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Despite all the SAT vs ACT pages, it remains one of the most FAQ. The short answer is if you like Superman better, go ACT. If you like Batman better, go SAT. Ok, I am (mostly) kidding. There is no short answer; you’ll need to do a little research. The table provides a quick overview. The text below it is for students who know the basic differences, but still feel unsure which will be better for them.

THE ACT THE SAT
English, Reading, Math and Science Writing, Reading and Math
Essay is optional * Essay is mandatory
No penalty for wrong answers 1/4 point penalty for wrong answers
Higher level math but straighforward More conceptual math
Passage types are in predictable order Passage types are not in a set order
Slightly higher time pressure Slightly lower time pressure
Fewer, longer sections Several shorter sections
Colleges may focus on composite score Colleges may focus on area scores

* – ACT essay is optional, however some specific schools do require it. You should go HERE find out if the colleges you are applying to require it BEFORE you take the ACT.

ACT – If you are especially good at math and science, and specifically weak in reading and writing, you may want to go for the ACT – you can excel at 2 out of 4 instead of 1 in 3. The ACT essay topics are often easier to write about, and more latitude is given to the student in how to respond to the prompt.

SAT – If you are especially good at reading and writing, and specifically weak in math you may want to go for the SAT – you can excel at 2 out of 3 instead of 2 in 4. The SAT essay topics are a little dry, and there are stricter guidelines for responding to the prompt.

The best possible way to be sure, though, is to go ahead and try taking a practice test for each one. Many schools offer practice tests. If your school doesn’t, you can find an online or downloadable test, or buy The Real ACT Prep Guide and The Official SAT Study Guide both of which contain actual previous tests. If your ACT score is higher, or the two are about the same but your lower ACT area scores are in things you feel sure you can improve in, go for the ACT. If your SAT score is higher, or the two are about the same but you aren’t sure how much you can improve in the weaker areas, go for the SAT.

Common statements you’ve probably seen that I disagree with:

  • “The SAT has much more vocabulary.” This seems true on the surface, because the SAT has sentence completion questions. But the ACT requires a strong vocabulary to perform well on the Reading, and even on some of the English and Science.

  • “The ACT Math is harder.” This also seems true on the surface, because it does go up to a higher level of math. However, the ACT math questions are more straightforward – SAT math questions are much more conceptual. On the ACT, you may well hit problems you don’t know what to do with – and you’ll probably know that. On the SAT, you are far more likely to think you have correct answers only to realise later you forgot to consider some element of the problem.

  • “Everyone who is good at science should take the ACT instead of the SAT”. Again, seems true on the surface. I know I keep saying that, but so many misconceptions become popular precisely because they are believable on their face. ACT science is not about remembering and using all the detailed equations, terms and processes you learned in your science classes. It is about applying logical, scientific thinking. You won’t need to remember the atomic weight of Ag, or what Ag stands for. If you did well in forensics, psychology or sociology and have a good sense of what goes into a solid experimental design and how to read data, you can do VERY well on the science section even if you didn’t do great in biology, chemistry or physics.

   So why are Superman and Batman in here? Superman is very strong, honest and direct. He also runs around saving the world. So I associate him with the ACT – it tests to a higher level, in a straightforward way, and covers more area. Batman, however, well… World’s Greatest Detective. He patrols a smaller area, but more than makes up for not being superhuman by using his intellect to think things through and make them work to his advantage. If you want something you can punch through, go ACT. If you want something you can out-think, go SAT.



  You’re worried about the essay on your upcoming SATs. Maybe you haven’t done well with class essays. Maybe you write great essays, but only when you have plenty of time to do them right. Maybe you’re worried about being able to come up with great examples, or using enough high level vocabulary words. I hope that I can reassure you that the SAT essay isn’t as big of a deal as you think it is.
 

   First and foremost, understand this. Your essay is not being judged primarily on what is great about it. It is being judged primarily on what is wrong with it. This is not the time to take risks trying to really wow anyone (save that for your college app essay!). This is the time to crank out a solid, well-structured essay and make sure you doublecheck for things like grammar errors and redundancy (if your essay prompt was about whether or not we need to be competitive to succeed, make sure you didn’t use the word competitive 18 times). And always keep in mind that the essay is only worth about 30% of your writing score – most of your score comes from the multiple choice. You *could* bomb the essay completely and still get an above average score on the writing overall if you did well on the MC questions.

   Commit to a position. You are going to want to waffle, because they ask questions where both sides have obvious merit and darnit, you want them to know you are smart enough to realise that! DON’T. It’s a trap. The assignment is to pick a side and defend it – just do it. You don’t even have to pick the side you agree with personally. If the other POV seems easier to write about quickly, do that.

   Using higher level vocab words is a good idea, but only use ones you are completely sure you are using correctly. If you feel uncertain, stick with a medium level word you feel more confident about. Ex: You’d like to use the word sanguine. You know it means something like confident, optimistic or comfortable. So you write “I felt sanguine the next day.” But sanguine isn’t generally used without referencing what you feel sanguine about. If you know that, make sure you apply it and write a sentence like “I felt sanguine about taking my SATs.” If you don’t, you are better off saying “I felt optimistic the next day”.

   Don’t get too stressed about coming up with 3 great supports (don’t get me wrong, if you can do it, go for it!). The college board has provided examples of essays in the 10-12 range that didn’t have 5 paragraphs and 3 supports. But there is a balance of quantity and quality – if you are going to use 2, make sure those 2 are the crown jewels of examples.

Is that all there is to it? Not by a long shot. This entry isn’t about all the wonderful things you can do to really master the SAT essay. But I do hope it has been enough to show you that you don’t need to panic ūüėČ

Sorry to be later than usual posting test dates, I had hoped to have a newer blog going by now! If you are planning to take the October SAT, you may want to register HERE as soon as possible since October is the most popular SAT test date.

If you are going to be a senior this fall, you really want that October date. Yes, November will still get you scores in time for most regular admission deadlines. But you will be much more relaxed during your senior year if you get it out of the way earlier and you don’t want to bet everything on November and risk some emergency interfering.

If you are going to be a junior this fall and are wisely looking to take your first SATs as a junior so you can either get them out of the way, or can focus more effectively on an impressive retake, I recommend registering for the March test date (the first date for the new SAT). Why not May you say? Even if an emergency interfered, I would still have June to fall back on. Well, I have known a lot of juniors to end up having urgent reasons why they couldn’t make their May test and then couldn’t make the June either. You’ll have finals coming up, AP exams, SAT subject tests, all kinds of sport and team seasons ending, emotional partings with graduating seniors, etc etc. Just knock out your first run at the test in March and get it out of the way.

2015-2016 SAT test dates:
October 3, 2015 (September 3 registration deadline) CURRENT VERSION
November 7, 2015 (October 5 registration deadline) CURRENT VERSION
December 5, 2015 (November 9 registration deadline) CURRENT VERSION
January 23, 2016 (December 28 registration deadline) CURRENT VERSION
March 5, 2016 (February 5 registration deadline) NEW VERSION
May 7, 2016 (April 8 registration deadline) NEW VERSION
June 4, 2016 (May 5 registration deadline) NEW VERSION

Learn more about the new version HERE from the College Board itself and HERE for my take on the changes.

2015-2016 ACT test dates:

September 12, 2015 (registration deadline passed)
October 24, 2015 (September 18 registration deadline)
December 12, 2015 (November 6 registration deadline)
February 6, 2016 (January 8 registration deadline) *
April 9, 2016 (March 4 registration deadline)
June 11, 2016 (May 6 registration deadline)

* The February ACT is not available in New York state.

The ACT is also implementing changes, though not as extensively as the SAT is. The official information is HERE and I hope to have a condensed “plain English” version out for you soon.

My original sources for the test date schedules are from the official SAT and ACT websites The rest of the information and advice is purely my own.

The recently released full length practice test for the fall 2015 PSAT is HERE

And the detailed answer key and guide is HERE

I strongly recommend that all freshmen, sophomores and juniors take the fall 2015 PSAT to get a head start on understanding what to expect from the new SAT which goes into effect spring 2016. If you are seeing this and thinking “What changes is she even talking about?!?”, please see THIS ENTRY about the upcoming changes the the PSAT/SAT.

 

There are two 2 SAT prep courses through Montgomery College starting in Spring 2015. We have had a lot of snow days, so there may be minor adjustments to the schedule.

Course 35727 is at Magruder HS from 3/10 – 4/23 T/R 5:00pm – 7:40pm
Course 35731 is at Seneca Valley HS from 4/21 – 5/28 T/R 5:00pm – 7:40pm

I will be teaching both parts (math and verbal) for both courses. You can register at Montgomery College’s website http://cms.montgomerycollege.edu/wdce/register/web.html or by these other methods http://cms.montgomerycollege.edu/wdce/registerops.html

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Group courses can be very useful, but if you have concerns about whether or not they are the right option for your student, please let me know and I will do my best to advise you.

There are two 2 SAT prep courses through Montgomery College starting in January 2015.

Course 35726 is at Northwest HS from 1/27 – 3/4 T/W 4:00pm – 6:40pm
Course 35725 is at Whitman HS from 1/27 – 3/5 T/R 5:00pm – 7:40pm

We will be teaching both parts (math and verbal) for the NW course and math only on Thursdays for the Whitman course (the verbal will be taught by one of MC’s other trainers on Tuesdays)

You can register at Montgomery College’s website http://cms.montgomerycollege.edu/wdce/register/web.html or by these other methods http://cms.montgomerycollege.edu/wdce/registerops.html

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Group courses can be very useful, but if you have concerns about whether or not they are the right option for your student, please let me know and I will do my best to advise you.

The College Board recently announced its 2014-2015 test dates and if you are planning to take the October SAT, you may want to register HERE as soon as possible since October is the most popular test date.

If you are going to be a senior this fall, you really want that October date. Yes, November will still get you scores in time for most early admission deadlines. But you need to consider two things – how much more relaxed you will be if you get it out of the way earlier in your senior year and how bad it will be if you bank everything on November and then some life event prevents you from taking that November test. Use your summer to prepare, take it in October and be done with it!

If you are going to be a junior this fall and are wisely looking to take your first SATs as a junior so you can either get them out of the way, or can focus more effectively on an impressive retake, I recommend registering for the January or March test dates. Why not May you say? Even if an emergency interfered, I would still have June to fall back on. Well, I have known a lot of juniors to end up having urgent reasons why they couldn’t make their May test and then couldn’t make the June either. You’ll have finals coming up, all kinds of sport and team seasons ending, emotional partings with graduating seniors, etc etc. Just knock out your first run at the test in January or March and get it out of the way.

2014-2015 SAT test dates:
October 11, 2014 (September 12 registration deadline)
November 8, 2014 (October 9 registration deadline)
December 6, 2014 (November 6 registration deadline)
January 24, 2015 (December 29 registration deadline)
March 14, 2015 (February 13 registration deadline)
May 2, 2015 (April 6 registration deadline)
June 6, 2015 (May 8 registration deadline)

2014-2015 ACT test dates:

September 13, 2014 (August 8 registration deadline)
October 25, 2014 (September 19 registration deadline)
December 13, 2014 (November 7 registration deadline)
February 7, 2015 (January 9 registration deadline) *
April 18, 2015 (March 13 registration deadline)
June 13, 2015 (May 8 registration deadline)

* The February ACT is not available in New York state.

My original sources for the test date schedules are from the official SAT and ACT websites, and there are very nice calendar formats HERE and HERE from the always helpful wordnerd.com. The rest of the information and advice is purely my own.

The college board officially announced its specific plans for the new SAT yesterday (LINK TO NEWS RELEASE). And now teachers, tutors, students and parents everywhere are rushing to try to piece together what it all means. Is this good news? Bad news? Why did they make such drastic changes and how will this affect me? I’ll do my best to explain the major elements of the changes and what they may mean for you.

The essay will be optional.¬†It will be on a prompt known in advance, but will now be based on support material that is provided (and that source material will vary from test to test). Students will no longer need to come up with supports on their own or develop a stance on the spot to an unknown prompt. This is supposed to better reflect college writing, but seems to require far less independent thinking and it *may* really be a way to simply make it easier to use autograders (automated systems for grading essays).¬†if that’s the case,¬†technical elements (grammar, sentence length, essay length) will become more important and things like creativity, persuasiveness and adapatability will become less important.

The sentence completions will be replaced with “word in context” questions.¬†This appears to be a response to concerns that the vocabulary being tested is just not useful beyond the SAT itself. Students will now be asked to select definitions based on words as they are used in the sentence, similar to some of the questions you see on the passage-based questions like “In context, ‘Shadowy’ (line 41) primarily serves to suggest something (gloomy, secret, sinister, concealed or unsubstantiated)” from p. 392 of the¬†Official SAT Study Guide. This will reduce the effectiveness of acquiring large amounts of vocabulary words and of any strategy based on studying prefixes, roots and suffixes.

The reading and writing will be combined into a single 200-800 score, which will be combined with math to return to a 400-1600 total score range. It is not clear yet whether that means half reading and half grammar or some other balance of the two. No matter how it gets split up, it would seem to diminish the value of those two from by saying that together they represent as much as the math does alone.

The penalty for wrong answers is being removed.¬†You now have no reason at all not to guess on everything. On the plus side, this will eliminate all the confusion involved when students hear different theories on when they should guess or omit a question. On the negative side, it removes what is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the test and one that can really help define an under-appreciated standard of college readiness – do you know your limits? It also makes the SAT more like the ACT (which is true of many of the changes). The SAT’s claim that neither test reflects school performance is quite rightly rejected by¬†Jon Erikson¬†of the ACT as inaccurate. The ACT does tend to reflect traditional school performance. The SAT does tend to help show abilities (or weaknesses) that may not have been obvious in school performance. It’s exactly that difference that makes me¬†not¬†want a more ACT-like SAT. The combination allowed a wider range of potentially capable students to find a way to show their best.

The math will cover less territory and part of it will have to be done without a calculator. I have thought for many years that the use of advanced calculators on the SAT (and even more so on the ACT) detracts from the assessment of actual math skills. My preference would have been to limit students to a basic dollar store level calculator, but no calculator would be preferable to continuing to allow access to one that can store and solve virtually anything they run across.

There will be some science and other data related questions.¬†This again makes it more like the ACT, though how similar it will be remains to be seen. I’ve always had a soft spot for the¬†ACT Science section¬†and wouldn’t object to seeing some of that incorporated into the SAT.

It will be possible to take it on a computer.¬†It isn’t clear yet how quickly or broadly this option will be available, or if it is intended to develop as an option or as eventually replacing ‘by hand’ with all students being required to do it on the computer even if they would prefer not to.

My overall impression is that most of the changes are really about lowering their own long-term costs, trying to combat the idea that tutoring makes a difference (which they spent decades firmly denying but now abruptly apparently are admitting does help), trying to combat score gaps that show us ugly truths about the problems with education in the U.S., and attempting to make themselves more like the ACT, which has been gaining popularity. I was all for an overhaul, but would have liked to see one that made the SAT itself even better. Students will first be able to test in the new format with the October 2015 PSAT/NMSQT and will be switched to the new format for the SAT as of 2016. They will not have the option to choose, though students in that time frame can (and in my opinion should) try to take one before the change and one after. For more information on the new test, you can check out the FAQ provided by the College Board. You can also check here or at the Gotham Blog for updates as more information comes in.

The Gaithersburg library at 18330 Montgomery Village Ave, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20879-3545 is finally open again! ūüėÄ

books

If you are interested in 1 on 1 tutoring at the Gaithersburg library, please send me a message through the FB page https://www.facebook.com/GothamTutoring for more information. I offer tutoring in the following areas:

SAT prep
ACT prep
GED prep without ESL assistance (if you need ESL, or GED with ESL we can recommend courses with someone else held at the same library or through Montgomery College)
ASVAB prep
GRE prep

Group courses are run by Montgomery College on many of our campuses and in some local high schools. You can always find out which group classes are available by checking the same facebook page.

Many guidance counselors and teachers push for as many AP courses as the student can possibly bear, and many parents happily back up this plan, believing that they are securing college admissions for their child. It’s important to understand why that can really hurt them.

When colleges look at your child’s application, they will look first at the unweighted gpa and SAT or ACT scores. That unweighted gpa/ test score combo needs to be in a range of interest to them before they will look at the rest of the details – so if the gpa has dropped too low as a result of taking too many incredibly hard classes, colleges will never see what the classes were and say “oh, well that’s ok then, they took very hard classes”. They will just move on to the next application. Any course a student gets a C in does more damage to their gpa than the class is worth. Colleges aren’t interested in knowing how many hard classes your child can take and scrape by in – they would rather see how many they can handle effectively while keeping their entire gpa, and the rest of their activities, in balance. Even if they look at the details of your child’s transcript, it still hurts them to have many AP classes and a less than notable gpa. They will assume one of two things is true – that your child is being madly pushed along by you and will collapse when trying to function independently at college, or that your child madly pushes themselves valuing class status over realism and will sign up for the hardest possible courses in college even if they cannot handle them. What they want is a student who is goal-oriented but has a realistic understanding of their abilities, limits and time restraints – a student who will be able to make consistent practical choices that allow for a smooth college experience and a timely graduation.

My general guideline is that they should not take more than 1 as a sophomore and not more than 2 as a junior, unless they are truly both naturally skilled and highly motivated in all the AP subjects they will be taking. Senior year APs are the most over-rated of all; colleges won’t have a final grade or an AP score while looking at an application, so it cannot possibly help with admissions. The ONLY reason to ever take a senior AP class is because you very realistically expect your child to earn college credit with the scores, without it taking up so much energy that other things slide, and they have such a great gpa that a small tumble won’t hurt them if the class gets rougher than anticipated.

Here are some warning signs to watch for. If the grade slips to a B in a math or science AP, or a C in any other AP, get your child whatever help they need to bring up the grade immediately. If they aren’t studying enough but are capable of doing the material, get involved and help make sure that studying happens consistently. If they are studying a lot and it isn’t enough, or have trouble with the material, get them a tutor. Four hours a week with a tutor may help them more than 16 hours of independent studying if they feel lost and it can free up some time for their other classes, activities and relaxation. If their grade is solidly in the A/B range but they feel nervous about the actual exam, get some released versions of their tests from the college board at this link https://store.collegeboard.org/sto/catalog.do?category=259&categoryName=AP%AE. Have them practice during winter break, and then again during spring break. Doing well on the actual test is essential – do not even send AP scores below a 3. Yes, even if they got an A in the class. As a parent you may think sending a low score is okay if it has a letter grade of A to go with it. From the college’s point of view though, an A and a 1 or a 2 means one of a few things – that your kid’s school hands out As like candy (which undermines their entire gpa) or that your kid’s school has very poorly equipped AP teachers (which makes their school look less impressive).

If you live in Maryland (or are considering colleges in Maryland) please feel free to contact me for more information on college admissions and requirements. You can also use this chart https://gothamtutoring.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/maryland-colleges-can-i-get-into-_____/ to get a good idea what gpa and test scores different MD colleges are looking for.

We’ve gotten a few messages from people who didn’t know there were no group classes again until spring. I can look into renting a room for a group class, but I would need to know if you prefer the Germantown or Rockville area for a location (the Gaithersburg library is still under construction). If we do not hear from at least 6 students for a location, we won’t be able to rent it.

You can contact us here on the blog, or at our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/notes/gotham-tutoring/possible-group-sat-courses-for-dec-2013jan-2014-sats/525837540836647

The College Board recently announced its 2013-2014 test dates and if you are planning to take the October SAT, you may want to register HERE as soon as possible since October is the most popular test date.

If you are going to be a senior this fall, you really want that October date. Yes, November will still get you scores in time for most early admission deadlines. But you need to consider two things – how much more relaxed you will be if you get it out of the way earlier in your senior year and how bad it will be if you bank everything on November and then some life event prevents you from taking that November test. Use your summer to prepare, take it in October and be done with it!

If you are going to be a junior this fall and are wisely looking to take your first SATs as a junior so you can either get them out of the way, or can focus more effectively on an impressive retake, I recommend registering for the January or March test dates. Why not May you say? Even if an emergency interfered, I would still have June to fall back on. Well, I have known a lot of juniors to end up having urgent reasons why they couldn’t make their May test and then couldn’t make the June either. You’ll have finals coming up, all kinds of sport and team seasons ending, emotional partings with graduating seniors, etc etc. Just knock out your first run at the test in January or March and get it out of the way.

2013-2014 SAT test dates:
October 5, 2013 (September 6 registration deadline)
November 2, 2013 (October 3 registration deadline)
December 7, 2013 (November 8 registration deadline)
January 25, 2014 (December 27 registration deadline)
March 9, 2014 (February 8 registration deadline)
May 3, 2014 (April 5 registration deadline)
June 1, 2014 (May 2 registration deadline)

2013-2014 ACT test dates:

September 21, 2013 (August 23 registration deadline)
October 26, 2013 (September 27 registration deadline)
December 14, 2013 (November 8 registration deadline)
February 9, 2014 (January 11 registration deadline) *
April 12, 2014 (March 7 registration deadline)
June 7, 2014 (May 9 registration deadline)

* The February ACT is not available in New York state.

My original sources for the test date schedules are from the official SAT and ACT websites, and there is a very nice calendar format HERE available from the always helpful wordnerd.com. The rest of the information and advice is purely my own.