherever you can. As always there were tons of questions where plugging in cut your work in half.
- For the essay,
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it helps to use the test booklet as scrap paper.

- If you have extra time, check your work, check your work, CHECK YOUR WORK! I must have saved myself a hundred points by re-checking, and I’m usually very neat. Something about the long-distance aspect of the test makes you sloppy.
- Also periodically check that you’re bubbling in the right section or column.
- Come wearing layers and bring light snacks and a lot of water.
- Be sure to bring extra batteries for your calculator, a pencil sharpener, and at least two pencils.
- When taking practice tests at home, don’t skip the essay! No matter how great a writer you are, producing a structured, logical essay in 25 minutes is a unique skill that takes practice.
- Relax, get in the zone, and try to enjoy it, no matter how stressed the other students seem. Calm minds make better decisions!
Good luck!

ACT vs SAT – A Tale of Two Essays

One of the questions we get asked a lot as teachers and tutors is “What’s the deal with the essay, anyway?” Interestingly, this question is asked by both SAT students and ACT students. Let me break it down for ya, fellas…

 

 

First the ACT and SAT prompts are very different. The ACT presents topics that students can easily relate to and have some familiarity with. The ACT topics are often about school or education. The SAT, on the other hand, presents prompts that are a bit more esoteric, obscure and arcane (see what I did there? ). Here are samples of each:

October 2013 SAT: Heretics Derisively Satirize Erudition

Another great word cloud with another great list of SAT words:

SAT Subject Tests: Which Tests To Take And When

Since most colleges don’t require SAT Subject Tests (click here for our post on which colleges require the tests), most students will not need to take them. However, if you’re one of the lucky few students applying to one of the 160 colleges in the United States that require or recommend the tests, you’ll need to take them.

Which SAT Subject Tests Should You Take?
For most students, the answer to which Subject Tests to take is “the ones that you’ll do the best on.” Most colleges that require or recommend Subject Tests do not require or recommend a specific test. Instead, they require a particular number of tests (either 2 or 3) and leave the rest of the

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decision-making to the student.

Guest Blog from Direct Hits: Surviving the Infamous Jr. Year

Our friends at Direct Hits recently published this advice for making the most of your Junior year and we thought we should share it with you. Also if you’re getting ready for the SAT or PSAT you should pick up their books which has a great list of words that commonly appear on the SAT.

For those of you who are juniors, the HALCYON days of summer have come to an end and the dreaded year has begun. While you may be feeling DISCOMFITED or even TIMOROUS about the upcoming year, let us DISPEL the PERVASIVE rumors that junior year is necessarily going to be the BANE of your existence, presenting only INSURMOUNTABLE challenges. Although 11th grade can be stressful, you can DEVISE and IMPLEMENT a FEASIBLE plan to THWART the customary headaches of junior year.

SAT Subject Tests: What Are They and Should You Take Them?

One question we’re often asked when we present at high schools, college fairs, or parent meetings is “What are SAT Subject Tests and should I

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take them?” Well, keep reading and by the end of this you should have as clear an answer as it’s possible to give.

What are SAT Subject Tests?
SAT Subject Tests are one hour exams on a variety of topics. They provide colleges a more detailed insight into your academic skills in a particular subject area than the SAT does. Many parents may remember hearing about or taking the Achievement Tests (if you graduated high school in the 80s or 90s) or the SAT IIs (in the first half of the 00s). Well, “SAT Subject Tests” is simply the latest name for those same exams.

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