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:
In our continuing ACT vs SAT series (if you’ve not been following you might want to click this link and check out the others), we break down the difference in pacing on the two tests. We’ll help you make sense of pacing and timing on the SAT versus the ACT. You’ve probably already read or heard that the ACT is a faster test than the SAT, and we’re here to give that a little more context and help you figure out what that means to you.
When people say “The ACT is a faster test” what they really mean is that the ACT overall allots less time per question.
After all talk is over and after all the pros and cons have been listed, the one and only difference you need to worry about is which test you do better on!
No matter what the group statistics imply, no matter what your friends have done, no matter who was admitted with which scores last year, all that matters is which test provides you the best opportunity to demonstrate to colleges your ability to do well at their school.
In recent years, students have increasingly faced the challenge of deciding which college admission tests to take. They are receiving conflicting, vague, or incorrect advice from counselors, parents, blogs, internet experts, admission officers, concerned citizens, and busybodies of all varieties. Instead of solving the problem and making the decision easier, this information overload can often increase the confusion. To help you make a decision (and hopefully not just add to the noise), we’ve started this “ACT vs. SAT” series, which will provide specific points points of comparison and clear (hopefully) unbiased information that will help you create your ACT vs. SAT scorecard. To kick things off, we’ll dispel a few of the most egregious myths we’ve heard in the ACT/SAT discussion.
5 Common Misconceptions
One of the first things you need to do when prepping for a test is learn the lingo. SAT Math is prone to using vocabulary that you’ve probably not seen in a while – words like integer, factor, and multiple probably haven’t come up since you were in 7th grade. And even when you saw them in 7th grade, it probably wasn’t in the same context as how they are used on the SAT. So one of the best starting points for the SAT is to learn vocab, both the words common to Sentence Completion questions but also the words common to Math questions. The College Board QOTD on President’s day stumped 60% of the people who tried it and the only things tested are the understanding of a few math terms. Hopefully by the end of this post you’ll head over to the College Board site and be one of the 40%.
As we’ve stated before, the SAT is standardized, and what that often means is that the types of questions they ask and the type of information they expect you to know reappears over and over from test to test. Today’s question of the day, which a surprisingly small percentage of people got correct, is a great example of how the SAT loves to present Right Triangles. So before we send you off to the College Board’s site to give this question “the old college try,” let’s explore what you need to know about right triangles on the SAT.
Selecting a tutor is not unlike the process of choosing someone to date. It seems like there are thousands of options out there, but finding the right one be both difficult and overwhelming – not to mention a serious cash investment! We want to try to alleviate the stress a bit by providing you with a basic list of questions to ask of a tutor before making the final (and hopefully great) decision:
1. What is your experience with this particular test?
With experience comes an increasing amount of knowledge about not only how to do each question but more importantly how to effectively teach the test to students of different skill levels, backgrounds, and learning styles. Generally, the more experienced the tutor, the more likely you are to get a carefully crafted study plan that will allow you to reach your goals. Tutoring college-level Calculus for years does not automatically qualify someone as to be a stellar SAT or ACT tutor. These tests, particularly the SAT, are filled with similar “tricks” year in and year out that experienced test prep teachers will be familiar with and have the ability to explain to students.
The question I am asked the most often after revealing that I’m a professional standardized test tutor is, “How should I study for Test X?” The reply is always invariably a petition for more information such as the materials being used, past testing history, study habits, and anticipated testing schedule, all of which is just a baseline amount of information that I would then use to offer the most basic and topical plan of action. The reason for such a skeletal plan is because of a very simple reason: every student’s needs are different and if I haven’t spent any time observing a student’s habits and logical process then I can’t say what he or she needs. The effectiveness of tutoring lies in the customization and personalized guidance. A large part of a tutor’s job is identifying where in the process of answering a question, between reading it to choosing the correct answer, is there a disconnect. The tutor then formulates a way for that particular student to most effectively bridge that gap. With that said, here are three of the most common issues many of my students face across different tests have.
1. Lacking the fundamental knowledge base that is being tested.
2. Having difficulty recognizing the topics being tested by the questions.
3. Executing a strategy for specific question types consistently.
The first issue is usually the easiest to diagnose. This issue is most notable with math questions but can manifest with verbal questions (albeit less alarmingly and thus usually more ignored, unfortunately). My opinion on this issue, shared by the pedagogy of Bell Curves, is that regardless of how much test-taking savvy you have, if you don’t know the base content (e.g. geometry formulas, grammar rules, argument structure, etc.) there is absolutely no way to consistently answer questions correctly. The solution is pretty straightforward – study the material until you understand the rules and their applications.