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 international team can guide you through every step of the U.S. college application process.
Confused? While every student is different (and we customize 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. Many colleges consider your ‘superscore’ – your best subscore for each section across multiple test dates.
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE THE SAT/ACT?
SAT—As a junior (year 12), you should target the May and/or June tests and retake in October/November, if necessary. Register for the tests well in advance at sat.collegeboard.org.
ACT—As a junior (year 12), you should target the April and/or June tests and retake in September/October, if necessary. Register for the tests well in advance at www.actstudent.org.
Note: some test dates (like June and October) may coincide with your school exams—start preparing early or avoid these test dates as your academic record is a crucial part of your US application.
WHEN SHOULD I START PREPARING FOR THE TESTS?
It’s difficult to cram for these tests: they assess your problem-solving skills and critical thinking ability, not just memorizable facts. Mitigate stress and begin regular preparation 2-6 months in advance – most of our clients receive 20+ hours of tutoring for 1-2 hours per week before taking the test for the first time. Start with a full-length diagnostic exam to gauge your initial score and take regular practice tests along the way to monitor your improvement. Research the average scores for freshmen admitted to your target universities and calculate how many points you need to improve.
WHAT ABOUT THE SAT SUBJECT TESTS?
Check the admissions section of your target colleges’ websites. While many colleges do not require SAT IIs (one hour content-based subject exams), the majority of the most competitive US Universities will require 2-3 SAT Subject Tests. Some colleges will permit you to take the ACT 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 the same test date. Choose the subjects that best match up to your A levels, APs or IBs.
SHOULD MY STUDENT TAKE THE ACT OR THE SAT?
Although most of our students score comparably on both exams, sometimes we find that a particular test aligns better with a student’s academic strengths. We recommend your student take both diagnostic exams so that our staff may assess which test offers greater potential for score improvement.
Of course, you don’t have to choose; you can target both exams. There is a great deal of content overlap between the SAT and the ACT, and the techniques and strategies we teach are applicable to both. Many of our students work with us to prepare for one exam during the fall and winter and seamlessly transition to the other in the spring. All of our tutors are trained to teach both exams.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO, ANYHOW?
The SAT and ACT are very similar exams. Both combine content students are learning in school with evaluations of natural reasoning abilities and problem-solving and analytical skills. 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, but this is not the case. The fact that the ACT contains a “science” section is a central cause of this misunderstanding. This section is approximately 99% data interpretation, however, and therefore requires little knowledge of classroom science subjects. With the 2016 redesign of the SAT, data analysis is now tested on both exams.
While the exams cover the same content areas and skillsets, they vary in timing and format.
Here are major format differences between the two tests:
New 2016 SAT
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):
||5 sections total, (including optional essay):
|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 randomized.||The math section questions are in order of difficulty; the other sections are more randomized.|
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 <insert month here> test is easier than the <insert month here> 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 seniors vs juniors 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.
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 school courses.