Tag Archives: test prep

How to Decide Whether to Re-Take the SAT or ACT

At this time of year, juniors are faced with a variety of decisions. Which colleges should I visit? Which teachers should I ask for recommendations? How should I spend the summer?

Another looming question is often whether you should re-take the SAT or ACT.  As with many of your college-related questions, IT ALL DEPENDS!  In this blog, we explore some of the following factors that should inform your decision.

What kind of test prep did you do?

There exist a variety of ways to prepare: on your own, one-on-one with a tutor, or in an organized test prep class. Determining which approach is most effective for you depends on your learning style and your budget. If you are not pleased with your initial test results, re-assess whether your test prep method is the best fit.

No matter which option you choose, it’s important to devote the necessary time and energy. How serious were you about completing test prep homework? Did you take at least three full-length practice tests for either the SAT and ACT? If so, how did you do on the practice tests relative to the actual test?

Beyond helping you improve your test scores, test prep will strengthen skills that you can apply to academic coursework in high school and college, such as test-taking strategies, reading comprehension, vocabulary and problem-solving.

How much time do you reasonably have to study for another standardized test?

Will preparing for the test compromise your academic performance in your coursework? Do you have significant responsibilities or commitments outside of your academics that would be affected by the time required for test prep?

Your grades in your high school courses are the top factor in college admissions. Your junior year grades are the most important, because colleges strongly consider the trends in your grades as you progress through increasingly more advanced courses.  If you are reasonably satisfied with your SAT or ACT scores, and your course finals and AP or IB exams will require extensive preparation, then it may not be a good trade-off to invest additional time in standardized test prep.

How many times have you already taken the SAT or ACT?

According to the College Board, most students take the SAT twice, and the majority of these students improve their scores. But it would be overkill to take either test more than two or three times.

Even the Princeton Review, one of the major test prep companies, advises: “For security reasons, the ACT will not let you take the exam more than twelve times, and technically the SAT is unlimited. But we don’t believe colleges will accept ‘taking standardized tests’ as an extracurricular activity! We recommend that you plan to take the ACT and/or SAT 1–3 times.”

AND THE TOP FACTOR IS… 

How selective are your colleges? How academically competitive are you as a candidate?

This may be the most relevant question in addressing whether to re-take the SAT or ACT—or to switch from one to the other.  Standardized testing is the third most important factor in college admissions, following your grades and the rigor of your curriculum relative to what’s available at your high school.

To assess whether your test scores will push your application into the “yes” or “maybe” admissions piles, look at the national mid-50% scores of accepted applicants at the colleges to which you wish to apply. If you attend school in a highly competitive part of the country, such as the New York metropolitan area, you should be above the mid-50% to be a viable candidate. Also check your own school’s admissions history to see if your academic profile matches those of accepted students.

Conclusion

As with all decisions related to college admissions, a variety of complex factors are involved. Choose the right course of action for YOU in particular!

For example, if you took the SAT twice already, did an extensive amount of test prep, have scores above the mid-50% of the colleges you are most strongly considering, and you prefer the SAT to the ACT, then you probably do not need to re-take the SAT or take an ACT.  Alternatively, if you took the ACT without any test prep, your scores are below the mid-50% of the colleges you prefer, and you realize that the ACT is too time-pressured for you, it may be advisable to switch to the SAT and prepare properly for the exam.

For more information or guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!

Ask the Experts: Should I Take the New SAT?

The redesigned SAT will debut in the spring of 2016. As a result, many current sophomores must decide whether to prep early and take the old SAT before the change, wait and take the new version of the SAT, or avoid the SAT altogether and focus on the ACT.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this dilemma. There are many different types of students and test-takers, and we hope that by asking the right questions, we can provide you with the proper tools to make an informed decision.

Collegiate Gateway has asked several of New York’s top test prep tutors for their insight and advice. The following people graciously responded to our questions:

  • Jed Applerouth, founder of Applerouth, with offices in New York, DC, LA, Atlanta, Seattle, Savannah, Chicago
  • Peter Baum, test prep tutor in Manhattan and San Francisco
  • Alex Freedman, Advantage Testing Director of Connecticut office and senior tutor in Manhattan; Advantage has 16 offices throughout the US, and an office in Paris
  • Lisa Jacobsen, Founder and CEO of Inspirica, with offices in New York, Boston and Philadelphia
  • Phyllis Jencius, test prep tutor on Long Island
  • Bill Ma, test prep tutor on Long Island, author of CliffNotes SAT CramPlan, CliffNotes ACT CramPlan, CliffNotes GMAT CramPlan, 5 Steps to a 5 AP Calculus AB, 5 Steps to a 5 AP Calculus BC
  • Frank Pomilla, president and founder of Test-Takers, with 11 offices throughout the Greater New York area.

Here’s what they had to say!

Do you have general suggestions for current sophomores concerning which of the tests to take: old SAT, new SAT, or ACT? 

Expert Consensus: Many of our experts are avoiding the new SAT, instead recommending that students take the current SAT in the fall or early winter of their junior year, or simply focus on the ACT. However, some experts disagree and feel that the redesigned SAT is a viable option, especially for high achieving students.

Jacobsen: Sit for diagnostics (preferably right after school ends this year) in both the current SAT and ACT. See which test yields a better score and/or shows more promise for improvement. If there is a better feel for the ACT or the ACT yields a significantly better score – problem solved! No need to worry about the redesigned SAT (or it could be considered later when we have more information about it). Student could sit for the ACT as 11th graders normally would in February, April or June of 2016. If there is a better feel for the current SAT or the current SAT yields a significantly better score, then consider an accelerated preparatory program for this test.  Current SAT prep would begin ideally over the summer before 11th grade and into the fall. Students could then sit for the SAT on a few of the fall/winter test dates: October, November, December – the last one being in January of 2016.

Freedman: Rather than speculate, students should take multiple diagnostics for both the ACT and the new SAT in simulated conditions. Some good news is that there will now be substantially more overlapping content on both tests. By early 2016, practice test results should make clear to both student and tutor which test is best for the student. For this reason, we respectfully disagree with those who suggest that students should avoid the new SAT altogether in favor of the ACT. Certain students will be better suited to take the new SAT; it makes no sense for these students to take a test for which they are less naturally inclined simply for fear of the unknown. Students who are ready to work hard will have ample time and materials to excel on this test.

In most circumstances, we would not advise current sophomores to plan to take the old SAT because the opportunities for repeat testing will be so limited and they would be placing a great deal of weight on a single test outcome. However, a student who is very advanced, has a robust vocabulary, and is performing exceptionally well on simulated practice tests could be poised to excel on the old SAT on or before January 2015.

Applerouth: Figure out by the beginning of summer whether you are better suited for the current SAT or the ACT. You can use the sophomore PSAT as a proxy for the current SAT, or simply take a practice SAT. To establish a baseline score on the ACT, take a practice test. Students should use official, calibrated materials to yield the most accurate baseline score.  Compare the scores and make a decision based on the relative percentiles.

Baum: Of course, every student’s needs are different, but I’m generally shying away from the new SAT in the short-term. The SAT people are still working out the kinks on how the test works, and I don’t see a compelling reason to make my students guinea pigs for the new test. I’m recommending to higher-scoring kids that they plan to take the old SAT twice by January of their junior year. For kids who may need more development time, they can take the April and/or June ACT. Outside of New York, the February ACT is an option as well.

Pomilla: Our stance is evolving, but it seems to make sense to get an early jump on the SAT, while it’s still in its familiar format, since our experience has shown that the current SAT is the most coachable exam for the greatest number of students. (The ACT’s emphasis on speed is a hard hurdle for some students to overcome, even with coaching.) This means starting SAT preparation in the summer between sophomore and junior years, or in the early fall by latest.  In sum, then, my advice to the class of 2017: Prep early for the SAT to take advantage of the current format. If needed—and only if needed!—take the ACT or redesigned SAT later in the year; there will be some, but not total, carryover of the prep you’ve already done for the current SAT.

Jencius: If current sophomores are strong in the critical reading, math, and writing skills sections as demonstrated by the 2014 PSAT they have taken, I would encourage them to prepare this year and the beginning of next and take the current format of the SAT in December/January. By doing so, they also allow themselves time to consider the ACT, which I would recommend taking in April/June 2016.   

Ma: The new test is supposed to be very different. The problem is that the College Board released only 48 sample math questions about a month and a half ago, but not a full test, which will have 58 questions.  They are still doing research on what the new test should be and haven’t settled on a final version of what it looks like. For that reason alone, I tell the 10th graders that we don’t have all the information, so they are better off focusing on the ACT, or if they really want to take the SAT, should focus on the old SAT.

How would you compare the current SAT, new SAT and ACT?  Do you think the new SAT is truly intended to align more with Common Core or to be more similar to the ACT?

Expert Consensus:  Most of our experts agree that the new SAT is steeped in Common Core and is intended to compete with the format of the ACT. They mention that while the new SAT looks harder, the ACT has already become more difficult in order to compete with the format of the new SAT. There is some disagreement, however, as to whether or not a Common Core foundation will affect most students’ scores.

Jacobsen: Well, the short answer is that the new SAT will do both. The College Board has taken on the difficult task of aligning itself to the Common Core, while at the same time, distinguishing itself from the ACT, which has been traditionally cited as being more aligned to the Common Core. Quite a quandary! The redesigned SAT appears to show many more similarities to the ACT – the new SAT writing section, in fact, appears almost identical to the current ACT English section. What’s more, the redesigned SAT will include those math topics that are currently on the ACT and lacking on the current SAT. At the same time, though, the redesigned SAT will be even more steeped in the CCSS, evaluating deeper concepts and offering greater challenges than even the ACT.

Students who attend schools that are aligned to CCSS will be at least a little more comfortable with the material. The problem is that the Common Core Standards are not universally in place throughout the country, and thus huge pockets of students would have greater difficulty with this new material.

Ma:  Some of the questions of the new SAT will be very similar to the ACT. The College Board wants the questions to have real-life applications. For instance, on the current SAT, numbers divide comfortably, but in the new test, answers will have lots of decimals to duplicate real-life. Instead of a perfect line, they will have a “line of best-fit.” With the current SAT, you have to know how to manipulate algebra and recognize some tricks that don’t have to do with everyday math. Although the new SAT will have four more math questions than the current SAT (58 vs. 54), the new test will have only two math sections, one with a calculator and one without a calculator, whereas students can use a calculator in all three sections of the current SAT. Bright kids will do well on either test, but the training is different.  Also, the new SAT test looks harder, but there will be only four answer choices instead of five and no penalty for wrong answers [like the ACT], which will raise the score.

Pomilla: The redesigned SAT is deliberately aligned more with the Common Core than the ACT (but the ACT was more aligned to high school curricula than the current format, as the current SAT was deliberately designed to be largely curriculum-free, in College Board’s own phrasing). The new head of College Board is one of the architects of the Common Core (for better or worse!). The College Board is using the new SAT’s alignment with Common Core as a selling point. So, yes the redesigned SAT will be most aligned with Common Core, followed by the ACT, and trailing both is the current-format SAT. But, interestingly, this makes little difference in most kids’ scores.

Based on your experience, what kinds of students tend to do better on the ACT vs. the current SAT?

Expert Consensus:  The consensus among our experts is that students who prefer academic achievement tests, excel in math and science, and who don’t have issues with time during standardized testing tend to prefer the ACT.

Freedman: Students who are particularly strong in the sciences tend to enjoy the Science section of the ACT (likewise, students who have a phobia for all things science-related tend to be easily rattled by it). Also, some students prefer the more “academic feel” of the ACT as opposed to the multistage problem solving and test-specific approaches required for certain question types on the SAT.

Jacobsen: The ACT has usually proven to be the better choice for students who are more comfortable on the math/science end and who don’t usually struggle with time issues on standardized tests. The ACT has traditionally been labeled an “achievement” test, so good grades in school usually translate well on the ACT. The current SAT has been more of a “reasoning” test – good for students who can think on their feet. The format of the test also allows for a bit more time per question, and is generally preferred by students who have time issues on standardized tests. And, of course, the current SAT has those classic “SAT words.”

Who should consider taking the new SAT?

Expert Consensus:  There is a consensus among our experts that high-performing students will continue to do well on the redesigned SAT, but they may have to train for it in new and different ways. There is some disagreement, however, as to whether those students should take the new SAT over any of the others.

Applerouth: Academically superior students should do very well.  Students who will be well suited for the new SAT will excel at critical thinking, advanced math, and reading and comprehending advanced texts. Due to this skill set, these students will likely also do well on the current SAT and ACT. Based on the problems that have been released to date by the College Board, the new SAT appears to be the most rigorous assessment of the three; therefore, students ready for the hardest test will likely fare well on either of the current assessments. 

Freedman: Strong math students will not be intimidated by the more difficult math they will encounter on the new SAT. And voracious readers who are well versed in widely circulated newspapers and general interest magazines should be in a good position to do well on the new reading passages that will be drawn from diverse nonfiction subjects and include informational graphics.

Jencius: For students who feel “rushed” in preparing to take SATs early in their junior year, I would advise them to begin getting used to the new format.  There are materials that are becoming available and sample questions of redesigned format PSAT/SAT already online. Another valuable indicator of whether to prepare for the reformatted SAT will be the results of the new PSAT they will take in their junior year. This will serve as a rough barometer in determining if the new SAT test is right for them. Because the new SAT seeks to align itself with core curriculum, students should make a conscious effort to familiarize themselves with content area vocabulary, including math and science terminology. When examining course material, they should look beyond what may be the correct response and be prepared to justify why a particular answer is such. This is a particularly good practice because it fosters critical analysis and a deeper appreciation of text, skills inherent in performing well in high school, college, and beyond.

What’s your understanding of how the College Board will curve the first few new SATs?

Expert Consensus:  All of our experts believe that there is major uncertainty in knowing how the new SAT test will be curved, and when the test scores will be released. There is disagreement, however, as to whether or not this should be a factor in deciding to take the test.

Freedman: Our expectation is that the College Board will apply the same kind of scoring scale on the new SAT that it has on previous tests—a bell curve with standard deviations based on the number of test takers and the distribution of raw scores. There’s nothing tricky about this method of scoring, and there hasn’t been any suggestion that the Board will arbitrarily “curve up” the scores of the first few tests to allow for an easier transition.

A related point: I don’t think it makes any sense to try to anticipate how strong the pool of test takers will be for the new SAT and to plan a testing strategy around such speculation. For instance, one might think that many students will be unprepared for the new SAT, and so there might be a better chance to score well on the curve. But you could just as well argue that many students will be scared to take the first test and that those who take the new SAT will be especially well prepared. The truth is that no one knows how many people are going to take the new SAT in those first few administrations, and rather than worry about what other people are doing, students should focus on their own preparation.

Applerouth: A major wrinkle with the new SAT is that the test grading and score give back will be delayed for the March and May 2016 test administrations, allowing the College Board to norm the new tests and establish the new testing curve. With that critical delay of performance feedback for our students, I am less excited about the new SAT.

What role does the PSAT play in this new testing landscape?

Expert Consensus: The experts believe that significant PSAT prep is mostly relevant for students pursuing a National Merit Scholarship. For those students, however, the prep that they’ll do for the new PSAT may position them well to succeed on the new SAT.

Pomilla: For most students, the PSAT merely serves as a dry run for the test that matters to colleges, the SAT (or ACT). Those students should not fret about preparing seriously for an exam that is just practice.

For very high scorers (top 3% or so), though, the PSAT does carry significance as the qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship competition—a program that can result in a prestigious honor or even a scholarship. If your academic profile suggests you might be in line for National Merit recognition, my suggestion is to split the difference; spend a modest amount of time prepping for the PSAT, with the understanding that this year it might be only moderately useful in preparing you for the SAT.

Baum: If you’re focused on attaining a National Merit Scholarship, you’ll need to do significant preparation for the PSAT. Because that preparation will translate to the material on the new SAT, students going this route may want to consider taking the new test.

Resources for finding more information about the new SAT

If you are looking for an in-depth look at how to prepare for the new SAT, please check out the College Board’s website for practice questions and a detailed explanation of the differences between the new SAT, current SAT, and ACT.

Making these testing decisions can seem daunting when there is an unknown test involved, but hopefully these opinions will help you to begin your journey in finding your best-fit college. If you have any questions, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help!

The MCAT2015 is Coming – Will You Be Ready?

The Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, will officially launch a new version of the MCAT, called the MCAT2015, next spring, with the first exam scheduled for April 17th, 2015. The test has been changed for the first time since 1991, and AAMC is calling it “a better test for tomorrow’s doctors.” It was designed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.”

New Structure of the MCAT2015

The MCAT2015 is changing in a major way. Most notably, it’s going to almost double in length. The MCAT2015  will include 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes versus the current 144 questions in 3 hours and 20 minute. Because of this, the new test will require a lot more stamina and focus of its test takers.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.03.17 PM

The MCAT2015 will also include different types of questions.  The first three sections are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

Here is a sample question from the MCAT2015 from the section, “Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” It focuses on reasoning about scientific theories and models.

 The radius of the aorta is about 1.0 cm and blood passes through it at a velocity of 30 cm/s. A typical capillary has a radius of about 4 10-4 cm with blood passing through at a velocity of 5 10-2 cm/s. Using this data, what is approximate number of capillaries in a human body?

A.    1   104

B.    2   107

C.    4    109

D.    7   1012

The new sections will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The following visual, from Kaplan Test Prep, illustrates the structural and content changes between the two tests.

 Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.03.52 PM 

The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” is estimating that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT2015 requires “a year of biology, a semester of biochemistry, a year of chemistry, a year of physics, a year of organic chemistry, a semester of psychology, a semester of sociology, and a recommended year of humanities – several requirements above the standard medical school prerequisites.”

Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from a low of 118 to a high of 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The new score reports will provide details on your test performance. “The AAMC envisions a score report that will bring together MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles in a way that highlights applicants’ strengths and weaknesses.” The MCAT Score Report Prototype released by the AAMC illustrates each of these aspects of scoring on a sample score report.

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Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam.

Should You Take the Old, or Wait for the New?

Some students are wondering if they should hurry to take the MCAT before the change. “The Medical School Admissions Doctor” reminds potential applicants that the current MCAT still requires a solid college-level background. The blog recommends that students who “can get two semesters each of biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry all done before January 2015” might benefit from taking the current MCAT before it is removed from testing options after January.

Just because the MCAT2015 will propose new challenges, doesn’t mean you should rush to take the current exam before you’re ready. Bonnie Miller, senior dean associate for health sciences at Vanderbilt University advises her students to wait before taking the MCAT. “Honestly, I think you’re better off taking an exam that you’ve had a while to prepare for,” she says. Since most medical schools accept scores from two to three years ago, many students will be able to keep their options open when it comes to choosing what scores to use.

No matter which test you take or when, be prepared!   And if you have any questions, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.