Students planning to attend college are under immense pressure to perform well on standardized tests and obtain the scores that their selected colleges require in the areas of reading, math, writing and - in the case of the ACT - science.
Unfortunately, there are no magic formulas or easy solutions to help students to attain their desired scores. However, there are numerous steps that parents and students can take to prepare for the exams and reduce everyone's stress levels:
Understand How the SAT and ACT Differ
While the SAT and ACT test much of the same material required for college entry, they use different methods to do so. It is vital before taking either test that students understand how each test is scored and organized. This will allow them to maximize their academic strengths and develop an effective strategy for completing the tests on time.
The SAT tests students in three areas: reading, writing and mathematics. The writing test includes one essay section and two multiple choice questions. There are also three reading sections and three math sections that are scattered throughout the test. No individual section is longer than 25 minutes in length.
The maximum score that a student can attain is 800 points per section or 2,400 points for the entire exam.
Colleges typically list their minimum requirements by section on their websites. It's a good idea for students and parents to know the minimum scores they need for acceptance to their schools of choice.
Since the writing section of the SAT is a relatively new section (added in the spring of 2005), not every college or university counts it. Students and parents should do their homework and find out whether or not the colleges they are planning to attend count the writing section as part of their admissions requirement.
The greatest strategic choice a student can make when taking the SAT involves skipping questions. This is the reason why high school test-taking methods are not always effective in taking the SAT. Many students are taught to answer every question in high school, but this is not the best strategy for success on the SAT. Students are penalized .25 of a point for wrong answers on the SAT. Thus, a student can actually receive a higher score on the SAT by not answering difficult questions.
The ACT is a four- or five-section test that includes grammar, reading comprehension, mathematics, science and an optional essay. Unlike the SAT, the ACT tests one complete subject section at a time so students don't have to shift back and forth between subjects.
Sections range in length from 30 minutes (essay) to 60 minutes (math). Students who have trouble staying focused for more than 25 minutes in one subject area may want to take the SAT instead.
The maximum score on each section of the ACT is 36. The scores are added up and divided by four to determine an overall score.
One key difference between the SAT and ACT is that students are not penalized for wrong answers on the ACT. Students are encouraged to fill in every answer choice, even if it is a guess, when they are taking the ACT.
As with the SAT, it is advisable for parents and students to check each college's admissions requirements for the minimum score accepted. Since some colleges don't count the writing section of the ACT, students may or may not need to take the option essay section.
It is becoming more common for students to take both the SAT and ACT because colleges will simply take the highest score of either test.
Approximately 90 percent of the basic mathematical, reading and grammatical principles can be learned from test preparation companies or test preparation books available at local bookstores.
Many companies offer tutorial services to help students perform well on these tests. Fees can range from reasonable to more than $100 per hour for some test preparation courses. Shopping around is always a good idea.
Of course, the most effective method of preparing for either test is practice. The PSAT, a shorter version of the SAT that students can take in the 10th grade, is a good gauge to predict how a student will score on the full exam. Before deciding to enroll a student with a test preparation company, it is advisable to have the student take a practice SAT or ACT test. These are available in most test preparation books. Some test preparation services also offer free practice tests.
College entrance exams are a fact of life, and good scores on these tests can open doors for students, as well as provide them with additional scholarship money. Colleges also use these scores to determine which courses incoming freshmen must take.
With so much riding on these tests, preparation is critical for any student who hopes to attend college.