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ACT and SAT Prep
The following is an abbreviation of the chapter on this topic from my book, College Prep 101, Second Edition.
The most stress-inducing part of the college preparation process is college entrance exams. Unfortunately for some, this stress actually affects their ability to do well on the tests, thus impacting admission and/or scholarship decisions at some schools. The information presented here is intended to familiarize you with the two most common college admission tests – SAT and ACT – and provide helpful hints to ensure that your score accurately reflects your knowledge and abilities. It is intended only as a supplement to other test preparation materials and programs, but I do think if you read this information and follow the suggestions, you’ll eliminate many of the pitfalls that negatively affect students’ scores.
The two most common college admission tests are the SAT, produced by the College Board, and the ACT, produced by the ACT Corporation. Neither is an intelligence or IQ test, and their scores do not indicate how smart a student is. The tests are designed to measure knowledge in areas predetermined to predict academic success in college. Colleges use test scores alongside high school grades and a variety of other factors to try to identify students with the highest potential or probability of success.
Students should realize the importance of the tests, but not place undue burdens on themselves to achieve because of them. Students who fare the best around college admission time and have the most options are those who work hard, take a solid college preparatory curriculum and perform well, become active in their school and community, prepare for and do well on college admission tests, and pursue outside interests.
The SAT, offered by The College Board, tests knowledge in reading, mathematics and writing. The ACT (both the name of the company and the test) tests knowledge in English, mathematics, reading and science. Visit www.collegeboard.org and www.act.org.
There are two places to learn about and sign up for standardized tests:
WHEN ARE THE TESTS OFFERED?
During the academic year, the SAT is offered seven times, beginning in October, while the ACT is offered six times, beginning in September. Specific dates, as well as any date changes, are available on the SAT and ACT web sites.
HOW MUCH DO THE TESTS COST?
As of January, 2012, the cost for taking the basic SAT is $49 and the ACT is $34.
You may also want to invest in test preparation or similar services, and you may want to sign up for additional tests that are offered by College Board and ACT. College Board offers several additional SAT Subject Tests you may be required to take. These tests cost $33 or more each. ACT also offers the ACT Plus Writing for an additional $15.50. Check with the schools you are considering
to determine if these additional tests are required or recommended for you.
HOW LONG DO THE TESTS TAKE?
Both the ACT and SAT take about four hours, including a number of breaks between sections of the test. SAT Subject Tests take an additional hour each, and the ACT Plus Writing takes an additional 30 minutes.
WHAT DO I NEED TO SCORE?
Many of you will be wondering what a good score is. There is no definitive answer to this one, since the definition of a “good” score will vary from person to person. Maximum possible scores are 36 for the ACT (12 for the optional writing section) and 2400 on the SAT (800 for each optional subject test). Still, it’s a very good idea to work toward the best possible scores you can achieve. Perfect scores are very rarely achieved, and are the result of extremely good preparation over an entire school career. Depending on your age, year in school, the high school you attend, how many times you take the test, and many other factors, what you consider only an okay score might be a very good score in someone else’s eyes. Try to avoid comparing yourself to others based on these test scores. Don’t attach more significance to your score than is necessary – and don’t do it to others’ scores either.
HOW CAN I MAKE SURE I DO MY BEST?
Take practice tests and read the information available on the ACT and SAT web sites. Both offer a free Question of the Day and free test questions, plus a variety of additional free or paid tools.
WHEN WILL I KNOW MY SCORE?
You’ll receive your scores from SAT or ACT first online, then in the mail. Online scores are available two-and-a-half to three weeks after the test. ACT says they release score reports within 3 – 8 weeks after testing (5 – 8 weeks for ACT Plus Writing). SAT says their score reports area mailed about 5 weeks after the test.
CAN I TAKE THE TEST AGAIN?
Take and retake the tests. Most schools will accept your highest score, and most if not all will accept either test, regardless of how many times you take it.
WHAT ABOUT THE NEW WRITING SECTIONS/SCORES?
Not all schools require these additional sections of the test. For example, Gwynedd Mercy College in Pennsylvania, uses them only "as needed", while Princeton University requires the all sections (including writing), AS WELL AS two SAT Subject Area test scores. You should talk to your high school counselor and visit the ACT and SAT web sites for the latest information in maximizing your writing scores.
I found this great article (Standardized Testing: The Good, the Bad, and the Reality) written by Emily Smith on online universities and she also writes on the subject of taking online classes.
*** Every effort was made to provide the most up-to-date information about college entrance exams (as of January 2012). However, because the SAT and ACT are continuously being improved, and schools often change their admission criteria (including how these tests are used), you should consult both organizations’ web sites (www.collegeboard.org and www.act.org) to ensure you know the