While every student should take either the SAT or ACT, there a couple of key factors to consider when deciding which test to prepare for and take. In this webinar, you will learn about the exam structure, timing, focus, preparation strategies, and more. You can also read the full webinar transcript below.
Welcome to tonight’s webinar on “The SAT or the ACT”. This is a common question that faces lots and lots of students as they proceed through high school and start to think about college. Start to think about these standardized exams.
Everyone who’s going to go to the vast majority of colleges in America has to take one or the other, has to at least get a score that they’re happy with. That they’re ready to apply with of one of these two tests so … the similarities, the differences, and all of the factors that go into, sort of, making this decision, and making it well, are what we’re gonna cover this evening.
That being said, I’d like to make a couple of announcements before we start. The first, is just, if you have questions at any point during the presentation this evening, feel free to submit them using a questions pop on your go to webinar control panel.
I won’t be taking questions during the presentation itself, but you’re welcome to submit them. I will attempt to take some time at the end to answer as many as I can get to. Especially any that I think will apply to more than one attendee. Right? If it’s a general question, or a question that many, many, attendees might have, I’ll probably prioritize those.
In addition, in the questions pop, if you would like the C2, that’s closest to you to reach out to you directly to get in touch, feel free to submit your contact information, your name, your phone number, and most importantly your zip code, so that I know which C2 you’re actually close to and which C2 I should instruct to contact you. Just, submit that information as a question. I’ll go through active 11 up and make sure that any personal information that has been submitted is passed along to the proper center and that they reach out to you as soon as possible.
There’s also a handout section of your go to webinar control panel. And, in there you should find a coupon that you may download at any point during the webinar this evening. This is a coupon that entitles you to come into C2 and take one of our practice exams. Now, if that were it, if that were all the coupon entitled you too, I don’t think we would value it at over $120. There’s plenty of places where you can take a practice exam. Instead, I think the real value of the coupon lies in the fact that not only do you get to take a practice exam, but you get to sit down with one of our center directors and go over, in great depth, what the results were, and what they mean.
In other words, what you should do about them, what your students should do about them. Whether that’s in the short term, maybe you have a student that’s just about to start their senior year of high school and is trying to do some last minute test taking, or retaking, in order to make their college applications as strong as possible. Maybe you’ve got a high school freshman. You know, just finished 8th grade, or is looking at the very beginning of high school in the fall, and is really trying to map out the next three or four years of their academic career.
In either case, our center director would be able to walk you through the results and talk about the implications at every stage. Including, multiple years down the line if you student is that young.
So, like I said, at any point during the presentation this evening, feel free to go into that handout section, download that coupon. Again, we value it at over $120.
Last, kind of, housekeeping item. Before we get started here, just if one of you, or maybe a couple of you can confirm that you can hear. That you’re seeing the PowerPoint on screen, that the audio is coming through loud and clear. We’ve had a couple of audio glitches in past webinars and I wanna make sure that we don’t have that once again.
So, excellent. Okay. I’ve got a couple folks already confirming that the tech set up is good. Which is excellent. So, we will go ahead and get into it.
I realize that I haven’t actually introduced myself yet, so … My name is Jesse Pizarro. I am one of the teacher trainers here at C2 Education Now. But, the way I moved into that role was spending a long, long time as an actual C2 teacher. So, I’ve worked with a lot of students. I’ve seen a ton of different students, both succeed beyond their wildest dreams, and also, maybe not make as much progress as they might have liked. They don’t seem to, kind of, get it when it comes to the ACT, the SAT, and what really works to help students prepare.
I’ve also see the changes over time to these exams. That’s part of my job, is to kind of keep track of those changes and not only what they are but what they mean. What’s kind of written between the lines, and what they imply for students that are gonna be taking these exams. So, I have a wealth of experience I think that I’ll be a good guide to the information about these two exams. And, more importantly, the implications of that information as I’ve tried to stress thus far.
So, that is our plan for this evening, right? It’s pretty straight forward. We’re going to talk about the ACT. We’ll go through it section by section. We’ll talk about the features of it. And then we’ll go through the SAT and do the same. As we go through both sections, you know, it’s pretty implicit that throughout you kind of have to compare the two exams. That’s the context in which each exam exists is in relation to the other one. But, we’ll also do a more explicit, point by point comparison at the end to make clear exactly all the factors that you might consider when you’re trying to make this decision. And, like I said, at the end I will carve out some time to answer a few questions should you submit them during the presentation.
So, with that let’s go ahead and talk about the ACT. So, one difference between the exams that’s really more of a superficial difference than a real difference is just the score. Right? The ACT is scored out of 36, while I’m sure you all know the SAT is scored out of 1600.
The way they get this overall 36 point score, is they give you a score out of 36 on each of the four multiple choice sections. English, math, reading, and science. Note, that English there means, you know sort of, your grammar style multiple choice section. It does not factor in the essay, should the student choose to write the essay. Because the essay, just like on the SAT, is theoretically optional. You do not have to write it. It is scored out of 12, and that score is called your writing score, should you actually take the essay.
There are also two sub scores that will appear on your ACT score report. What’s called the ELA score. In this, they convert your writing score to a 36 point scale. They don’t say exactly how they do that, although I suspect they just multiply that by three and then they average it with your English and your reading scores from the multiple choice questions of the exam.
There’s also a stem sub score which is just a simple average of your math and science scores on the exam.
Now, the SAT has a whole bunch of sub scores as well. And so, one question I get from students a lot is, “Do these matter, and do I need to retake the exam so that this sub score can go up?” My general advice is, look, you wanna retake the exam to bring your score up or to improve your overall score, that’s a perfectly valid thing to want to do, and depending on if you’re willing to put in the work and the time and the energy and the effort, it can be very wise. It can be very much advisable. But, worrying about a sub score, on the ACT or the SAT, is generally speaking not what you should be doing.
In general, colleges look at those top line scores. That’s the purpose of these exams. If colleges want to get a lot more specific information about your potential, let’s say, to be a good biology major as a scientist, they’re much, much more likely to look at an essay subject test score in bio to look at an AP exam score, to look at your grade in your biology class or honors biology class, or AP biology class, which ever one you might have taken in high school.
So, again, when it comes to the ACT and the SAT, what you’re trying to do is get the biggest number possible out of 36 for the ACT, out of 1600 for the SAT, that’s your central focus. And the rest of it is much less important when it comes to these exams.
Okay. I see one person has submitted that they’re not, actually, they’re having trouble seeing the PowerPoint, or the actual slides themselves. I saw a couple of folks confirming that they’re actually seeing the slides, which is good. So, can folks just reconfirm that to make sure that this is an isolated, one person that’s having this issue and not something broader?
Okay. Excellent. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, for the one person who was having that issue, I apologize, but I think it is on your end. I do not think it is on our end as a number of folks have just written in to confirm that they can see the slides and so on and so forth.
Okay. So, the first section of the ACT. And one of the actual, it’s got a slight difference between the ACT and the SAT, is that in the ACT the sections are always presented in the same order. Students will always take the four exam sections in the same order.
So, the first section is the English section. This is basically a test of grammar, and that also rhetorical skills. Right? So, it is not just grammar. This is sometimes a misconception for folks that haven’t taken these exams in a while, or haven’t interacted with them. That, you know, the English section is just on punctuation, and spelling, and verb tense, and stuff like that. That stuff does make up a big chunk of the exam, right? Maybe a little bit over half, or close to half, of the exam.
But, there’s also a big chunk on what we call rhetorical skills. Things like strategy, organization, and style. Questions like ordering the sentences in a paragraph, both so that they makes sense, but also so that the paragraph, kinda, packs the most punch. Or is as powerful, and persuasive, and convincing as it might be.
Ordering the paragraphs in a larger passage could fall under this. Or, even, selecting among versions of a sentence, not simply for correctness, but also for quality. Right? You can have two sentences, both of which are grammatically sound, and yet one of which is much, much, better at making the point, or convincing the audience, or existing as a sentence in a paper in an essay.
And the rhetorical skills type questions try to probe your skill at determining that, and figuring those out. So, it’s not enough just to memorize some grammar, right? You have to do a little bit more than that.
That having been said, when you’re thinking about these two tests, when you’re thinking about, “Well, okay. So, should I take the ACT, or should I take the SAT?” The English section isn’t really, shouldn’t really be your primary consideration. Because the English section on the SAT, and the English section on the ACT are almost identical. It is very, very, hard to tell them apart if you just looked at a sample version of each.
And, so, because they are so similar, right, you’re not gonna have a very different experience on either exam. It’s better to focus on some of the other sections where there are much, much, more significant differences.
One of those sections is the math section, right? So, on the Act math you get to use your calculator throughout the entire thing. That is one big difference. While, the SAT has a no calculator section. The other, kind of, major difference is while the ACT math is very heavily influenced by algebra, as is the SAT, the ACT has a lot more geometry than the SAT does featured on.
The SAT has a type of math question that they call the passport to advanced math, and you know, maybe a quarter of the exam falls into that category. They cut most of the geometry out of the SAT in order to make room for those passport to advanced math type questions.
And so, when you’re thinking about, you know, “Which test is better for me?”, or, “Which test am I likely to perform better on?” Thinking about where you are in your, kind of, math career, right? Have you taken geometry yet? Have you taken pre-calculus yet? How did you do in each of those classes respectively? Did you like your geometry class? Did you feel like you were good at it? Or, could you not wait to be done with it and get back to, sort of, the algebra, that was much more familiar to you?
So, that will be different from student to student. That’s something, of course, a practice test can help you figure out, but it’s also something that you should sort of think about in advance. It’s one of the, sort of, major factors to consider when you are trying to exam which exam is a better fit for you.
Okay. The third section of the ACT is the reading section. Here, you’ll get four passages, each of those passages you’ll be asked 10 questions about it. One nice thing about the ACT is the passages always are of the same type and come in the same order. It’s a highly predictable exam for the vast majority of students. So, you can see here the different passage types. The types of passages on the ACT and the SAT are very, very, similar. Right?
Prose fiction, humanities, social science, and natural science type passages will be represented on both exams. Both exams also now feature dual passage type questions. Right? Where they might give you two passages that you have to read, kind of, simultaneously and then some questions will be about the first passage, some questions will be about the second passage, some questions will be about both.
But, overall, in terms of differences, there aren’t a whole lot. Right, there is one, kinda weird passage type on the SAT, that we’ll talk about in much more detail when we get to the SAT section of the presentation.
The other difference is, generally speaking, you get less time per question on the ACT, than you do on the SAT. So, for students who struggle to read quickly, or to work quickly, that could possibly be a reason to lean SAT. That said, some people think that the questions are a little bit more complex, or a little bit more difficult on the SAT, to kind of, compensate for that time difference. So, it really does depend, from student to student, which is going to be the better fit for them when it comes to the reading section.
But, again, over all there are a lot more similarities than differences in terms of the reading sections on the two exams.
Okay, so the next section here is the science section. This is probably the most controversial section on the ACT. It is probably the single reason that most students who don’t wanna take the ACT site for not wanting to take the ACT. Which is, “I don’t like science. I’m not good at science. You know, science just isn’t my thing, so therefore, I’m not gonna take the ACT because it has a science section.” And that’s a perfectly valid, sort of, way of thinking if all you know is that there’s a section on the ACT called science.
But, if you actually start to investigate what that section tests, what the questions look like, what the task is that they give to students you will start to see that the idea that you need to know a whole bunch of science in order to do well on this section is a bit of a myth. In fact, the ACT science section is much, much, more about quantitative skills. About things like your ability to read graphs. And also about, sort of, scientific reasoning abilities as opposed to scientific knowledge.
So, in other words, can you design an experiment? Can you figure out what the independent and dependent variables might be? Can you determine whether the experiment is, you know, sort of, appropriately controlling for those various variables. Can you read a graph? Can you read a chart? Can you pull, sort of, the important information out of it that … Can you understand why the graphic was designed the way it was to sort of display the information in question.
You don’t, on the other hand, need to know the steps involved in photosynthesis. Or, some fancy physics equation that they teach in the electricity and magnetism section, or something like that. In general, on the ACT science section, if you need to know some specific science fact, or equation, or something like that, it will be provided for you. You will not need to have memorized it. They’re not testing you on that.
Now, you might say, “Jesse, that’s all well and good, but I still don’t like science, it’s still called a science section. And, while you say I don’t need to know any bio or chem to do well on this, you know, it’s just not my thing. I’m just gonna go take the SAT. Thank you though.” The problem with that, is that you don’t actually get away from these kinds of questions by taking the SAT.
In fact, the SAT now features graph reading and, sort of, quantitative analysis type questions. Not simply in one section, called science, they actually just sprinkled them throughout the entire SAT. So, there are graph questions in the writing section. There are graph questions in the math section. There are graph questions in the reading comprehension section of the SAT. And, the SAT, sort of, scores all of those questions and then derives what they call a cross test in science score, just based on how the student has performed on those questions specifically.
Again, you’re gonna get a little score on your SAT score report that says science next to it and you’re gonna get a whole bunch of questions that are very similar to the types of questions asked in the ACT science section, on the SAT.
So, while many, many, people think of this as being the biggest difference between the two exams, I don’t think that’s true at all. If anything, I think it’s essentially like the ACT science section was chopped up and sprinkled all over the whole SAT. Right? It’s not gone. You don’t get to get away from it, or avoid it by taking the SAT, you just have to do it throughout the test instead of, kind of, concentrated into a single section.
Okay, so here we get to the ACT writing. Now, remember, this is the actual essay. This is scored out of 12, like we said before. You get four sub scores out of six. You get each of those sub scores is provided by two graders. Add those two together so you get an overall score to [inaudible 00:18:20] out of 12, you get a development and support score out of 12, et cetera. Then, they average those four and that gives you your overall score out of 12.
The ACT writing task is reasonably different from the SAT writing task. So, we’ll go through a sample prompt in just a minute here. We’ll talk about what it’s gonna ask of you. But, the point is that this is different, right? This is another area where some students will really prefer, or be good at the ACT essay, and not like, or not be as good at the SAT essay. And, assuming that you’re planning to do the essay, and C2 we strongly recommend that virtually all students, or the vast majority of students, do the essay even if they don’t think of themselves as the world’s best writer, or something along those lines.
You know, this is another sort of major factor that you might wanna base your decision in terms of which exam to prepare for. So, let’s look at a sample prompt. So, the sample prompts are usually about a paragraph long. Maybe a little bit longer than that. And, they pose some kind of hypothetical, some kind of, maybe, philosophical type question, or idea, or kinda thing that’s in either.
Here, we see this idea of intelligent machines, or robots that become increasingly sophisticated and eventually kind of take over the world. What is lost when we replace humans with machines? It is essentially the question here. Now, if this were just the prompt, all by itself, I know the vast majority of students would not like it. It’s a kind of a vague question. It’s not clear at all how they’re supposed to answer it. Or, kind of, what form their answer is supposed to take. And, the ACT, you know, recognizes that to some degree and so they provide students with three sample perspectives. Okay, these are sort of, hot takes, you might call ‘em. What you might think about. Or, what a short response to that prompt might be. Right?
So, perspective one says that we lose a lot. We lose our own humanity if robots take over too much of human society. In perspective two, it’s basically we don’t lose anything, in fact, we gain. Right? It’s a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone. The robots can do all the bad jobs that no one wants to do. And, that leaves, I guess, more free time, maybe money. It’s unclear. But, perspective two seems very, very, positive on this automation trend. Right? And, perspective three actually says that it just changes everything, right? It doesn’t necessarily take a this is good, or this is bad position. It’s more that it’s going to fundamentally change our world and what it even means to be a person. Right?
Change our world, and what do you think it means to be a person, or what it means to be a human. Again, it doesn’t really matter which of these perspectives you like, or you agree with. Your job as a student has two parts to it, right? So first you have to analyze and evaluate those given perspective, right? You have to make a comment in your essay somewhere about each [inaudible 00:21:23], right? This is what perspective one says, but not just what it says. You have to actually evaluate it, right? You have to decide whether you agree with it or not, whether what it says is smart or not. Whether that’s the perspective that other people should be convinced to take. And in doing that, right, you’ll probably start to foreshadow your own perspective on the issue, which you must state and develop, right? It is not enough to simply analyze and evaluate the given ones, you have to ultimately take a position.
Now maybe that’s … You just literally pick one of the three and say, “That one’s right, here’s why”, right? Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others. However, I would argue, and I think most of your English teachers would argue, that’s kind of taking the easy way out, right? And that … Generally speaking, the very best of these essays are going to be in partial agreement, or wholly different from of the perspectives, right? Maybe they’ll try to hybridize two of them, or, again, they’ll take something that’s totally different.
Once you do establish your own perspective, you then need to explain the relationship between your perspective and those given. Now that can happen as you are stating and developing your own perspective, right? Given that you’ve analyzed, that you evaluated the ones previously. As you sort of take that analysis and evaluation and use it to show why it is you think what you think, the relationship between what you end up with and what you started with becomes clear, or perhaps it’s left [inaudible 00:22:47], that’s up to you as a writer. But the point is that you have to do both, right? It is a two part task. And for some students that second part, that state and develop your own perspective on the issue is not their favorite thing, right? They much, much prefer to just analyze what’s in front of them, or talk about what’s in front of them, or talk about what was given to them. As opposed to augmenting that or supplementing it with what they think as well.
So that might be a reason, for some students again, to prefer the SAT. As we’ll see when we discuss the SAT essay later on, it is a much more singular task that is probably familiar to a lot more students. And again, we’ll get into that in greater depth when we get there.
So here you can see the analysis portion of the [inaudible 00:23:36]. And then, the sort of opinion portion where you have to extend your analysis and add to it your own perspective on those issues.
Okay, to kind of sum up, right? What are some of the reasons that you might want to take the ACT, or that you might lean ACT? Based on what we just talked about, and in comparison to the SAT, right? One is you’re really good at geometry, right? You really liked it, maybe it was your favorite math class, maybe you just got an A both semesters and felt like it was pretty easy for you, or just made sense to you, it always went smoothly, right? Now of course, if you’re also really good at pre-calculus and some of that … Sort of what the SAT considers advanced math, right, or [inaudible 00:24:20] to advanced math questions, that difference starts to go away a little bit and you might start thinking about some of the other factors. But let’s say you really like geometry, you’re really good at it, but you haven’t taken pre-calculus yet. Or your pre-calculus class was really, really hard or something like that. That might be a pretty big reason to lean ACT.
Second reason, right, is what we just talked about, that essay. Some students … I know I spend a lot of time talking about how some students wouldn’t like the ACT essay, right? Or some reasons that they might be a little bit afraid of it, or it wouldn’t be their favorite, and I think that is true. I think a lot of students might feel that way, but some students are the opposite. You know, I know when I was in high school I constantly inserted my opinion into essays and my teachers would be like writing in the margins like, “This is great, but maybe not the best spot for it”, or, “This isn’t necessarily the prompt that’s asking you to do that”. I was always trying to take a stand, or take a position. I was, if anything, too comfortable with that. And so, if it were me at 17 or 16 I might lean ACT because that essay is something that I think I would do a good job at, or that I might enjoy writing more than the SAT version.
The last thing is just time, right? We talked about it in the reading section, but it’s true in pretty much all the sections. Almost always on the ACT you will get less time per question than you do on the SAT. Now the ACT sometimes makes up for that by just having more questions, but not always. And so if you are comfortable moving quickly, if you feel … And doing so without a loss of accuracy, right? Without a loss of quality, then again, that’s a reason to lean towards the ACT as opposed to the SAT.
Another thing I get a lot is, “Wait, you said passport to advanced math on the SAT, you said geometry on the ACT. Does that mean the ACT is an easier test and therefore everyone should take it?” And the answer is a little bit complicated. First off, for some students yes, absolutely the ACT will be easier. For other students, no, right? Maybe you hate geometry, maybe that essay is your nightmare, right? Well that could easily be a reason that, “No, this is actually harder than the SAT”. But ultimately I doesn’t really matter because you’re always trying … You’re always being compared to all the other people who take the exams, right? Your goal is to be better than your classmates, right? To be better than your peers, and you can do that regardless of … You can do that on an easy test as long as you get more questions correct, just as you could on a hard test, right? Getting 50 when everyone else gets 49, or getting 42 when everyone else gets 41 is basically the same thing, right? You’re one point better than everyone else, and that’s good. That is a good thing from the perspective of the colleges to which you are going to apply.
So it’s much, much better to pick the exam with which you are comfortable, right? With which you feel like you can get the best possible score, again, compared to your peers more so than trying to sort of maximize some number on some chart somewhere. Remember also that they’ll be able to translate your score from the ACT to the SAT scale and vice versa, that’s what a Concords table does, and the college board has published a gazillion of these things. So don’t think that you’re fooling anyone, right? If you get a really high score on the ACT but the ACT is known to be easier that just means that it will translate lower on the SAT scale and likewise. You know, if the SAT is way way harder that will show up in the scores and the translation from SAT scale to ACT scale will be much more generous. That’s how, again, the Concords tables work. So I wouldn’t worry about this question so much, I would, again, focus on your fit for the exam that you end up choosing to prepare for.
So with that let’s talk about the SAT. So like we said at the beginning, the SAT overall is scored out of 1600, you get a max score out of 800, which is just based on your math sections on the exam. And then there’s the English score, and what this does not mean is that there is just English sections on the exam. There are definitely separate reading and writing section on the SAT that correspond to the reading and writing sections on the ACT. The difference is that the SAT combines your score in reading and writing to give an overall verbal score out of 800, right. They don’t … I mean, they split those out into separate, you know, what they call test scores and sub scores on the score report, but the top line score is just a verbal score in English.
The essay on the SAT is scored a little bit interestingly as well in that you don’t get an overall essay score. There’s no score that’s just out of 8 that represents your essay score. Instead you get three separate scores for reading, writing, and analysis. You’re wondering why there’s a reading score there, I promise that will be explained when we get to discussing the SAT essay. There is no guessing penalty on either exam, this means that students should answer every single multiple choice question on … I mean, on whichever exam they’re taking no matter what because leaving a question blank and getting it wrong is the same. So you might as well take a shot, right? You’ve got a 25% chance of getting it right, and there’s no harm from getting it wrong. Furthermore, the entire test is about three hours and 50 minutes including the essay. I believe the ACT checks in around three hours and 40 minutes including the essay. So you’re not going to save a whole lot of time one way or the other, right? These are exams are highly similar in terms of the amount of time they take the students.
So let’s talk about the sections of the SAT just like we did with the ACT. And again we’ll kind of keep our comparisons going here. The SAT math goes up through pre-calculus, like we said before, right? Whereas the ACT kind of tops out at intermediate algebra, the SAT tends to include what most people would consider higher level math questions. There’s also a no calculator section on the SAT. This is a little bit more nebulous, but the character of the math questions on the SAT is a little bit different from the ACT. In general, questions are maybe a little bit narrower, a little bit deeper than on the ACT. Has maybe a stronger emphasis on problem solving as opposed to problem recognition. What I mean by that is on the ACT, generally speaking, especially in let’s say the first 40 to 45 questions on the math section. If you recognize it, if you see, “Oh, I remember when we did that in math class”, or, “I remember doing something like that”, it’s very likely that you’re supposed to do it the exact same way you did it in school, right? There’s not some trick, there’s not some deduction that you need to make, or recognize, or understand before you can proceed with your solution strategy.
On the SAT, on the other hand, there tends to be a little bit more kind of trickiness to it that can sometimes throw students off a little bit. It’s not always perfectly straightforward, exactly what you’re supposed to do on any given problem. Sometimes you have to come up with a strategy yourself.
The other thing, and this is what we talked about before, right, is the existence of that passport to advanced math section, and the sidelining of geometry as a result of that, right? You can see here, passport to advanced math is fully 27% of the exam whereas geometry only constitutes about 10%. And even there it doesn’t even get to be called geometry anymore, it’s just some additional topic in math, right? It’s just some extra stuff that we through in there about lines, angles, triangle, circles, et cetera, et cetera. So this is where we see the big difference, and this is where you actually need to think about your math schedule in school because you don’t want to be going into these exams without having learned all the math that you’re likely to be held accountable for, right? And so since there is pre-calculus on the SAT, and even on the PSAT at this point, you kind of want to be taking pre-calculus as a sophomore if at all possible. Because if you think about your junior year, students take the PSAT at the start of their junior years for reading, right? The PSAT that actually counts for Natural Merit scholarships and stuff like that is generally given in October of your junior year.
Students often will take their SAT, or their ACT some time during their junior year, often in second semester, right? Maybe in March, or in May, or something like that. Now if you’re taking it in May or June it’s probably okay to take pre-calculus as a junior because you will have essentially finished pre-cal by the time you sit down to take your SAT. But if you want to take it any earlier than that, right? You’ll be taking it while you’re still learning pre-calculus, right? While you haven’t yet completed that class. And so if at all possible, we recommend that you should take pre-calculus as a sophomore, that you should get on that very bottom math schedule, or math track. If you’re not on this math track right now, that’s okay, that’s not the end of the world, right? There’s plenty of places that could help you accelerate at math, or skip a class, right? You can come to see a tutor, you can come to see a tutor over a summer, you can come to see a tutor during a school year and we can teach you a math class that you haven’t yet taken, or help you brush up or accelerate on a class that you’re already taking.
But of course, you can do that other places as well, right? You can take classes online, you can take classes at community colleges, or elsewhere. You can even take summer school, not this summer, but next if you’re a younger student, right? But it’s something that you want to be considering, it’s something that you need to be thinking about as early as eighth or ninth grade because generally speaking, your math schedule is set by eighth or ninth grade unless something goes wrong, right? I know that when I showed up in high school, I was taking something like geometry [inaudible 00:34:05] as a freshman. And I knew exactly what math class I’d be taking for each of the next three years, again, assuming I did well, assuming I didn’t fall behind or get a really bad grade one year or something like that. And so you should as well.
This also speaks to the value of that conference that told you about earlier, that you can get with that coupon, right? Your Center Director can help walk you through all of this information as well. And again, I recommend exactly where you should be math-wise in order to be prepared for these exams, and then what that implies about your schedule in school.
Here you see a couple of sample math problems, these come directly from the college board, and they’re what you should expect to see on the SAT math section. I mean, they kind of get at the idea of what I was talking about before, where they’re not quite as straightforward as ACT problems. It’s not to say they’re harder necessarily, it’s not to say they’re impossible, or way too hard. If you look at that first question on the top left, you know, it’s a third degree function, which might be a little bit unfamiliar to some students. It’s usually covered in [inaudible 00:35:09] two, or maybe pre-calculus. But most of the time when you see a polynomial function like that in math, at least in high school, your job as a student is to set it equal to zero and find x. And on the ACT most of the time, if you see a polynomial function like you should set it equal to zero and find x, right? That’s going to help you solve the problem.
But here you can’t do that, right? If you set it equal to zero you won’t necessarily be able to find x. And in fact, that’s not your goal anyway, right? Your goal here is actually to find the value of c. Now again, this isn’t that hard. If you recognize kind of what’s going on in this problem you will be able to do that very, very quickly, perhaps even in your head. You don’t necessarily even need to use a calculator to solve this question, but that doesn’t make it easy, right? It’s that recognition and coming up with a solution strategy part that’s hard for a lot of students. It’s that, “Wait, I can’t just automatically do what I always do. I have to think about this”, that makes this a challenging question.
Beyond that, when you look at the bottom question. Here we actually do see a little bit of geometry, so they haven’t taken all of it out. And again, it’s not so much that any given sort of piece or step that you might need to take to solve this question is all that hard, right? I think a lot of students would recognize that they need to find the volume of that thing, and then find the volume of the hole, and subtract, right? And so the question is can they figure out a way to find the volume of that hexagon, right? Can they find the volume of a [inaudible 00:36:43] prism, can they recognize that it’s a [inaudible 00:36:44] prism and sort of figure out what their volume formula might be, or how they might do that.
So you know, you have to figure out how to find the area of a regular hexagon, or remember that from geometry. You have to multiply it by the height. You have to find the volume of that cylinder, you have to do the subtraction correctly. And even if you do all of that, right? You’re not going to get this question correct because at the end there, they make it a trick question, right? They don’t ask about the volume anymore. They actually want to know about the mass. And they tell you how to calculate mass based on density and volume there. And so you have to sort of spot that and do that little unit conversion right at the end in order to get everything correct here. So we’re talking about five or six separate steps that students have to think of, execute, and execute quickly and correctly. And so while no individual step is perhaps all that challenging. Adding them all up, this can be a fairly challenging question.
Alright, so what about the English section? We’ll probably go fairly quickly here because again, it’s very similar to the ACT. We see that it’s all passage based, we see that there’s a split between grammar and questions on the expression of ideas. You do get a little bit more time per question on the SAT. The other big difference is the charts and graphs that we talked about when we talked about the ACT [inaudible 00:38:02] section, right? The SAT writing section, the reading section, the math section, they will all feature those charts and graphs that are concentrated into the ACT science section. So here’s what that looks like, you can see there the little chunks of passage are underlined. Your job as a student is to pick a better version, right? Or a correct version. But also a good version, right? It needs to be both grammatically correct and powerful. Likewise, when it comes to the chart questions it needs to be accurate as well, right? That sentence with the six next to it needs to actually say what the chart says, right? It can’t be saying something incorrect or interpreting it improperly.
Alright, how about the reading section on the SAT? So again, really, really similar to the ACT, both in terms of the types of passages, the kinds of questions they ask about those passages. You do get more time per question on the SAT like we mentioned before. And there is a different … there is one sort of interesting kind of weird passage type called the founding documents/great global conversation passage that we’ll talk about in just a moment. Before that though, I did want to give you some good news, which is there are no [inaudible 00:39:16] completions on either exam. [inaudible 00:39:19] completions have appeared more recently on the SATs, so the fact that they are gone is notable. They do test vocabulary though, but they always test it in context.
So here’s an example of one of those vocab questions, again, directly from the college board. And we can see some of the differences between some of the ways the SAT used to test vocabulary and the way they are now. First thing is just the word, intense, that doesn’t strike me as like a SAT word, right? It’s not mendacity, or something mellifluous. Some fancy word that you aren’t ever going to see in real life, or are going to see barely, infrequently in real life [inaudible 00:39:57]. It’s a pretty common word, it’s pretty normal word. But what’s different about it is that it’s a word that has multiple definitions, or that can be used in a variety of different ways, right? It’s not just a fancy word that has a single specific definition, it is a highly used word, but that can be used in different ways and different contexts. And that’s the test, right?
They are testing the word in context, and that means that you have to be a good reader in order to get this stuff correct. If you just memorize the word intense, if you just use a flash card and you write intense on the front and passionate or something like emotional on the back, right? Certainly what I think of when I think of intense. A basketball coach that’s yell at you or something like that. A drill sergeant. If that were how you studied for this you could very easily pick a as your answer here, right? Passionate, emotional, pretty similar, okay, let’s move on. But you have to read the sentence right? If you read the sentence you see that the intense is talking about the clustering, it’s saying that these jobs, innovation, and productivity are all clustering in a smaller number of bigger cities. They are getting packed more and more tightly together. And what does that mean? Well that means concentrated. Not concentrated like thought really hard in order to do well on the SAT. But concentrated like in chemistry, a concentration, right? Something that has had a bunch of water removed from it in order that it becomes … Or some other diluting agent I suppose. In order that it becomes more powerful, it has more of the active stuff in a smaller space. And that’s exactly what’s going on in this question here.
So again, if you’re trying to study for these by memorizing a bunch of fancy words, using one word definition flashcards, you are going to trip over your own feet. You’re going to mess these questions up. You have to study these by reading, right? And by sort of growing your vocabulary a bit more organically then students have in the past. Now I mentioned the founding documents/global conversation passage.
This is probably the trickiest passage type on the SAT just ’cause it will strike some students as weird. Oftentimes, the language is a little bit archaic, especially if it comes from the founding era. If you’re reading the Declaration of Independence or one of the Federalist Papers or something like that, it can be challenging.
The other reason I think this passage type can be a bit challenging to students is that oftentimes you need at least a working knowledge of U.S. government in order to really understand what’s going on. Now, the College Board would say, “No, that’s not true.” Anything you need to know about U.S. government, you could figure out from the passage, and I would say instead, ask yourself: can you define impeachment precisely? Do you know which house impeaches, and which house then holds the trial, and how that all goes, and which presidents have be
Again, a lot of students would be able to. Take maybe gov or something like that, no problem. But for plenty of students, that will be challenging, especially students that perhaps don’t have the strongest of backgrounds in U.S. history or U.S. government.
So this is a small factor but certainly one to consider when you’re choosing between these two tests.
The last section of the SAT that we’ll talk about is the essay. This essay, I think, is more appealing to students in general or on the whole than the ACT essay is, not because it’s easier but because it is more familiar. In other words, when you are a high school sophomore or junior, this is the kind of essay you are writing constantly in English class, particularly if you’re in AP language, or if you’re taking AP lang. This is identical to one of the three essays that appear on the AP language essay, and so it is very likely that you will have practiced writing this kind of essay, that you will know exactly what is required of this kind of essay when you sit down to write it.
That doesn’t make it easy. That doesn’t mean that you can always write a good one, but it does make it familiar, and it does make it feel, for a lot of students, fair in a way that the ACT essay can feel a little bit boring or tricky.
So like we said before, there is no overall essay score. You get three scores out of eight: reading, writing, and analysis. As of now, the essay is optional. It used to be even as recently as a year or two ago that this meant required basically according to every school, but the vast, vast majority of schools were interested in your SAT essay score and either required it or strongly, strongly encouraged students to submit an SAT essay score. This is no longer the case. This means required according to some but not all top schools. The UCs, for example, still require an SAT essay score along with your application, but Brown, for example, I believe said that they wouldn’t even look at it. They’re like, “You can take it or not take it, but we’re not gonna look at it. We don’t care.”
So colleges are starting, in some cases, to move away from requiring students to do the optional essay on the SAT or the ACT, but that is not … by no means is that uniform or is that universal. So if you are considering not doing the essay, I think you’re going to want to be very, very certain of which colleges you want to apply for or apply to, all the way back when you’re a high school junior or even a sophomore or whenever it is that you’re gonna take the SAT.
I think the vast majority of students don’t know that, and that even if they do think they know, those things change by the time that college applications come around. If it were me, I would certainly err on the side of writing the essay. I think that even if colleges do move in this direction, it’s unlikely to happen quickly enough for it to matter for you, the folks that are here tonight, that are thinking about making this decision in the next couple of weeks or even in the next year or two. Five years from now, who can say, but at least as of right now, there’s still enough colleges that think this is important, that want to see this score, enough of the top colleges, that I wouldn’t want to risk it as a student. I wouldn’t want to risk not doing it.
But let’s look at the actual prompt itself. So what’s cool about the SAT essay is that the prompt never changes. It will always be this prompt. The only thing that will change is the actual text that appears where it says, “Source text will appear here.” In other words, they will give you a passage, and your job as the writer of the essay is to analyze that passage and to explain how the author builds a persuasive case, how he or she convinces the audience of whatever it is that he or she is trying to convince the audience of.
And in fact, they will even tell you what the author’s claim is in the prompt. You don’t even have to figure that out yourself. I mean, ideally you should from reading the passage, but if you got it wrong or if you were a little bit off or you made a mistake, that’s okay. They’ll fix it for you. Your only job is to explain, again, how the author uses some of those features, evidence, reading, stylistic, persuasive elements, to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his or her argument.
And again, if you’ve taken AP language and you remember FRQ number two, this is exactly the same prompt. You have to analyze the rhetorical strategies. In this case, it’s a speech that President Kennedy gave, but it could be an essay that the author or the speaker uses to achieve his or her purpose. So again, it’s very similar. What that means is, if you want to practice this, there are about a gazillion old FRQs from past AP language exams that are perfect prompts with which to practice this type of essay. They’re literally from the College Board of the exact same essay type, so you will never run out of practice prompts if you are trying to prepare for this exam.
That’s the SAT. How do we make this decision? To me, you wanna focus on those differences between the two exams. That means thinking about your math schedule, thinking about that difference between geometry and passport to advanced math. That means thinking about the essay and which of those two essay tasks you are likely to prefer or do better at. That means thinking about how fast you work and whether you would likely prefer the sort of accelerated pace of the ACT or the slightly more sedate pace of the SAT.
Now what is a good SAT score is a question I get a lot at these webinars. I cannot say. What is a good SAT score differs from student to student based on sort of their potential and their goals. What I can say is what kinds of scores tend to get students accepted or not necessarily get students accepted, but what kinds of scores that students who have been accepted at these schools tend to have. So this is sort of the average-ish SAT score among admitted freshmen at the schools listed there to give you a sense for what the score range that you should be aiming for kind of looks like. Again, this is no guarantee. It’s not to say that if you get a 1530, therefore you get to go to Harvard. There are tons of people that have 1530s that have been rejected by Harvard. That is not the point of this slide at all. It’s to give you a sense. It is not to make any kind of promise or any kind of guarantee.
Okay, so we’ll quickly reiterate the sort of comparison points. I know that this’ll be a little bit repetitive, but I think it’s worth going through and condensing the information in one place and then as promised, I will take a couple of questions.
Scoring, we talked about how the scoring really isn’t very different. Yes, 1600 points on the SAT versus 36 on the ACT, but again, they can translate between the two. Timing wise, very, very similar. Question types, perhaps a little bit more depth, a little bit more tricksiness on the SAT than on the ACT, but that’s compensated for by the fact that you get more time per question on the SAT than on the ACT. There’s of course no guessing penalty on either test.
English section is probably the most similar between the two exams. It’s all passive style questions. You’ve got the grammar and the rhetoric/style type questions. The ACT does not have charts and graphs in their English section. The SAT does. And of course, the ACT requires you to move through that section more quickly on a per question basis.
Math is our first section with pretty major differences, where you go all the way up through pre-calculus on the SAT, whereas the ACT tops out at trig. There tends to be a bit broader of a focus and an emphasis on the application of knowledge on the ACT. In other words, recognize the problem, do the thing that you always do, show that you can do that thing, whereas on the SAT, there tends to be a little bit more emphasis on problem solving and perhaps application. There’s also a no calculator section on the SAT, and that’s something that … I know some students who literally physically respond when you try to take their calculator away. They get scared. They don’t like it. They depend on that thing. If you are one of those students, if you struggle with mental math a little bit, or it’s just not your thing, that could certainly be a reason to lean ACT for the math section.
Reading section’s pretty similar, very similar in terms of the types of passages, in terms of types of questions. Vocabulary is tested in the same way on both exams, in context. The major differences are the amount of time you get per question and that founding U.S. document/global conversation type passage.
Then we get to the science section, which is the section that on its surface has the biggest differences between the two exams, but in actuality, its [inaudible 00:51:56] represents a similarity in that the same types of questions are included on both exams. They just happen to appear throughout the SAT, whereas they are collected or gathered into a single section on the ACT.
And then finally, we talked about the essay. This was where another major difference emerged between the two exams. Where on the SAT, your task was entirely analytical. You take the given passage. You analyze that passage. You move on with your life. Whereas on the ACT, you have whole bunch of given perspectives on some underlying issue. You have to analyze all the given perspectives before then developing your own and explaining the relationship between the perspective that you have arrived at and the one or the ones that were given to you. I argue that for many students, they’re much more likely to have practiced the SAT style of essay much more frequently in school than they would have practiced the ACT style of essay. While for some students, the SAT might be harder, or the ACT might be harder in terms of the essay, for the vast majority of students, the SAT will be more familiar. It will be more … they’ll be more used to writing that kind of essay and have a better sense for what they’re supposed to do, even if they have trouble actually executing it or doing it.
One last point that I will make. This is not a major point because it only applies to a tiny, tiny percentage of students nationwide, but if you are the kind of student that falls in the top .01% of PSAT takers, if you are the kind of student that could get selected as a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist based on your PSAT score, and again, you have to fall in the top … I forget. Either .1 or .01% of test takers in your state. This is a vanishingly small percentage of students who qualify, but if you do, you need to then take the SAT, not the ACT. Again, this is only for folks that have qualified for National Merit. The National Merit Scholarship Foundation requires that students back up their PSAT score with what they call a qualifying SAT score. They do not accept ACT scores to certify that. Essentially, they want to see that your PSAT score, you didn’t get lucky. It wasn’t a fluke. You deserved it. You earned it. And you can back it up by doing it again on the SAT.
That is the only organization that I have ever heard of these days that cares about whether you take the ACT or the SAT. Colleges do not care. They will accept either score. They’re perfectly happy to convert from one scale to the other. There’s no geographic difference. There’s no this is more prestigious difference. It is simply pick a test. Do as well as you can on it. Once you get a score you are happy with, move on with your life, and start worrying about other exams or extracurricular activities or all the other things that go into a successful college application. What I mean by that is there is no reason once you’ve gotten a good score, either the ACT or the SAT, to then go try and take the other one. There’s not a whole lot of point to that.
Lastly, C2, of course. This is our bread and butter. We help thousands of students every year achieve the kind of scores that they can be happy with, that they can be proud of, that they can apply to college with and feel like they have a really good shot at their dream schools. That comes from a lot of stuff. We have internal … we have proprietary curriculum that we designed over the years that we think really helps our students.
We have absolutely exceptional teachers. The screening process for our teachers is incredibly rigorous. You have to actually be able to get the scores. The first thing you do when you come in to try to work at C2 is not be interviewed. It’s certainly not talk to any of our students. It’s sit down and take an SAT or take an ACT. Show us that you still got it. We don’t care what score you got in high school. We don’t care who you tutored when you were in college. I mean, that stuff, we’ll look at it once you pass the test. But you gotta get an excellent on the SAT and in any other subjects you might wanna teach. If you wanna teach AP chemistry, we’re gonna give you an AP chem exam. You wanna teach AP U.S. history, same thing.
And only after you pass those exams, only then do we interview you. Only then after you’ve interviewed do we train you. And we train you pretty extensive. Teachers, by the time they work with students, they’re really, really prepared to do so, and they end up being some really, really impressive folks that come to work at C2.
Once again, I would encourage you to come on in. Download that coupon so that you can come in and take a practice test and see that analyzed. And otherwise, I’m gonna go ahead and take a few questions over the last few minutes here before we wrap up this evening.
So let’s see here. One question is, “I’m scheduled to take this test. How do I know if I should take the ACT instead? Suppose I take the SAT. I look at my score, decide I don’t like it. Should I then switch? Should I stay?” It’s a hard decision to make. I think, in general, most students would benefit from taking a practice test of each first before you sign up for either one and see how you do. A lot a lot of students will either … they’ll get similar scores on both. And if you get similar scores on both, that’s when a lot of the factors we just talked about tonight start to matter. If you get a way better score on the SAT or on the ACT, just take that one. Prepare for that. Prepare for that exam.
Another thing is sometimes students will say something like, “I’m not feeling very confident about this test.” And that’s fair, and that’s a good thing to be aware of. That means you should probably prepare more and stuff like that. But just switching isn’t gonna magically fix your confidence. If you switch, all of a sudden, now you’re taking a new test that you might even be less familiar with than the one you’re switching from. Switching doesn’t fix anything.
Switching might help a little bit in terms of, “Oh, I switched away from the test that I wasn’t well suited for towards the one that I am suited for.” But you know what helps way more is studying and working and actually embarking on a program to improve your score over time. That of course is something that C2 can help with, but that’s also something that you should be doing regardless of which exam you end up picking.
Should students take both? Not really, no. You certainly don’t need to get a qualifying score on both or anything like that. Yes, it is absolutely fine to take both as sort of a trial thing, although I don’t think you need to necessarily sign up for official ones and pay money and stuff. You can do that out of practice test books or online or that sort of thing, like I said at C2. But in terms of actually signing up, you should by that point have picked one and prepared for it before you actually walk in to sit down and take it.
Do you get scratch or extra paper during the math sections on both tests? Not usually. I think the way the test booklets are printed, there’s tons of scratch paper within the booklet itself, so you could write in there and scribble in there, and usually that’s sufficient to sort of do whatever work you need to do during it.
What kind of calculator can you use? I honestly don’t remember. There are very, very specific instructions on the websites of both exams about which calculators are permitted and which ones aren’t. Generally speaking, I think they don’t like it if it has a qwerty keyboard. They don’t like it if it’s got too much of a memory system or if it’s too much like a computer, essentially. Then they ban it. If it’s more just a calculator, then it’s fine. But again, on the SAT website, it’ll say very specifically TI-83 allowed. TI-84 banned or whatever. I’m not saying those are actually correct. I’m just saying that you can find that information very clearly on the test or on the College Board site or on the ACT site.
Talked about that already.
When should you start studying? That’s a great question. I think a lot of successful students will start studying as sophomores. Some students will start even earlier than that. They’ll start as freshmen. Kinda depends on where you are and where you wanna be.
There are some students, let’s say you’re taking … you’re already in pre-calculus as a sophomore and you’re taking AP language, you’re one of those straight A type students to whom academics sometimes comes a little bit easily. Sometimes those students, they’re kind of already a little bit more prepared. They can walk in without a lot of preparation and get a pretty impressive score, and so those students may not need quite as much time or quite as comprehensive of a study plan to get ready as students that are starting from a slightly lower score or that have a little bit more trouble academically. So again, it really depends on your students and their characteristics. That’s something I think again, coming into C2, talking to one of our center directors can really help you nail down what’s exactly right for your student.
Okay, last question here is, “Can I watch this again? Send me the slides,” all that kinda stuff. You can always rewatch C2’s webinars. All you have to do is go back to the exact same page, the registration page that you used to sign up for this. You go back there and just sort of register again. It’ll look like you’re registering, but really it’ll just take you to the page with the VOD, with the video on demand. You can watch it as many times as you’d like. I don’t think you’ll be able to do that tonight, not that you’d want to, but it usually takes about a day for the recording to fully process and upload and all that stuff. But as of tomorrow, you should be able to log on and watch it as many times as you’d like.
So with that, I wanna thank everyone so much for coming this evening. Hopefully you found all this information useful. Good luck with your studying and with the actual exams themselves when you do sit down to take the SAT or the ACT, whatever you end up choosing.
I invite you all back next month. We’ll be doing a couple more webinars on college stuff, college admissions, college essays, much as we were doing earlier this month and last.
Lastly, one more plug. If you would like the C2 nearest you to reach out, to get in touch with you, just as a question, enter your name, your ZIP code, and your phone number or email address into that question section, and I will ensure that whatever C2 is closest to you gets in touch as quickly as possible. Also, don’t forget to download that coupon down there in the handout section.
Thank you so much folks, and have a wonderful evening.