All high school students dread the SAT/ACT. Their college applications depend on the scores and they have to study for them. Often, there are rumors that colleges like the University of California will no longer require the score.
What parents and children don’t understand is that if your child is very bright, goes to a competitive high school, and perhaps is not good about doing homework, STANDARDIZED TESTS are an ADVANTAGE to them. It helps show colleges that they are bright, they can learn, and that they are brighter than what their grades may demonstrate.
The problem with grades is that grades fluctuate wildly between different high schools and even between different teachers within the same high school. An “A” in Pre-Calculus at one school may not be as rigorous or prepare the child for Calculus AB as much as a “C-” at a more competitive school. Everyone has had the “hard” teacher or the “easy” teacher and what students learn in each of those classes may be wildly different.
Having no SAT or ACT benefits students who go to an “easy” school, with very low standards. It does not benefit students who go to a “good” school with tough academic rigor.
So: Now that we have established that the SAT and ACT level the playing field for bright kids, why choose one test over another? What is the difference between the two?
The ACT rewards quickness (it is a timed sprint from beginning to end) while the SAT requires more depth of thought in the reading sections. Colleges don’t care about which one you submit and the number one thing they look at is the Composite Score.
SAT math and reading questions can seem more confusing.
ACT questions are more straightforward, but require you to read and answer quickly.
SAT is 60% Algebra, about 30% Geometry and about 10% Trigonometry . It has a Math section allowing calculators and a section that doesn’t allow calculators.
ACT is 30% Algebra and about 65% Geometry. ACT allows calculator use on all sections.
ACT has a Science section which the SAT does not (the SAT has a “Sciencey” reading comprehension section in the English portion).
In the end 70-80% of kids score essentially the same on either test if you look at the concordance tables.
Many colleges “superscore” the SAT, but they do not superscore the ACT (yet).
So it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your child when choosing which test to prepare for. The SAT and ACT have become remarkably similar – so it may not matter – and have both become widely accepted at most colleges.
Hope this clarifies things! Ask me if you want to know more about the SAT or ACT.
Interesting and informative Elaine. Thank you. So if my kid isn’t very adept at math, hat would you suggest to help her become more familiar and quicker to do the problems? Repetition repetition repetition? Should I enroll her in one of those summer intensive SAT prep courses?
Before I spent thousands of dollars at an SAT prep course, I would see what her difficulty is. Most kids have issues with a basic, fundamental concept – something I like to call a “hole”. Once that “hole” is filled, their understanding becomes more complete and they are able to do the problems more quickly. Some repetition is necessary (it allows for an improvement in speed and accuracy) but I wouldn’t “drill and kill”. Give her a practice test and then go over the questions she got wrong. No SAT prep course is a magic bullet to getting a good score. What a prep course DOES do, is that it forces the child to actually study – some accountability (must finish 20 Geometry problems by Saturday!). If he/she is not disciplined, then it will help. If he/she IS disciplined, I would find out what the actual issue is.