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Monday, October 10, 2016

Never Fear: ACT and SAT Help!

Standardized testing. 

Those are THE two words faced by countless high school students every year. The SATs, in particular, constantly hover above juniors and seniors once the school year starts. College applications are important, and as competition amongst students increases, it is becoming increasingly difficult for students to gain acceptance into their top choices. While extracurricular activities and GPA are important factors in adding substance to your college application, SAT scores are also a very significant part of the mix. No high school student wakes up on a Saturday morning yearning to take a 6 hour exam, but for those applying for college, the test is basically inevitable. 

One may expect that students who are successful in high school math classes would also perform well on the math portion of the SAT. Surprisingly however, this isn’t always the case. Students who excel in high level math courses are often discouraged and frustrated when their SAT scores fail to align with their school performance. Why does this disparity occur so rampantly? The focus of math classes is largely centered on method based thinking and displaying the correct work that led to the solution. This logical way of thinking is great for grasping complex concepts, but it does not match up with the format of the SAT. The multiple choice questions of the SAT do not allow for partial credit; only the correct answer gives the student points. Furthermore, SAT math questions are based on the fundamentals of mathematics. Even students in AP or high level math classes begin to shy away from the basics as they advance in courses or turn to their calculator. It is important for all students to review basic concepts and practice them throughout their SAT prep. 

Here at the Center of Math, we have a fair amount of combined experience in standardized testing. With these tips, we hope to increase your chances of a success as much as possible! 

Know Your Enemy: Understanding the basics of the SAT

It is important to understand the test you are trying to master. The SAT is unlike many other academic tests, and it is necessary for students to know the nuances and types of questions College Board (the makers of the SAT) uses. 2016 introduced some new updates for the SAT which were effective starting from March; the test now consists of two main parts, evidence-based reading and writing as well as math. There is also an optional essay which is scored separately from the other two parts. Each of the main parts is worth 800 points, making a perfect score a 1600. The writing section is scored on three criteria: reading, analysis, and writing each on a scale from 2-8, making a 24 the perfect essay score. Less than 1% of students achieve a perfect score, and the national average is 1000.

Which Test Is For Me? The ACT vs. SAT

Until recently, taking the SAT or ACT was decided based on location. Midwestern states often preferred the ACT, while the east and west coasts favored the SAT. Now, as the lines are blurred between which test is accepted where and which is more beneficial, the choice is up to the individual. The good news surrounding this fact is both tests are significantly different, and measure a completely different skill set. Students are encouraged to experiment with both to understand which better showcases their strengths. This advantage often serves as a glimmer of hope for several high school juniors and seniors.

According to Kaplan Test Prep, educators often describe the ACT as “content-based” while the SAT encompasses “critical thinking” and “problem solving.” More differences include:
  • The ACT includes a science reasoning test; the SAT does not.
  • The ACT math section includes trigonometry
  • The SAT tests vocabulary much more than the ACT
  • The SAT is not entirely multiple choice
  • the ACT tests English grammar more than the SAT does

If the Math section in either the SAT or ACT is not your strong suit, don’t panic; you are not alone. However, we are confident that if you consider these helpful tips you will be able to boost your score.

Understanding the Stakes

Boosting your score in any section, especially your weakest, could potentially serve as a make or break for college admission. For those who wish to be considered as a math or science major, a strong math score is especially vital. The pressure to succeed may be overwhelming; however, an essential first step is to simply understand how individual sections truly affect the grand scheme of college admission.

Understanding Basic Math concepts

Despite the fact that math questions on the SAT and ACT vary greatly, they both focus on similar fundamental concepts. Don’t waste your time trying to master complicated concepts when the basics are still foggy. Make sure you have a concrete base and understand the “little things” like ratios, fractions, and geometry rules. Brushing up on basic algebraic functions will help you save time on the exam; mental math can be faster than typing into a calculator.

Don't Spend Too Much Time on the Most Difficult Questions

Even though the new SAT test does not penalize guessing, students will still benefit from avoiding time loss on harder questions. If you don't understand a problem within a few minutes of seeing it, then it may be worth saving until later even if you think you might be able to puzzle it out after staring at it a bit longer. When you only have limited time to complete each section, this strategy gives you more minutes to spend on the easy and medium level questions which are the questions you're more likely to get right.

Drill Down on your Weaknesses

Many students make the mistake of simply buying a prep book and reading it cover to cover. Some students also only do math questions they are good at in an attempt to boost their confidence. In the midst of all the craziness in your life right now, don’t waste time with unnecessary material. Focus almost exclusively on what you don’t understand. We guarantee come test day, you will thank yourself.

Don’t Stress too much.

Relax. Create an efficient and healthy study environment. Ask for help when you need it. Lockdown on your weaknesses. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

There exist numerous resources that can help you learn what to expect on the test, but some are more expensive than others. Our YouTube channel offers lots of free practice! Feel free to check out our playlist.

The Center of Math wishes you luck! You can do it!

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