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ACT & SAT: What You Need to Know

If you or your high school child plans to attend college, you probably have already heard about the ACT and SAT tests. Post-secondary institutions require prospective students to complete at least one of these exams, and post an acceptable score. You must determine which test to take, and identify the subjects you need to study in preparation for it.

The SAT

The Scholastic Assessment Test was called the Scholastic Aptitute Test when it was created in 1926. Either way, it has always been known as the SAT. The Educational Testing Service administers the exam, which was developed by a nonprofit organization called the College Board.

The test is designed to measure whether a student has the literacy and writing skills required to be successful in college. Students have 3 hours and 45 minutes to answer the questions. With breaks, the process takes 4 hours and 30 minutes. Students earn a score between 200 and 800 points in critical reading, writing and math. Each subject features 10 sub-categories, with questions ranging from easy to difficult.

The critical-reading section requires students to complete sentences and answer questions about information contained in blocks of text. Skills measured are vocabulary, knowledge of sentence structure, and the ability to comprehend reading passages regarding various subjects.

The math portion of the SAT, also called the “quantitative” or “calculation” section, has three components that take a total of 70 minutes to complete. Most of the questions are in multiple-choice format, with some “grid-in” queries that require students to write answers inside grids on the answer sheet. The subjects covered are numbers, algebra, geometry, statistics, probability and data analysis.

The writing section consists of multiple-choice questions and a short essay. Students identify errors in sentences, and decide the best way to improve sentences and paragraphs. Grammar, word-usage, sentence structure and other skills are measured.

To take the SAT, an online reservation is required at the College Board’s website. Reservations, which must be made three weeks in advance of the test, also are accepted by telephone or mail. The test is administered seven times a year in the United States. There is a fee, though low-income students are granted exemptions. A number of organizations and companies provide books, classes, tutoring and online courses to help students prepare for the SAT.

The ACT

The American College Testing (ACT) exam has been used since 1959. According to ACT Inc., which administers the test, it measures students’ educational development, as well as their ability to succeed in college English, math, reading and science courses. A score on a scale of 36 points is determined in each category by answers to multiple-choice questions. The test takes 3 hours and 25 minutes to finish.

The English section, which lasts 45 minutes, consists of 75 questions that test a student’s word-usage, punctuation and other literacy skills. The math section features 60 questions that must be answered within an hour. The subjects include algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

The ACT reading test, which must be completed in 35 minutes, covers prose, the humanities, social science and natural science. The science-reasoning section contains 40 questions with a 35-minute deadline. Students read passages regarding scientific principles, then answer questions about them. Concepts include interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning and problem-solving.

An optional writing section is sometimes included in the ACT. Students have 30 minutes to write an essay on a given topic. The results are included in the English-section score.

The composite of the test scores on the various sections is computed on a scale of 36 points. Depending upon the university, a composite score between 17 and 31 is required for admission. The average student receives a score of about 21. The ACT is administered three to six times per year, with states differing in their schedules.

Choosing a Test

In the past, universities on the East and West coasts of the United States tended to require prospective students to take the SAT. In the South and Midwest, the ACT was preferred. Today, most colleges accept both tests. However, it is crucial that students ask the institutions they may wish to attend about their policies.

The ACT and SAT measure slightly different academic skills, with some some variations in subject matter. Students are advised to figure out which exam is best suited to their knowledge and test-taking skills.

In general, the ACT is considered a content-based exam, while the SAT entails more problem-solving and critical thinking. Put another way, the ACT is an achievement test and the SAT is an aptitude test.

The ACT, unlike the SAT, measures science reasoning, trigonometry and grammar. The SAT is more concerned with vocabulary, and is not solely comprised of multiple-choice questions. It also imposes a penalty for wrong answers, which is not the case with the ACT.

Universities consider numerous factors in deciding whether to admit a student. The ACT or SAT score is a major consideration. It is important for a student to determine which test to take, learn about the subjects it covers, and then take the time to study in advance of the exam date. Earning an acceptable score can make the difference between being accepted or denied at a college.

Overcoming exam fear

Exam fear is caused by one of following reasons:

  • Pressure from parents to score high
  • Fear of failing or scoring less in comparison to friends
  • Not being well-prepared

It is crucial for a student or his/her parents to identify the reason and help overcome exam fear. It has many adverse effects on the student’s performance, such as:

  • Scoring less marks than could’ve been scored
  • Forgetfulness during exam
  • Feeling of failure

Follow these steps to overcome exam fear and improve performance in exams:

Study Regularly

Students try to cram all the study in the last few days or hours. This prevents them from retaining everything consequently making them fearful of the exam. Ensure that you study a little everyday or go through what you did in class after coming home. Studying an hour each day also helps in remembering things when you eventually start preparing.

Prepare Well

When you sit down to prepare for exams, make it a point to make notes which will help in revisions. Having well-prepared notes will ensure that you do not have to go through the entire material again. Be sure not to leave out anything while preparing. Students usually tend to leave out things which don’t seem important. Remember, an exam is to test your learning and memory, the examiner can ask anything.

Take Breaks

While studying, don’t think you can do everything in one go. Take small study breaks in between to relax your mind and retain what you have gone through. When you resume studying, remove any distractions and focus on the material alone. Be sure to study in a quiet, calm environment. Don’t choose a place where other people in the family hang out. It will cause disruptions in your studying.

Sleep Properly

Have a proper sleep the night before exam. Don’t stay awake the night before; learning, reading, memorizing, or revising. Complete your revision and study, before time. Students usually make the mistake of staying late and studying, but understand this: relaxing your mind before exam will not make you forget anything, but rather help you in retaining and extracting it better when the exam paper comes in front.

Learn, Not Memorize

The mistake many students make is, they memorize things. What you as a student must understand is that memorizing will not help you in any way. If it gets you through the exam, it will definitely not get you through life. Understanding what you are reading is the proper learning; it will stay with you throughout life and help you in further learning.

Relax Yourself

If you start feeling stressed in between the exam or before, relax yourself. Take deep breaths and contract and stretch your muscles. This really helps some students in relaxing and won’t take more than a minute or two. It will help alleviate your fear and clear doubts from your mind. Also, think positive always. Convince yourself that you can do it and you will not fail or lag behind. You are just as smart as everyone else.

Thoroughly Read the Paper

Before you start attempting the paper, read it once thoroughly and completely. Mark the questions you know the best and attempt those first. Organize your thoughts and points for each question and then start writing it down. Take into account the marks allotted to each question and maintain your answer length accordingly. This will help you manage your time well and ensure that you don’t leave any question out due to time shortage.

Always remember, preparation is the way to overcoming half your fear. Any remaining stress will automatically alleviate once you realize that you know all or maximum parts of the question paper. Understand that exams are part of life and you can never avoid them. So it’s best to overcome your fear and face it. As parents, support you child in overcoming any fear. Don’t underestimate or pressurize them in doing more than they already are. Make it a point to let them know you are there to help them and provide positive encouragement.

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