5 Frequently Asked Questions About the SAT and ACT

5 Frequently Asked Questions About the SAT and ACT

Sophomore year may seem early to start worrying about standardized tests—and it is!

But planning and preparing for what’s ahead can actually alleviate stress and anxiety down the road in a student’s high school journey.

That’s why we recommend setting aside time with your sophomore to discuss options and expectations for standardized testing. Mental preparation goes a long way in setting students up for success.

Here are five common questions about the SAT/ACT to get your student thinking about what’s next.

Common Questions About the SAT and ACT

1. Do students need to take the PSAT/PreACT?

These “pre” versions of the SAT/ACT serve as excellent benchmarking tools for students. Although “pre” exams aren’t required and have very little bearing on college applications, we recommend taking them if given the opportunity.

The majority of schools administer the PSAT in 11th grade, though your student may have the option of taking it in the spring of sophomore year.

2. What’s the point of a SAT/ACT diagnostic test?

As a general rule, students prepare for the SAT/ACT in 11th grade. However, we recommend kickstarting test prep with a full-length diagnostic test for both exams during the summer after 10th grade.

If your student scores near their goal score, they can defer test prep to as late as spring of junior year. If they need help, they can continue prepping over the summer and into junior year, possibly with the support of a test prep tutor.

3. Should students plan to take both the SAT and the ACT?

Some schools encourage students to take both the SAT and the ACT, but we’ve found this to be a waste of time and energy. Students should zero in on one exam and put their full effort behind it.

Taking a diagnostic test for each exam can help students determine which one they’re more likely to excel at.

4. What’s the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

Both the SAT and ACT cover basic reading, writing, and math skills that students are expected to acquire in high school. The SAT is scored out of 1600 while the ACT is scored out of 36.Relative to the SAT, the ACT has:

  • a lower average reading level;
  • more demanding timing (more questions to answer in less time);
  • a separate science section (mostly reading comprehension based on charts and graphs, not actual science)

Relative to the ACT, the SAT has:

  • a higher average reading level (more difficult reading passages);
  • more reading throughout the test, including in the math and writing sections;
  • more switching between types of problems (for example, there are charts and graphs in the writing section)
5. When should students begin studying for the SAT/ACT?

Students should plan to study on their own or prepare with a tutor for at least 3-4 months prior to the SAT/ACT. We generally recommend starting test prep at the beginning of junior year, though some students do not begin until the second semester of junior year (which many schools recommend, but we feel is too late).

Of course, test prep can (and should) start sooner than junior year if diagnostic test results are lower than anticipated.

If at any point you feel that your student could benefit from additional support with SAT or ACT preparation, Signet’s test prep tutors are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation.

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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