Any student seeking to enrol at university in the US will likely take at least one entrance exam, a basic requirement for admission to most American colleges. The exams typically required are either the SAT or ACT, which test students broadly on Reading, Writing, Maths and Science skills. Different universities require a varying score as the minimum benchmark; the most prestigious universities will set the bar really high. Of course, a student’s school transcript and enrolment essay will ultimately swing the admissions decision, but a strong performance on the SAT or ACT will get a student’s application considered.
What is the format?
SAT and ACT exams test students on their ability to reason in a short amount of time with a set of multiple choice questions and an essay (optional on the ACT). The SAT exam consists of 10 short sections on Writing, Critical Reading and Maths, whereas the ACT covers Reading, Writing, Maths and Science over 4 sections. The exams last respectively 4 and 3.5 hours. The SAT will give you 3 scores, one per section, with a maximum of 800 per section. The ACT is scored with one overall result of a maximum 36 points. The top 10 universities in the US require either a minimum SAT score of 2100 or a minimum ACT score of 30.
It is recommended to have at least 3 scores before applying to any university. This means registering to sit the official exam 3 times before January of your final year at school. In doing so, students are able to choose their best score. With the SAT exam, students are able to pick individual section scores from different sessions. There are several exam dates throughout the school year and students must think of preparation time beforehand. In Europe, students are able to take an SAT exam on a unique date in October, November, December, January, May and June. The ACT exam is available in September, October, December, April and June.
Preparation is essential as these are different exams to the type that students are used to taking in school, especially in non-American systems. While American students are put through the mill and given practice tests at school, including the middle school PSAT exam, European students may not be as familiar with the concept. Parents also tend to lack information and may mistakenly underestimate the difficulty involved in getting a good score.
In order to get three scores and prepare well for each exam, students should set the ball rolling in year 11, when they have covered enough Maths on their school syllabus to have a valid go at the exam content, but still have enough time to sit the exam three times. Leaving it too late means whatever single score is obtained will be the one considered by the university, however low. Start early and persist if your score is not what you expected.
At TutorsPlus we have seen over and over that success at the SAT and ACT exams relies on taking the time to assimilate the techniques that will help tackle these especially designed multiple choice questions. Students are not only tested on content but also against the clock, so they must learn methods for reasoning quickly and efficiently. As with any technique, mastery comes with practice. An especially trained tutor or a purposefully designed course over several weeks will ensure these techniques become second nature. Some students favour intensive last minute boot camps but they will miss out on measuring any improvement on possible scores. Mock exams, taken regularly over a period of several weeks, not only test their performance in exam conditions so that these also become routine, they also guide the preparation according to the student’s needs and weaknesses. With the right course or tuition, students improve their score significantly. Increases in over 200 points, as we’ve seen at Tutorsplus, can make the difference between an average university and a high-ranking one.
Forward planning, preparation and persistence are the 3 essential ingredients to success in the SAT and ACT exams.
Sabine Hutcheson is a British-trained school teacher, with over a decade’s teaching experience in Switzerland, UK and neighbouring France. She has taught a variety of subjects to children from 5 to 18 years old, as well as adults, and is now Academic Director and Education Consultant at TutorsPlus. Visit www.tutorsplus.com to find out more about their education consultancy, tuition service, special needs support and intensive IB Revision and SAT/ACT Prep courses.
Article by Sabine Hutcheson, TutorsPlus