Hi, folks! One of the most common questions I receive is whether to take the SAT or ACT- or both. It's an excellent question, particularly because there are several different opinions on the subject. I'd like to share mine with you and outline a few important perspectives on standardized testing in general.
Some people think it's best to take both exams to see how the student performs on each. While it is not necessarily a bad idea to take both exams, the way in which you do so can mean the difference between student success and overload.
Here's what I mean: Taking a half-day exam like the SAT or ACT is grueling. Make no mistake- students are exhausted when it's all over. I don't believe in sending my students into either test unprepared- ever. I've seen enough students who have gone into a test cold become traumatized by their experience and now have to deal with increased anxiety because of it. So my first rule is: Always prepare for the SAT or ACT. Do not go into the test cold.
But do you have to take both tests? Not necessarily, but here's how to decide. I think it's easier to get an impressive score increase on the SAT than on the ACT, so I typically advise students who have no experience either way to start with the SAT. There are, of course, students who come to me having already tried both tests and clearly prefer the ACT. If their ACT scores are higher than their SAT scores, then I advise them to stick with the test they prefer. But only if their scores are higher! Choosing a test based on personal preference doesn't necessarily result in higher scores, and we must remember that our bottom line is the highest score possible. That must be our guiding light when choosing between the SAT and ACT.
OK, back to the question- do you have to take both tests? Let's say you've prepped, taken the SAT, and done pretty well. Now you're curious about how well you could do on the ACT. Should you go for it? The best way to find out is to take a practice exam. You do not need to sign up for the real ACT. Decide first whether it's worth your valuable time and energy. Take a practice exam (you can pick one up at the counseling office at school), score it, then give us a call. We can help you translate your ACT score into an SAT score. If your ACT scores are better than your SAT scores, then by all means, it makes sense to prep for and take the ACT. If they are the same or worse, you can forget about the ACT altogether.
One less thing, right? The more you can take off your plate during this busy time, the better. So don't assume you are saddled with the SAT, ACT, and Subject Tests (a subject for a different newsletter!). Call us any time to get some help in figuring the whole thing out. Testing doesn't have to be an overwhelming process. We can make it easy.
Do you think you won't be able to get high enough scores to get into your favorite college? Are you overwhelmed by the very idea of trying to tackle this exam in addition to everything else you have to do? If you answered yes, you're not alone. But I have to tell you, the way you're thinking about the SAT/ACT is totally wrong. Here are a few reality checks for you (I think you'll like them!):
Time Pressure Myth
For those of you who are stressing because you have to finish all those questions and just don't have enough time to do them, here's some good news:
SAT- Relax, take a deep breath, and start leaving questions blank. Imagine if you knew you could get your dream score and not even have to answer those ridiculously hard questions. Well, your dream has come true! You can get a 600 in each section (a total of 1800) by answering only 2/3 of the questions correctly - and leaving the rest blank! For example, in a math section of 24 questions, if you answer 16 correctly and leave 8 blank, and then perform the same way on the rest of the test, you'll get an 1800. Not bad for only doing 2/3 of the exam. And, you've just bought yourself about 8 more minutes per section. Pretty cool.
ACT - There are some sections of the test with so many questions it's really hard to get them all done. But relax, you don't get penalized for getting them wrong, so when you've gotten as far as you can and only have a minute or so left, start bubbling in randomly. No muss, no fuss, and you may even get a few right without doing any work. How's that for easy?
Every time I work with a student, I spend a lot of time asking the same question. "Isn't that easier than you thought it was when you first looked at the question?" Inevitably, the answer is yes. This is particularly true of the math section of the SAT. Many of the questions are unfamiliar, not at all what you've learned in school. So at first glance, they look scary and too difficult to do. But if you allow yourself a brief moment to just look at the problem, review the information they give you, and start with what you know, you can probably get through the problem. I'm reminded of being a kid and thinking that a big, scary shadow was a monster when it was really only a little dog. FEAR- false evidence appearing real.
"It's Overwhelming" Myth
It may seem that adding test prep to the huge list of other tasks you have to do is absolutely overwhelming. How can you possibly fit it in? But if you think about it, there is little that is overwhelming in and of itself. It's only our reaction to it that makes us feel anxious and perhaps defeated.
So if you are thinking it's all too much, take a breath and readjust your thinking. If going to college is important to you, then doing well on the SAT/ACT is as well. It pays to study. So first, you must decide that spending time on test prep is a good thing to do. And I don't mean slogging through because you have to do it. If you really want results, you need to know that spending time and energy on preparing for the SAT or ACT is a valuable endeavor that will get you where you want to go. Placing value on something you have to do will help you get through it more successfully and more enjoyably.
Next, realize that we all have exactly the same amount of time in a day - precisely 1440 minutes. No one has more, no one has less. How much you get done depends in part on your planning and your intention. Make room for test prep in your mind and in your schedule, and more time will mysteriously appear.
OK, but there's still the issue of actually fitting it all in. If you study a little every day (or even several days a week), focusing only on that one task, there's very little you can't fit in. It works like this: absolute focus gives you excellent results. So stop worrying about how much you have to do, and start doing just one thing at a time - fully and with total attention. You will remember more when you absorb yourself in your chosen task. One thing at a time. That's all it takes. One thing, then the next.
The last step is getting an expert who can inspire and educate you. The right person can have a miraculous effect on your excitement level and your scores. You don't need to struggle through it alone. Find that someone, and the battle is half won.
Personal Note: I've been working with students for 14 years, and here's what I know:
You can do it.
You are capable of so much more than you know.
All you need is someone in your corner to help you through the toughest parts.
I believe in you.