SAT & ACT FAQs

International students applying to US colleges are required to sit the SAT or ACT and many will also take SAT Subject Tests. These tests are challenging for American students who have been preparing for years and can pose a real headache for international students who must juggle existing coursework and busy schedules.

Sounds overwhelming? Don’t worry, A-List Education is here to help! A-List is one of the leading New York tutoring companies and now our expert London-based team can guide you through every step of the U.S. college application process.

Confused? While every student is different (and we customise our plans accordingly) the questions below provide some useful guidelines.

How many times should I take the test?

Plan to take the test 2-3 times. This reduces test-day anxiety and many colleges allow you to ‘superscore’ meaning that you can combine your best subscore for each section across multiple test dates.

When should I take the SAT/ACT?

SAT—Target the March and/or May tests and if necessary retake in October/December. Register for the tests well in advance at sat.collegeboard.org. ACT—Target the April and/or June tests and if necessary retake in September/October. Register for the tests well in advance at www.actstudent.org. Note: some test dates (like June and October) will coincide with your UK exams—start preparing early or avoid these test dates as your UK exam results are a crucial part of your US application.

When should I start preparing for the tests?

It’s tricky to cram for these tests, they do not just test content but your ability to problem solve. Avoid stress and start regular preparation 2-6 months in advance. Most of our clients receive 20+ hours of tutoring for 1-2 hours per week. Begin with a diagnostic full-length practice test to gauge your starting point and take regular tests along the way. Research the average scores for freshmen admitted to your target colleges and calculate how many points you need to improve.

What about the SAT Subject Tests?

Check the admissions section of your target colleges’ websites. Many colleges do not require SAT Subject Tests but the majority of the most competitive colleges will require 2-3 SAT Subject Tests. One major advantage of the ACT is that some colleges will permit you to take it in lieu of the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests. If you are required to take the SAT Subject Tests you can take all of them on one test day and fortunately they’re only one hour long. Choose the subjects that best match up to your A levels or IBs.

Should my student take the ACT or the SAT?

Though most of our students score comparably on the two exams, every once in a while we find that a particular test will align better with a student’s strengths. If you would like to get a sense of whether or not the SAT or ACT would be more appropriate for your son or daughter, we can have your student take both diagnostics and have one of our staff members review the scores with you to help decide on the best possible course.

Of course, you don’t have to choose; you can target both exams. The strategies and content that we teach are applicable to both the SAT and the ACT, and all of our tutors are trained to teach both exams.   Many of our students work with us for one exam in through the fall and winter and make a seamless transition to prepare for the other exam in the spring. We have a score conversion chart, which will give you an estimate of what your score (on either the ACT or SAT) would be for the opposite test (again either the ACT or SAT).

As with all things that concern admissions, it’s important to check the websites of the colleges your student is considering to check their individual admissions policies.

What’s the difference between the two, anyhow?

A: I’m sure you’ve heard all sorts of things about this—things like: The ACT is more like the stuff you learn in school, and the SAT tries to trick you! Or, the ACT is easier! Or, the SAT is easier!

Here is the truth: The SAT and ACT are very similar exams. Both exams combine content learned in school with natural reasoning abilities. Each sets out to assess a student’s ability to read and interpret data using the knowledge acquired during a student’s academic career.

Parents and students are often told that the ACT is more geared towards classroom learning than the SAT. The fact that the ACT contains a separate “science” section contributes to a good portion of misinformation. The section itself is approximately 99% data interpretation and requires little knowledge of classroom science subjects. A test-taker might encounter 1-2 questions on the science section that won’t be answered in the passages and require outside knowledge, but the majority of the information is right in the test. With the 2016 SAT re-design, this type of data interpretation is now tested in both exams. Overall, the truth is that the tests are incredibly similar and generally test the same skill sets while varying most in timing and format.

Here are major format differences between the two tests:

New 2016 SAT

ACT

Scoring

1600 Total Points:

Evidence-Based Reading & Writing section will be worth 800 points and the Math section will be worth 800 points

36 total composite points:

English, Math, Reading, and Science scores will each range from 1-36.  Composite ACT score is the average of your scores on the four sections; ranges between 1-36

Differences in Format 5 sections total, (including optional essay):

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test: 65-min reading section 35-min writing section
  • Math: 25-min no-calculator section, 55-min calculator section
  • Essay: 50-min section
5 sections total, (including optional essay):

  • English:  45-min section
  • Math:  60-min section
  • Reading:  35-min section
  • Science:  35-min section
  • Writing:  45-min essay (optional)
Is there a penalty for wrong answers? Nope. Nope.
Do you get Score Choice? The College Board offers score choice. However, many colleges will request all of your scores. It’s always best to check the college websites to be sure. The ACT offers score choice but many colleges will request all of your scores. You may remove an entire test date from your record.
Difficulty Levels The math section questions are in order of difficulty; the other sections are more randomised. The math section questions are in order of difficulty; the other sections are more randomised.
Math Levels                                                                                                                              

Arithmetic, algebra I and II, data analysis, functions, geometry, trigonometry

**Some Formulas Provided**

Arithmetic, algebra I and II, functions, geometry, trigonometry

**No formulas provided upfront, some may be included in the questions**

I’ve heard the March test is easier than the May test. Is this true?

Nope. No matter what month or test date you fill in to this question, the answer is still no. Both the ACT and the SAT go to painstaking lengths to ensure that each test is of the same measured difficulty.  The number of Year 13 vs Year 12 students also makes no difference—the curve isn’t a normal curve like the tests you take in school.  The test makers do everything they can to make sure that your scores are as accurate as possible.