There is a lot of misinformation about the SAT and ACT. The same is true about test preparation. Below I dispel some of those myths and give you clarity about what you must know before you engage your teen in any test preparation:

MYTH #1: Most colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT.

FACT: ALL colleges place the same value on both exams. (See chart for correlations.) Some colleges that want Subject Tests, will even accept the ACT in lieu of the SAT + 2-3 Subject Tests, i.e. Amherst. Columbia, and Duke to name a few.

MYTH #2: An exceptionally high test score is your teen’s #1 ticket to admission.

FACT: A low score will keep a student out. Student’s scores should correlate with grades, but remember there are 7 components to the college application package – in usual order of importance. There are also at least 7 other lesser factors that can affect acceptance.

  1. GPA
  2. Test Scores
  3. Personal Statement
  4. Extracurricular Activities
  5. Recommendations
  6. Subject, AP and IB test
  7. Class ranking

Your teen is a package deal! NOTE: Since acceptance often relies on some subjectivity on the part of an admissions officer, for particular students a very high test score may contribute 30-50% of whether your teen is admitted to a desired college.

BOTTOM LINE: There is NO checklist of absolutes that will guarantee a student being admitted to a dream school.

MYTH #3: ALL schools Super Score the SAT and ACT so it’s worth it to take the exam as many as 4 or 5 times.

More schools Super Score – taking the highest scores from two or more administrations – the SAT than the ACT, so be sure check to see which schools do. Taking the SAT more than 3 times does not typically reveal any major score increases.

For those schools that do Super Score the ACT, i.e., University of MD, a student can focus on one particular area for each administration and be certain to raise the composite. (So taking the ACT four times with this intention can often raise the composite!)

FYI: Both the SAT and ACT use Score Choice – students can send in the higher scores from a particular sitting.

MYTH #4: It’s best to prepare a few weeks closer to the test date so the material is fresh.

FACT: If your teen wants to get a high test score, it’s best to begin the summer before junior year or MINIMALLY allow 10-12 weeks for prep.

In preparing for a test, students must get a comfort level with the format, question patterns, base knowledge, and skill sets demanded. This typically cannot be done in a condensed time frame with minimal input.

Time spent studying over this period should typically be about 30 minutes a day. DAILY PRACTICE ENSURES TEST TAKING SUCCESS! It takes an average of 5 weeks (actually 3-6 weeks is the consensus) to change habits if minutes of practice are done on a daily basis. Once habits are changed, it takes several weeks to get a comfort level applying them.

BOTTOM LINE: Major test score jumps demand at least 40 hours of preparation for most students.

MYTH #5: Most prep courses are the same and consequently are equally successful in boosting test scores.

FACT: The Wall Street Journal wrote a story discussing the results of a study revealing that the average point boost among students who took test prep courses was 20-30 points on the SAT and 1-2 points on the ACT. That certainly is not a good ROI (return on investment) to say the least!

How can this be? Realize that all prep programs are successful if success is defined by the above marginal gains, but your student deserves scores that are much higher. How can you know if your teen is going to improve SAT scores at least 50-120 points or ACT scores at least 3-5 points in each area?

  • Since tutoring is more effective than a group program, work with a qualified tutor who has studied the exams and created proprietary material. This material should include not only the most effective strategies but how to build the foundation skill sets – critical reading and thinking as well as problem solving.
  • Make sure you know about that tutor’s track record and years of experience in test preparation. There are a lot of tutors who merely go through a practice test book with students with little or no focus on teaching process. Students don’t need a tutor to tell them that ‘A’ is the correct answer; they need to know why they got the question wrong and a strategy to apply so they don’t make the same mistake in thinking.
  • Confirm that the program is able to assess your teen’s better test and is thus able to target instruction and the requisite number of hours to ensure success. A credible test prep program must also offer a diagnostic to assess the better test – ACT or SAT – as well as skill set levels. (Most students require 6-12 tutorial hours in each area determined by SAT and ACT Skill Set AssessmentsTM,, academic profile, and prior scores.)
  1. Make sure that the program incorporates teaching efficient reading – improving reading speed and comprehension – as part of their ACT and SAT preparation. Traditional courses teach strategies and assign or administer practice tests – they neglect to teach how to skim and a strategy to find the point of a passage. In other words, significant increases are not likely to happen if students have not also learned how HOW to improve their critical reading and thinking skills.
  • Ensure open lines of communication between you and the tutor. It’s important that parents are informed if students are not following through on their commitment to complete assignments. It is also important that tutors communicate with parents if any red flags pop up like perceived learning challenges, hitting a wall, attitude issues, etc. It’s also nice to let parents know when their teen is doing amazing!

TRUE STORY: I was called by a parent whose daughter was not moving in another tutorial program. After talking to her for several minutes, it was apparent that her daughter needed to be evaluated to get extra time. I gave her the name of a psychologist who tested her, and she was granted the extra time for the ACT two months later! Her other tutor should have been able to pick up on this teen’s challenges. (FYI: Not ALL students who are tested are granted the extra time.)

I hope this clears up the myths you may have heard about the tests and test preparation. So now that you have clarity and are ready to move forward with your teen’s successful test preparation, I look forward to connecting with you!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *