Frequently Asked Questions
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What’s the difference between the ACT and the SAT?
The ACT is a little more straightforward and time limits are tighter. There is a Science section on the ACT. There is one Math section that is entirely Calculator-Active. The SAT has a little more time per question, but the harder questions are designed to be trickier. There is no Science section, but one of the two Math sections on the SAT is Calculator-Inactive.
Which test should I focus on?
Both ACT and College Board offer free practice tests on their websites, so take a practice test for each and then decide which one is better for you. Some folks lean towards the SAT because they don’t like the tighter time limits and Science section on the ACT, while others lean toward the ACT because they don’t like the relative trickiness of the SAT and the Calculator Inactive math section.
Which test do colleges prefer?
Almost all colleges and universities will take either the SAT or ACT. Make sure you ask that question when you’re researching schools, but it’s almost always about figuring out which test is better for you.
How important is this test?
It depends on the school. For larger schools with thousands of applications coming in, it’s really important. For other schools, it might be less important, and some schools are “test optional” for admissions. (Click here for current information about “test optional schools.” https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional ) Please be aware that although some schools are “test optional” for admissions, they may require standardized test scores for merit scholarships or course placement. Do your research.
Are these tests the most important thing colleges look at?
No. The number one thing colleges care about is your GPA and evidence of academic rigor. That means they want to see that you’ve taken the most challenging courses you can to still be successful.
Do you know any good jokes?
Of course. Here’s a good one: The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.
I make good grades. Why do I need test prep?
Many students find themselves in an uncomfortable position of having really solid grades in their classes but standardized test scores that are less-than-awesome. This is because standardized tests are designed differently than academic tests, even though they look similar at first glance. Standardized tests are not designed to test your mastery of material. They are designed to get a score distribution that creates a very nice bell curve. Reading questions don’t test your ability to interpret or analyze a text, but simply to answer straightforward reading comprehension questions. Math questions don’t test your ability to answer a question the “right” way, but simply to get the correct answer to a question. If you can do it the “math” way, great! You get a point. If you plug in your own number and get it right, you get a point! If you GUESS and you guess the right answer, you get a point! Learn about the structure of the test, how the test is scored, and the types of questions you’ll encounter in order to maximize your score.
Can I really bring up my test score?
Totally. But be prepared to work. Bringing up your standardized test score is a process much more closely related to improving your basketball skills or violin skills rather than bringing up a grade in a class. You wouldn’t sit down with a coach for 90 minutes a week, watch the coach play basketball, and then expect to be a better ball player. You have to learn everything the coach says, accept and incorporate feedback, practice a LOT, and make the new skills an automatic part of how you play. Test prep is the same. You must be prepared to learn new ways to approach the test and then practice those skills until you’ve changed the way you take the test.