ACT and SAT test preparation

The ACT and SAT college entrance exams are a vital component of a home school student’s criteria for admission into a higher learning institution. Many colleges place a greater emphasis on these tests scores for home school students than public or private school students. The rationale is that these are non-biased, objective, standardized tests that are an indicator of future academic performance. You may have questions about these tests as to which one should your student take and when to take them. I have collected some data for you to read concerning each exam that I think is helpful. Even though the writing portion is optional on the ACT, I would highly recommend you have your scholar take this too. The majority of colleges want to see these scores as well.

Facts regarding the ACT:

Frequency: 6 times/year
Duration: 3 hours, 3½ hours including essay
Sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing
Cost: $49.50
Maximum Score: 36
Average Score: 21

Facts regarding the SAT:

Frequency: 7 times/year
Duration: 3 hours, 45 minutes
Sections: math, critical reading, writing
Cost: $49
Maximum score per section:  800
Average score Math – 516
Critical reading – 501
Writing – 492
How do I know which test is best for my student? The Princeton Review has an excellent compare/contract article from where I have taken the information.

  1. ACT questions tend to be more straightforward. Questions are often easier to understand on a first read. On the SAT, a student may need to spend time figuring out what is being asked before they can start solving the problem.
  2.  The SAT has a stronger emphasis on vocabulary. Your scholar will excel here if they are a wordsmith.  If words aren’t their strength, (s)he may do better on the ACT.
  3. The ACT has a Science section, while the SAT does not. Your student doesn’t need to know anything about amoebas or chemical reactions for the ACT Science section. It is meant to test reading and reasoning skills, based upon a given set of facts. But if you have a scholar who is truly science oriented, the SAT might be a better fit.
  4. The ACT tests more advanced math concepts.The ACT requires you to know a little trigonometry, in addition to the algebra and geometry you’ll find on the SAT. That said, the ACT Math section is not necessarily harder, since many students find the questions to be more straightforward than those on the SAT.
  5. The ACT Writing Test is not required. The 25-minute SAT essay is required, and is factored into your Writing score. The 30-minute ACT Writing Test is optional. If you choose to take it, it is not included in your composite score—schools will see it listed separately. I would NOT have your student skip this section since most colleges ask for this score.
  6. The SAT is broken up into more sections. On the ACT, your  scholar tackles each content area (English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning) in one big chunk, with the optional Writing Test at the end. On the SAT, the content areas (Critical Reading, Math, and Writing) are broken up into ten sections, with the required essay at the beginning. You do a little math, a little writing, a little critical reading, a little more math, etc. Will it distract or refresh you to move back and forth between different content areas?
  7. The ACT is more of a “big picture” exam. College admissions officers care about how your scholar did on each section of the SAT. On the ACT, they’re most concerned with the composite score. So if a student is weak in one content area but strong in others, they could still end up with a very good ACT score.
To find out more about the ACT click  here. To find out more about the SAT click here.

How do I  prepare a student for these tests?

Begin early and practice, practice, practice! I used to think that the students who received a perfect score just walked in and took the test once. Not so! I have since read articles and spoken to parents whose children were National Merit Finalists who said they had their student do this as part of school, incorporating it into their schedule, much like you would do if you had basketball or dance practice. I think a good time to begin studying and practicing for these tests is in the spring of their Sophomore year if you’d like them to take the PSAT (an exam for the National Merit Scholarship) at the beginning of their junior year. If you are not going to have them take the PSAT, then have them begin in the fall of their junior year, Your student can review tests questions, work on some math problems, study vocabulary words, read literature, and write responses to the selections every day. The key to taking these tests is being familiar with the types of questions that are given, gauging the time spent on each question or problem, and of course, knowing the answers! I would have your scholar take the test in the spring of junior year and again in the fall of senior year. The tests can ve taken as often as you wish, just be sure to register early as not every school is a test site.

Find resources for your student to practice. Your student can practice online at the following sites: ACT: The ACT SAT: SAT Collegeboard

If you are interested in having your student practice specifically for the SAT essay portion, here is a free ebook by James Stobaugh.

There are a great number of books that have tips and practice tests available for purchase. Each book is a bit different and I actually took both of me sons to the bookstore and had them look at each one to determine the book they liked best. They chose a different book than I thought they would like and Malcolm even chose the  ACT in a box. He enjoyed the portability of the flashcards to review when he away from home.

Here are some books to consider:

McGraw Hill’s ACT Prep Book 2012

Cracking the ACT 2012 Edition

Kaplan ACT Premier 2012 Edition

Cracking the SAT, 2012 Edition

Kaplan 12 Practice Tests, 2012 Edition

One thought on “ACT and SAT test preparation

  1. For many students, the SAT is their first experience with a standardized test. There is some strategy involved and it’s important to become aware of the format before test day. Read test prep books and take multiple practice exams in order to feel comfortable.


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