Posts

Debunking ACT/SAT Myths

Last Minute Tips for AP Exams

Spring semester is rushing by, and AP exams are just around the corner. How prepared do you feel? While there isn’t a ton of time remaining, here are some tips for earning your best score!

First, make sure you’re familiar with the structure of each test. Some teachers spend more time than others on this piece. If you feel secure in the content but not as comfortable with the actual exam, the College Board provides a lot of information about the each exam. You should be familiar with each test you take before test day, as you don’t want to waste valuable time decoding complex instructions that you could have reviewed in advance.

If at all possible, if you haven’t done so, take a practice version of each exam before test day. You may not have time to take a whole practice exam in one sitting, so break it up. Take a Calculus AP multiple choice section today and a European History AP Free Response section tomorrow. Focus on the sections you’re most nervous about – AP Comp Synthesis Essay, anyone? – and make sure to leave some time to review what’s working for you and what isn’t.

It’s impossible to review every topic, but select a few key topics for review. Your practice may help inform what to focus on, but looking over your course notes can help as well. Don’t plan to make 15,000 flash cards in a week. Zone in on what is going to deliver the most impact in terms of points, and be realistic about how much time you have.

Practice is important, but so is rest. Heading into your exams in a state of exhaustion or overwhelm is not the best approach. Know when to put the books and flashcards down. Eat regular meals and get enough sleep. Especially if you’re taking several exams, the next couple of weeks can be a test of endurance. Take care of yourself, and good luck!

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

ACT & New SAT Compared

Section breakdown of the ACT and SAT (including breaks):

ACT

Revised SAT

English – 75 questions, 45 minutes

Reading – 52 questions, 65 minutes

Math – 60 questions, 60 minutes

Break – 10 minutes

Break – 10 minutes

Writing and Language – 44 questions, 35 minutes

Reading – 40 questions, 35 minutes

Math (no calculator) – 20 questions, 25 minutes

Science – 40 questions, 35 minutes

Break – 5 minutes

Break – 10 minutes (with writing)

Math (calculator) – 38 questions, 55 minutes

Writing – 40 minutes (optional)

 

Break – 2 minutes, can’t leave room (with writing)

Test is finished

Writing – 50 minutes (optional)

Total time (without writing): 3 hours, 5 minutes

Total time (ACT + writing): 3 hours, 55 minutes

Total time (without writing): 3 hours, 15 minutes

Total time (SAT + writing): 4 hours, 7 minutes

Many of the changes to the SAT bring it closer to the ACT: the longer sections, the switch to an optional essay, the content of the math test (pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, and trig), the graph questions sprinkled throughout the test (resembling ACT Science questions), the elimination of short essay passages in the reading, the removal of archaic, obscure vocabulary questions, and the transition to four answer choices instead of five.

But while the tests look more alike than they have in the past, there are also differences between the revised SAT and the ACT. In the Reading section of the SAT, students can expect five passages instead of four. There are also questions that evaluate a student’s ability to interpret the emotions of characters within a passage, which is something that is largely absent from the ACT. There are also new, evidence-based questions that require students to answer questions that give support for previous questions they’ve answered. If they miss the first question, it will be difficult to get the second one correct.

On the Writing and Language test, the question types are almost identical to those found on the ACT English section, but on the SAT, students will have 36% more time to answer those questions. On the surface, that extra time seems advantageous. Timing on the ACT English section is not, however, usually a problem for students. With so much extra time on the SAT, they might find themselves second guessing and changing correct answers in the remaining time.

The SAT math test now focuses less on geometry and more on algebra – another point of differentiation between the two exams. The questions are generally more difficult, but students have more time to solve them. There’s also an emphasis placed on solving systems of equations. The no calculator section of the test could pose a new challenge for students who typically rely on them heavily. Student produced response questions (often referred to as “grid-in” questions by students), where students must supply their own answer to instead of choose from provided multiple choice options, are still present on the SAT and not on the ACT.

Overall, students can expect trickier wording on the SAT. The longer sections will make it difficult for some students to concentrate. The advantage of timing, however, likely still rests with the SAT: students have more time per question in each section of the exam than they do on the ACT. Some students, however, may find this more hurtful than helpful. There’s still a stronger emphasis on vocabulary than there is on the ACT, but the words being testing are not as difficult. At the end of the day, which test is “better” or “easier” is extremely subjective; different students will prefer and perform better on different things. That’s why it’s important, as always, for students to take both an ACT and a SAT practice test to see where their strengths lie.

 

ACT & SAT Concordance Controversy

Concordance, noun.

According to Oxford Dictionaries,

1 An alphabetical list of the words (especially the important ones) present in a text, usually with citations of the passages concerned: a concordance to the Bible

2 formal Agreement: the concordance between the teams’ research results [emphasis added]

The second definition is the one we’re concerned with here. “Agreement.” See also: harmony, consensus, and basically not being embroiled in debate.


On May 9th, the SAT released its promised concordance tables for the redesigned SAT, spelling out its suggested equivalencies between the new SAT, the old SAT, and the ACT. The stated goal of the concordance tables is “to help college admission officers and others compare scores” across different tests.

Seems reasonable enough, right? Similar tables existed for the old SAT and ACT, produced in collaboration between ACT and the College Board. They worked together, analyzed a year’s worth of data, and produced concordance tables considered “the gold standard in concordance.”

This time is different. The SAT produced these tables unilaterally, based on data from only one administration of their new test, using a method that the ACT finds suspicious and unreliable. The ACT is “not having it.” Really. That’s a quote from their statement, released on May 11th , making clear their objections to the tables released by the SAT:

“ACT cannot support or defend the use of any concordance produced by the College Board without our collaboration or the involvement of independent groups, and we strongly recommend against basing significant decisions—in admissions, course placement, accountability, and scholarships—on such an interim table.”

So, the College Board says the tables are intended for use in admissions, while the ACT says they are unreliable and shouldn’t be used for anything “significant.” ACT points out that a sample size of one administration is insufficient to draw statistically significant data, especially given that “students willing to take the first iteration of a test that has undergone a major overhaul are likely quite different from the typical student.”

The tables do seem quite different from what we saw with the previous concordance, with similar-looking SAT scores comparing to lower ACT scores than before. So, for example, a 25 on the ACT concorded with an 1150 (Critical Reading and Math) on the “old” SAT, but that same 25 lines up with a 1220 on the new College Board tables. To put it another way, if you got a 1200 on the old SAT (CR+M), you’d find that equivalent to about a 26-27 on the ACT. A 1200 now lines up with a 25. This may lead to confusion among students who took the old version or are familiar with the older scores, although the tests are quite different, so there’s no reason at all to compare the old and new scores – except for the fact that they’re on the same scale.

Confusion has been standard throughout the roll-out of the redesigned SAT. Attempting to draw concordance between the ACT and the new SAT without consulting ACT was an interesting choice on the part of the College Board. The ACT is firm in denouncing the new concordance tables, stating that the data falls short of “the standard you should expect from a standardized testing agency.” One can’t help but wonder why the previous, more rigorous and collaborative, approach to concordance was abandoned in this case.

FairTest vs College Board: Why Neither is Totally Right

I’ve been teaching students how to beat standardized tests like the SAT and ACT for over a decade now. Invariably, I start tutoring with those students by pointing out what should be obvious: these exams measure how well you take exams, not your aptitude or your ability to do college work.  In some cases there may be a direct correspondence: students who have excellent grades have correspondingly excellent scores.  And yet, there is a not-insignificant group of students with outstanding grades and poor scores.  Does this mean standardized testing is unreliable?  Or that it fails to consistently predict student success?  Not exactly, and yes, respectively.

Let’s back up for a moment and talk about the single best input for determining college success: the high school GPA.  Time and time again a high correlation has been shown between success and engagement in academics in high school (as represented by an unweighted GPA) and performance in college.  That’s because the GPA is a many-faceted thing.  It samples various different types of classes according to how often you took them.  Classes that meet every day are weighted more than classes that meet once a week, and yet should you take French 5 times a week and Physics 5 times a week, the GPA agnostically weights them equally.  The grades for these classes themselves are multi-faceted.  Those grades represent tests, homework, class participation, quizzes, and possibly group work and projects.  Hardly one-dimensional, the GPA is an accurate and balanced reflection of a student’s aptitude and work ethic.

A three-hour test on a given Saturday morning, on the other hand, is very much a one-dimensional thing.  Neither the SAT nor the ACT tests math levels above Trigonometry, meaning that juniors in Precalculus and beyond will need to pull out old notes to prep for the Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2 which are heavily featured in the math section of both of these tests.

There’s also the alleged “Science” section on the ACT, which is nothing but a glorified “interpreting charts and graphs” section which features tricky questions and purposely distorted graphics much more than legitimate science questions.

There are some useful sections to these tests.  Reading comprehension is a lifelong skill – and a skill in even greater refinement in our age of information overload.  Most students take comfort in the familiarity of the question type, even if they are cowed or bewildered by the wording of the questions or the time constraints (students are typically not given adequate time to answer the questions).

I could go on, but at this point you might (rightly) ask how I can in good conscience uphold such flawed testing by doing test prep?  Fair enough.

These exams are accepted by the overwhelming majority of universities, for better or worse, as an additional – sometimes coequal – criteria for admission.  My mission has always been to help my students get into the school they want to get into.  If the hurdle is this or that specific test, I want to help them beat that test.  I have no power to change a system deep within the bowels of an institution (academia) which is defined by inertia.  So I do what’s possible: help my students beat the obstacles in place.  For those who can’t afford test prep or who simply struggle with testing, FairTest has compiled a list of schools that don’t use testing as a deciding factor in admissions.

In the challenging world of college admissions, FairTest can rightly claim that standardized testing isn’t holistic, while College Board (the writer of the SAT) can claim that while not holistic, standardized testing still has correlations with college success, while we at Get Smarter Prep can claim that we are among your best options to improve on these tests, should you choose to apply to a school that uses them.  We hope you take this article as an encouragement to be proactive instead of letting this overwhelming process “happen” to you.  As always, we are here to help anytime.

Changes Coming to the SAT

Earlier this year, College Board President (yes, there is such a thing) David Coleman announced in a letter to College Board members that it was time to update the SAT. As Coleman wrote in his letter, “the College Board has a responsibility to the millions of students we serve each year to ensure that our programs are continuously evaluated and enhanced, and most importantly respond to the emerging needs of those we serve”. Although it does emphasize that the SAT should stay current, this cryptic (a great SAT vocabulary word!) message does not foreshadow what those changes might be.

The SAT was first administered in 1926 (check out this website for sample questions from the 1926 test!). Since then, there have been many changes to the test. Most recently, in 2005, the Writing section was added and analogies were removed from the Critical Reading section. With the Writing section, consisting of an essay and questions about grammar, came an additional 800 points, boosting a perfect score to 2400 from 1600. In the Critical Reading section, the College Board removed the analogies, opting to test vocabulary with fill-in-the-blank sentences. After years of WordMasters analogy practice, I was sad to see the analogies go, but at least I learned some great words (my favorite- jalopy)!

What will these changes mean for GSP students? While we cannot predict what they will be, we can ensure you that we will help your students achieve their goals!

Linden Schult is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.