Category Archives: ACT Tests

SAT or ACT: Which is Best for You?

For several decades, taking the SAT or ACT exam has been a rite of passage for college-bound SAT or ACThigh school students. As a student, you understand the need to perform well on the exams because your score is among the factors that determine whether you’ll be admitted to the colleges of your choice. Your scores, along with GPA and class rank, comprise your academic record — the dominant factor in admissions.

Because most institutions accept both SAT and ACT scores, there’s no reason to prefer one exam to the other. This leaves the choice up to you. Selecting the right one matters in your college admission plan.

Circumstances That May Affect Your Choice

The two exams are very similar but they do have differences. Before we consider them, let’s review a few circumstances that may make your choice easier.

  1. Test-Optional – Over 1,000 institutions have adopted test–optional policies under which you don’t need to submit exam scores to a college unless you choose to. However, Klaar College Consulting recommends that you take one of the exams even if it isn’t necessary. Then, compare your score to the previous freshman classes of each college that interests you. If your score might help you gain admission at some of them, then submit it to those schools.
  2. State Requirements – There are 21 states (see Table A, below) that require 11th graders to take the SAT or ACT to assess academic progress. State education administrators observed that juniors were studying for so many standardized tests that it inhibited their ability to learn their coursework. Since many students were taking the SAT or ACT for college admission, the states decided to use them for assessment instead of another exam. We advise students in states that administer the ACT for assessment to take the ACT for score improvement if necessary. Likewise for students in SAT states.

Table A, below, lists the states that administer the SAT or ACT to juniors for academic assessment purposes:

 Table A: States That Use SAT or ACT for Assessment

SAT

ACT 

Colorado Alabama
Connecticut Hawaii
Delaware Kentucky
District of Columbia Mississippi
Illinois Montana
Maine Nebraska
Michigan Nevada
New Hampshire North Carolina
Rhode Island Utah
West Virginia Wisconsin
Wyoming
  1. Take Both Exams – There are students who take both exams and then submit their best scores. This is an extreme measure but perhaps not as extreme as you may think. As mentioned above, the exams are similar and, for the most part, studying for one is studying for the other. There are those exceptional students who can study for both exams without impacting their GPA, but the great majority of students are advised to stick with one exam.

Key Differences Between the Exams

Math:

1. The SAT has a 20-question section in which you aren’t allowed to use a calculator. The answers are to be derived by reasoning. The ACT allows a calculator on all Math questions.

2. The ACT has more questions about geometry than the SAT. The ACT also has a few questions in other areas that the SAT doesn’t, such as logarithms, matrices, and trigonometry.

3. The SAT provides you with math formulas but the ACT doesn’t. If you take the ACT, you need to memorize formulas that may be on the test.

4. On the ACT, Math accounts for one-fourth of your total score. On the SAT, Math accounts for half of your total score.

5. The tests differ in the number of answers provided for multiple-choice questions. ACT Math gives you five possible answers. SAT Math gives you four.

6. The ACT Math questions are all multiple choice. The SAT is mostly multiple choice, but has questions for which you write in the answers.

Time: The total time allowed for the exams is almost equal, but the SAT gives more time to answer each question because there are fewer of them.

Science: The ACT devotes a section to science but the SAT doesn’t. The SAThas science questions, but they’re interspersed through the exam. There’s a separate science score for the ACT but not for the SAT.

Essays: If you take the essay, your approach to writing it will differ. On the SAT, you’ll have a passage to read and analyze. Your essay will examine the author’s argument using evidence and reasoning. You won’t be arguing your personal opinion. On the ACT, your task is different. You’ll read a passage about an issue and then analyze various perspectives on it. But, unlike the SAT, you’ll incorporate your own opinion in your answer.

Other Methods of Comparison

Perhaps the best way to compare the exams is to take practice tests. The SAT and ACT organizations make practice tests available as do many test prep publications. Compare your results and decide if there’s a clear winner.

Another way to pick the right test is to respond to these statements as true or false.

      1. I have trouble with geometry and trigonometry.
      2. I can solve certain math problems without a calculator.
      3. I do well on math tests.
      4. I find it hard to memorize math formulas.
      5. I can answer certain math questions in my own words.
      6. The sciences are not my best subjects.
      7. I can analyze a passage easier than I can articulate my opinion.
      8. I find that short time constraints cause me anxiety.
      9. I have no trouble citing evidence to back up my positions.

If most of your answers are “True,” then the SAT exam is better for you. If most of your answers are “False,” then the ACT is better.

If you’d like help deciding whether the SAT or ACT is the right choice for you, please email me at [email protected] or call me on 803-487-9777.

Every Year of H.S. Matters in College Admissions!

Most experts consider junior year to be the most consequential in college admissions, and this may well be true. But senior year is nearly as important since it’s the year that you finalize and submit your applications. In both years, you face many choices that have ramifications beyond college and into your career.

It’s not just your years as an upperclassman that count. All four years of high school contribute to your ultimate success. The more you accomplish in the first two years, the less your burden will be in the last two years. The stress can be intense coming down the stretch, so we advise that you plan for each year of your high school career so that, at its culmination, you’re confident and looking forward to what’s ahead.

1. Start Strong Your Freshman Year

 A study by the Brookings Institute found that 9th grade is the most critical year in the College just aheadformation of a student’s potential. Your academic performance as a freshman sets the tone for the rest of your education.

A. Start Out with a High GPA

 Freshman year counts toward your cumulative GPA and has an impact on your final class rank. It’s great for your GPA to be an rising trajectory in junior year, but it’s even better if your record has been so excellent since 9th grade that a rise isn’t even needed.. A high GPA  that doesn’t need to be raised in junior year avoids much of the stress that can burden you as a junior.

B.  Meet with Your Guidance Counselor

 Guidance counselors play an essential role in your college admissions campaign. They’re busy people, so the responsibility is on you to schedule meetings with them. As a freshman, you can start a discussion about your admissions plan.  At this point, getting to know the counselor and giving them the opportunity to know you is your main objective. You’ll be in contact with them often in the coming years.

C. Make the Honor Roll

Making the honor roll in 8th grade will give you the opportunity to take honors courses in 9th and 10th grades. Success in honors courses is likely to enable you to take AP courses as a sophomore and upperclassman. The more AP classes that you successfully complete with a grade of 4 or 5 on the exam, the more likely that you’ll be accepted by the colleges that you target. You may also earn college credits at a number of schools.

D.  Begin Study in a Foreign Language

 Most selective schools require applicants to have two to four years of a single foreign language. Freshman year is the time to commit to the language that you’ll study through high school.

E. Experiment with Extracurricular Activities

 Immerse yourself in several activities that appeal to your interests. Join clubs, organizations, and intramural teams as you see fit. You’ll need time to identify those activities that truly interest you and for which you may also have an aptitude.

F. Use Summer to Your Advantage

The summer after your freshman year is a great time to find a job. If you’re still too young, you can volunteer for a non-profit that appeals to you.  A productive activity is to prepare for the PSAT exam. You may wish to begin to research into which types of colleges represent “best-fit” schools for you.

2.  Take Tests Your Sophomore Year

In your sophomore year, we recommend that you select honors classes in your strongest subjects. You should also assess your extracurricular activities and drop those in which you’re not too interested. Try new ones if necessary. Refine your admissions plan to focus on real choices that you’ll need to make as an upperclassman.

A.  Take the PSAT

 Taking the PSAT prepares you for the SAT in junior year and helps you identify your weak areas so that you can work to improve in them. If you release your name, address, and email to colleges, you’ll receive marketing communications from them.

B.  Practice for the ACT

 Pursue the PLAN Assessment Program offered by American College Testing if you plan to take the ACT exam instead of the SAT. This program assesses the efficacy  your study habits, your academic progress to date, and the intensity of your interests. It also prepares you for the ACT exam itself.

C.  Learn About College Admissions

 Become familiar with college entrance requirements, especially at schools you may feel are potential best-fits. The sooner you know this the better prepared you’ll be. Your guidance counselor’s office will have information about admission requirements, as will libraries, college websites, magazine rankings, and articles in the mainstream media.

 D.  Proceed on Your Academic Path

 Work with your guidance counselor to make sure that you’re enrolled in the courses that best suit your educational goals. You’ll also want to be sure that you’ll have all of your graduation requirements, except senior English,  completed by the end of junior year.

E.  Use Summer to Add to Your Admissions Credentials

 The summer after sophomore year is a good time to find a job. Stead employment every summer appeals to colleges. Use your spare time to prepare for the SAT or ACT exam. You may want to take an elective summer course at your high school or at a local college in the field that you’re considering as a major. Admissions officials will look positively on this as an indication of your desire to learn and work hard.

3.  Steps to Take in Junior Year

Your junior year is the most important in your admissions campaign because it’s the last full year of high school that colleges will see complete data when you apply. It represents you as a more mature student. Colleges use it as source data in their predictive models to project how well you’ll perform as a college student.

A.  Start on Your College List

College Made SimpleEstablish a set of criteria to guide you in building the list of schools to which you’ll apply. Your criteria can include factors such as the size of the student body, faculty-to-student ratio, total annual expenses, core curriculum, majors, degrees granted, geographic location, the nature of the local community, campus setting, campus amenities, work-study programs, and any other factors that you may consider important. By the end of junior year, you’ll narrow the list down to a predetermined number of schools. You should  plan to visit as many of them as possible over the next year.

B.  Plan for Exams

 You’ll be taking the SAT or the ACT and you’ll probably be taking AP exams. Register and mark the dates. Juniors should take the SAT or ACT the in spring so you can take them again in the fall of their senior year if you need to improve your scores. Don’t take them too early to “get it over with.”

C. Hone Your Abilities in Extracurricular Activities

 By now, you should know which activities you’ll list on your applications. Colleges look for commitment and depth, so just one activity is all you need if it fits that description. If you can attain a leadership role or garner an award in your activity, so much the better. Your talent or skill can serve you well, especially if it’s in a niche that colleges seek to fill.

D.  Learn Your Options for Financial Aid

Review the financial resources that will be available to you with your family.  Learn about saving on college costsfinancial aid from public sources, individual colleges, and corporations. High-school sponsored financial aid nights, independent financial aid counselors, and the media will be helpful in your research.

E.  Register for the Optimal Curriculum for Senior Year

 Meet with your guidance counselor to select classes for your senior year. Make sure that you’ll graduate with all the courses that you’ll need for admission to specific schools on your list. Colleges consider the rigor of the curriculum of seniors as well as their grades when they’re available.

F.  Reach Out to Letter of Recommendation Writers

Most requests for letters of recommendation are directed to guidance counselors and a small subset of teachers. These individuals receive an enormous number of requests. If you wish to obtain a letter from one of them, ask them as a junior so that they’ll have notice before the fall semester crush. Be sure that they’ll have only positive comments and that you won’t be “Damned by faint praise.”  You can also elicit a letter from a coach, the leader of one of your organizations, or an employer, as long as they know you well.

G. Visit Colleges

Campus visits require planning, especially if you wish to arrange for an admissions interview. Contact the admissions office to set up an interview, a guided tour, and a meeting with a faculty college visitsmember and a student in the department of your planned major. There will be opportunities later to visit campuses, but it’s a good idea to start as a junior, especially with schools where you may want to apply through an Early Admissions program.

H. Make the Best of your Junior Summer

 Admissions officials are impressed by applicants who have worked within their planned field of study as interns or employees. If you have an opportunity to secure such a position, then by all means do so. It’s also time to start working on your essays and personal statements.

If possible, take a summer college course in your planned major to demonstrate your commitment to your planned field of study and to prove that you’re capable of college work.

4.  How to Master Your Senior Year!

Seniors who plan to attend college are very busy people! What has seemed far in the future is now upon you — crunch time to prepare applications that will secure your admission to your best-fit schools.

A.  Finalize Your College List

 For most students, the final list should be pared down to a predetermined number of schools. With too few schools on the list, you won’t be spreading your risk sufficiently. With too many schools, you’ll dissipate your focus and effort. A good number to reach for is 8 to 10 colleges that are a good Fit and Match for you.

B. Paying for It

 When finalizing your college list, ask a very important question — can you handle it Paying for collegefinancially? October 1 is the first day that a student applying for financial aid can access, complete, and submit the FAFSA and CSS/PROFILE forms. These forms require a great deal of effort by you and your parents. The deadlines vary by college, but a head start is helpful.

C. Write Your Essays

 Allow plenty of time to brainstorm topics, outline, draft, and polish your essays and personal statements. This is crucial, especially if you are applying to schools that require supplemental essays. Essay questions are broad, which can make it difficult to know how to relate the topic to your life. Obtain input from others on your topics and approach. Be wary of having too many adult editors.

 D. Complete and Submit your Application 

 Work hard on your applications. If you’re applying for Early Admission to any schools, the usual  deadline is November 1. For Regular Decision, the deadline is usually January 2.

You may be able to choose which application platform to use. If possible, use only one. The Common App is accepted by nearly 900 colleges and many schools that accept other apps also accept the Common App.

E. Submit Senior Fall Semester Grades

 As soon they’re available, send your fall semester grades to the schools to which you’ve applied. This will be after you’ve submitted the application, but admissions officers want to be able to incorporate the data into their decision.

F.  The Decisions of Your Colleges

 Acceptance, rejection and waitlist letters arrive between late February and  early April. You college decisionsusually have until April 30 to accept an offer of admission. Don’t put too much faith in waitlists. Among the colleges that use them, only a small percentage of waitlisted students ever receive an acceptance letter.

G.  Make Your Decision

 If you’re accepted to more than one school, weigh all options. Talk with parents, other family members, teachers, mentors, and friends. Examine available financial aid and the total expenses at each school. If possible, visit the campuses of your two finalists to compare them closely.

H.  Final Steps

Colleges have a deposit deadline of May 1st. Once senior year is over, send your final high school transcript to the college you’ll be attending. These grades may help you secure a scholarship or qualify for a competitive academic program. If you took AP classes during senior year and have passed the national exams with a score of 4 or 5, you may be able to earn college credits and skip a required course.

Conclusion

Seeing the number of steps above, you, as a student or parent, might think that this is more than enough to do to prepare for admission to college. In fact, this is a partial list consisting of major tasks. Lesser tasks requiring little time have been omitted. But, just because they’re minor doesn’t mean these small tasks can be omitted.

The best way to accomplish all tasks that will lead to acceptance at your best-fit colleges is to hire Klaar College Consulting. Dr. Charlotte Klaar takes a no-nonsense, no-excuses approach as she works with students to make the entire college admissions process, including college search, application completion, and essay-writing, a delightful adventure of self-discovery and personal growth. Along the way, she helps students learn to make more informed decisions and to own the results.