The ACT and SAT have a lot of similarities, but there are many differences as well. It is always best to consider how you approach testing and what kinds of challenges you might face. If you find that you often run out of time for the different sections of a test, you might want to consider the SAT as it gives you a little more time per question. On the other hand, if math isn’t your thing, you might want to look to the ACT as it is a little more well-rounded in the subjects it covers, and math only makes up 25% of the score instead of 50% like the SAT. We have gone through all the differences in each test and compared them in another post, so check it out if you’re looking for more in-depth information to help you make your decision.
When should I take the ACT/SAT?
For best results, plan to take the ACT or SAT multiple times as many students see their scores increase over time. We recommend taking the test(s) at least 2-3 times, taking your first exam no later than the spring semester of your junior year. This gives you plenty of time to study and improve if your first score is less than desirable for the college you wish to attend. If you are planning to apply to schools for early decision; however, you should start earlier – possibly as early as the summer before junior year. Many students wait until their senior year to take the ACT and the SAT. The problem is that you already have a full schedule during this year: harder classes, extracurricular activities, applying for scholarships, applying to colleges, and more. You don’t want to add more studying on top of everything else if you have the choice. Taking the test earlier lets you understand your strengths and weaknesses, come up with a plan to improve, and gives you the time and breathing room to not do it all in a rush.
How many times should I take the ACT/SAT?
How many times you take the ACT or SAT depends on whether or not your initial score meets your expectations, the rigor of the college you wish to attend, and how quickly you improve between retakes. We recommend thinking hard about whichever colleges interest you the most and looking at the average scores of the students they accept. That will give you a good benchmark to weigh your score against and will help you decide whether you need to improve your score. Most students want to improve their scores after they take the test for the first time, so plan on taking one or both at least twice. If you intend to apply to a very competitive school, expect to take the test more than once. There is no limit to how many times you can take the ACT or SAT besides getting your scores in before college deadlines. There is also no limit to how early you can take the ACT or SAT, though that comes with some caveats. For example, the SAT will allow you to report old scores for up to 5 years after the exam, so the earliest you could take the SAT and send it off to college would be in the 8th grade. Some schools may not accept scores this old, but even Harvard will accept 3-year old scores. If you plan on taking the test more than once, we suggest waiting a testing cycle (1 – 3 months) in between retakes. This gives you time to get your scores back and make a plan for studying and improving other areas.
How long should I study for the ACT/SAT?
For best results, we suggest taking at least 2 months (preferably longer) between tests to go over study material and review concepts. Keep in mind that it takes 2-3 weeks to get scores back from the ACT and The College Board, so if you want to use the score reports to help you pinpoint where to study, plan for longer. If you’re taking tests back to back, your scores will not improve by much in most cases. There is no rule that says you cannot start studying for these tests earlier. In fact, much of the content you will see on the exams will be covered in a student’s first three years of high school. Beginning to study these concepts earlier will help with understanding what is happening beyond memorization and give you a head start on the concepts you will encounter in classes.
Should I take the writing portion of the exam?
Over the years, the writing portions of these exams have become less important. It used to be the case that the writing portions were always recommended as there were many colleges that considered this optional portion of the exams in their admissions decisions. Between each college’s individual applications and the Common App, though, colleges now have many opportunities to analyze your writing skills, making this portion of the test virtually obsolete. This has been acknowledged by at least one of the testing organizations – The College Board which creates the SAT – as they have officially removed the essay portion on upcoming tests. Don’t bother taking the extra time to do the essay portion from the ACT unless you have specifically heard from your college admissions office that they would like to see your score for this section. You will be doing a lot of writing in the future anyway for applications!
Do I need a tutor for the ACT/SAT?
If you are not satisfied with your scores and you find that your scores are not improving, especially after months of studying, you likely need some help. There are a variety of ways tutors can help students studying for the test. Tutors can help students review the essential information, concepts, and formulas they need for the test; review test-taking strategies; and/or show you how to use your time efficiently to get that coveted perfect score. If you feel like you have hit a wall and cannot figure out a way to improve your score or have trouble wrapping your head around some of the concepts, finding a tutor may be the best call. Tutors can help you save time studying and guide you through all the complex concepts you will need to know. At Strive Academics, we provide students with one on one instruction from our private tutors to help you reach your goals!
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