Decoding the ACT and SAT: How to Ace the Test

Are you preparing to take the ACT or SAT and feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of studying for these important exams? If so, you’re not alone. Many high school students find these tests challenging, but with the right strategies, you can boost your scores and achieve success.

In this free webinar, we’ll help you decode the ACT and SAT by breaking down their structure, content, and format. We’ll also share tips and tricks for mastering the skills you’ll need to succeed on test day, including time management, critical thinking, and test-taking strategies.

You’ll learn:

  • The key differences between the ACT and SAT
  • Strategies for managing your time effectively on test day
  • How to approach each section of the test
  • Techniques for improving your critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Tips for staying focused and minimizing test anxiety
  • Resources and tools you can use to practice and prepare for the test

Whether you’re taking the ACT or SAT for the first time or looking to improve your scores, this webinar will provide you with the insights and strategies you need to ace the test. Don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity to take your test-taking skills to the next level!

Date 03/20/2023
Duration 1:00:49

Webinar Transcription

2023-03-20 – Decoding the ACT and SAT/ How to Ace the Test

Anesha: Hi, everyone, and welcome. My name is Anesha Grant. I am a senior advisor at CollegeAdvisor, and I will be your moderator today. For tonight’s webinar, uh, which is, “Decoding the ACT and SAT: and How to Ace the Test.” Before we get started, I just wanna orient everyone with the webinar timing, so our presenter will share some tips, resources, and guidance, and then we’ll open up the floor to your questions in a live q and a.

You can download, download the slides under the handout tab, which I’ll upload in a second, and then you can start submitting your questions whenever you get ready, uh, in the q and a tab. Now let’s meet our presenter, Mariko. Hi Mariko, how are you? Hi, I’m good. How are you? I’m all right. I’m all right.

Looking forward to tonight’s session.

Mariko: Absolutely.

Anesha: Do you want to just tell us a few things about yourself before we jump into our first poll?

Mariko: Yes, absolutely. So hello everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today to talk a little bit about standardized testing, specifically the SAT and the ACT. My name is Mariko and I graduated from Yale actually twice, once with a BA in the history of public health and in ethnicity, race, and migration.

So double major in undergrad. And then I also was part of Yale’s four plus one master’s program. So I also received my master’s in social and behavioral sciences, specifically focused on public health, a year later at Yale. And now I am based in California, which is also where I was raised, a big LA person.

So excited to be back and really excited to answer all of your questions.

Anesha: Thanks so much. Before I hand it over to you, we’re going to do a quick poll. Um, and our poll question is, please let us know which standardized tests you’ve taken or planning to take. I think it’ll help give Mariko some structure or guidance if there are specific tests that folks should focus on or not.

And as we’re waiting, um, how, how do you have any advice around test anxiety as we think about this? So there are a lot of tests out there for you. Were you a good test taker? How do you, how did you approach the test?

Mariko: That is a

Anesha: great

Mariko: question. I think that for me, actually being a competitive athlete was really helpful because you deal a lot with intentionally engaging with the fact that there is a lot of pressure when you’re performing in anything that’s important to you.

And testing is included in that. If you care about your academics, if you care about, you know, where you’re going to maybe go to college, that test scores are really important. So I would say my biggest Recommendation is being prepared and having a routine and then planning for what happens if everything in that routine goes wrong, right?

But being prepared, thinking it through beforehand, and I’ll talk through some of those tips later in the webinar, but I would say number one tip for everything is being as prepared as possible and having as many things that you can control as under control as possible. So you don’t have to think more than you already have to on the day of.

Anesha: That’s awesome. That’s really good advice. And I think it’s also, it feels like almost a test question of itself of like, what are the variables you can control and what are the variables that are not within your control? Um, and how do you create control over them? But yeah, all right, so we’ll go ahead and close our poll.

And I’ll just let you know that the majority of folks, so we have a pretty good number of attendees in our space today, but the majority of folks are taking the SAT or the ACT. So about 30 percent are taking the SAT. 29 percent are taking the ACT. 23 percent are gearing up for the PSAT and then the next biggest percentage about 18 percent are preparing for AP exams.

So they kind of run the gamut. We also have a handful of SAT II and total test takers as well.

So some context for you, but then I will hand it over to you and let you go ahead and get started.

Mariko: Great. Thank you so much for sharing and welcome everyone wherever you’re at in your test taking process. I’ll try to answer a number of questions and talk through a number of the things about all of the major standardized tests.

And there are definitely some things that can apply to you no matter what test you’re taking. So let’s go ahead and get started for today. Let’s talk about, first, why we take standardized tests. I think that it can be very easy to narrow in on standardized testing for a number of different reasons, but let’s understand what it actually contributes to your college application.

So the first is that, right, standardized tests mean standardized for a reason. A lot of high schools across the United States have vastly different class types and difficulties and assessment. The toughest course at your school might be the easiest course at someone else’s school. And on top of that, there are some schools that have AP programs, there are some schools that have IB or International Baccalaureate programs.

What if you’re homeschooled? And so standardized testing allows for colleges to get a general sense of how you might be able to do on specific academic metrics, regardless of what school you attended and what level of classes that you’re taking. It is a skills based test, so the standardized test demonstrates that you can perform certain skills.

These skills are definitely not the entirety of your college application, and nor are they the entire even the most important thing that colleges are looking for, but they’re all things that are really useful in college, and they’re all skills that you definitely want to be comfortable with or have mastered by the time you apply and then attend college.

So things like, for example, quick recall of academic concepts that you’ve learned, critical thinking and being able to summarize new material on the spot or without a ton of preparation time, and I would say timing and organization. Being in college, managing a heavy workload, being much more self directed means that you need to have a good sense of how to plan out your academic projects and your commitments.

And I think that testing, if nothing else, is a good demonstration of how you understand time and productivity and how to optimize the time that you have. I will say that also testing has become less essential over time. There are huge increases in test optional scores, particularly after the advent of COVID 19 compared to, for example, in 2017 when I was applying to college.

And I think that there’s also been a really important reckoning with the origins of the SAT and a number of Quote unquote intelligence tests as being products of a larger eugenics movement within the 19th and early 20th century. So there’s recognition that while these tests, of course, have value and that they demonstrate how and the way in which you approach certain kinds of knowledge, that they are not a foolproof indicator of how smart or intelligent you are or how successful you’re going to be.

And I use air quotes because even those definitions themselves are not hugely objective. So. This is the overall picture, though, of what standardized testing looks like on a student’s application. There are a lot of different standardized tests that you can take, as you know from your poll. The PSAT is normally the first, uh, national, anyone can take it from any school, standardized test that folks take, often in sort of like 10th or fall of 11th grade.

And it is the pre SAT, so it’s administered by the same company that administers the SAT, and has very similar questions. Timing and concepts but is scaled back a little bit because there’s a recognition that you haven’t had as many years of school under your belt So things like for example math you may not know as many concepts So there aren’t as many concepts on the PSAT as there are on the sat It’s also a little bit shorter and often if you are at If you are in a communal school environment, administered at school, as opposed to needing to take it separately.

So it’s a little bit more accessible in that way. It’s a really good first benchmark to figure out, do you like the SAT and would you like to continue taking the SAT, right? There is the SAT, of course. I think that’s the big brand name one. Everybody knows the SAT. There’s the SAT II, previously known as SAT Subject Tests, which are a little bit shorter and specific to various academic disciplines that you have studied in high school, so things like biology or physics.

There’s the ACT, which is the other big standardized test that is comprehensive across multiple disciplines and fields. We’ll talk more about the difference between the SAT and the ACT, but those are the two big ones that everyone Normally ends up taking there’s also a couple of different international exams that are used To evaluate students that are interested in applying into international and American universities and I, as someone who is a U.S. citizen, who was born and raised in the United States, cannot speak as much to those, but we do have CollegeAdvisors on our staff that specialize in international applications and who were international students themselves, so if you have any questions, we can definitely point you in the right direction.

And the last is AP exams. If you are in a school that has, right, AP or advanced placement programs, these are nationally administered by the College Board, which also administers the SAT, and they’re designed to be in class content that you’ve learned within a specific class dedicated to that content over the course of one school year, as opposed to the SAT and the ACT, which are two separate cumulative measures of what you’ve learned and how you can demonstrate what you’ve learned over a large part of your education in terms of K through 12.

Okay, so that’s a brief overview of the different standardized tests that you might take. So, the SAT, right? What does it actually look like? We’ve probably heard about the SAT, we’ve heard people talk about it, we’ve heard people study for it. Um, But what do you actually have to do? So, first of all, it’s administered seven times a year in the U.S., so there are specific dates upon which you can take the SAT, and they are limited, so you do want to schedule in advance, and think about how your schedule academically, personally, pre professionally is going to align with these test dates. It’s a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the test, and the highest score that you can get is a 1600.

The score is evenly split between a math section, where the maximum you can get is 800, and an evidence based reading and writing section, the maximum you can get, number of points you can get on that section is also 800, so very even split.

The SAT Math has, it takes about 80 minutes and you’re going to answer 58 questions related to algebra, problem solving, data analysis, and advanced math. There is quite a bit of algebra And also the sort of more Algebra 2, pre calculus kinds of Algebra on the SAT than there are on some other standardized tests.

The reading and writing section has both reading and writing. There are two kinds of questions or sort of kinds of topics that you’ll cover on the, on this one section that is also, right, even in the number of, of, uh, total points that you would get, right, Math 800, Evidence Based Reading, Writing 800. So the reading portion of it is going to be, you read a passage, and you get asked questions about that passage.

Some of those questions will be about vocabulary, and some of them will be about themes or main ideas from the passages. 65 minutes, 52 questions. Writing in language, 35 minutes, 44 questions and those test grammar and argument building abilities. And so you will be asked, right, you know, does this sentence make sense?

If not, what is the correct way to write this sentence? And so you’ll notice that there’s a lot less time for writing in language, even though it has quite a few questions, because it is more of a sort of, is this correct or is this not, as opposed to you having to read and absorb an entire passage. But do notice, right, That total number of questions is quite large.

That’s 96 questions in reading and writing, but the 800 points that you will get in total to that will be equivalent to 58 math questions. And the reason why I’m highlighting this is because that’s going to be a huge difference in sort of weighted overall values of math versus reading versus writing than the ACT, which we’ll talk about next.

So, Pin that, we’ll come back to that later. There’s also an optional essay, that’s 50 minutes, it’s normally an argumentative essay, you are given a topic, you are allowed to bring in whatever sort of evidence you have on hand about that topic, and any sort of rhetorical or argumentative strategies that you might have been trained in prior to the test.

Some schools do require an essay, When you take the SAT. So make sure that you check based on the schools that you’re thinking about applying to, to know whether you should sign up for the SAT essay when you sign up for the entire test. Okay, so that’s the SAT. Now let’s talk about the ACT also administered seven times per year.

It is a little bit shorter and I would say that the main difference between the SAT and the ACT is that the ACT. Each individual question tends not to be as difficult as the SAT, and there’s also more questions in total. But you do have to move faster. So if you are, for example, a slower reader or a slower problem solver, the ACT can be difficult for you.

But if you’re someone for whom moving fast, but not necessarily, you know, solving really complex problems, the is a way in which you personally test and learn better, then the ACT might be a better fit. The highest score you can get on the ACT is 36, and the way that the ACT scoring system works is that there are four total sections.

There’s English, Math, Reading, and Science. The English is very similar to the SAT evidence based writing portion. It’ll be paragraphs and we’ll say, you know, does this work, does this word make sense, what word would you use to fill in the blank here, how do you operate this sentence, like what did the grammar structure look like and what should it look like?

There is a math section. There tends to be a little bit more geometry on the ACT, um, and a little bit sort of more of the precalculus sine cosine type deal, uh, and a little bit less algebra, but it does depend on the test that you get and both do cover the same overall amount of math. There’s then a separate reading section that you take after the math section that SAT’s evidence based reading, and then What’s unique about the ACT that you will not see at all in the SAT is the science portion, which really sort of is also just reading comprehension, but about science.

And so, the number of questions in each section translates to a one through thirty six score. You can sometimes have one or two questions incorrect and still get a 36. It’s just the the number of questions that are on that particular test and how they average out. And then the way that you get your final score is that scores are averaged across all fields for a composite as opposed to being added together in the context of the SAT.

And so why is this important? If you feel like you’re a really well rounded student and you can score pretty evenly in all four of these sections, That’s great, but if you have one section that gives you a lot of trouble and is bringing down the rest of your score, you really want to think through the math involved with how it’s going to impact your overall composite score on the ACT versus taking the SAT.

So these are things that we can consider format wise to set us up to be the most successful that we can be on standardized testing. Okay, so we broke down some of this. This is a sort of longer explanation. of each section. That includes the time and the amount of time that you get. Feel free to skim through it on your own, but again, the main point that I will make here, right, is that there are only 60 math questions that they’re going to be asking you, as opposed to, right, 80 reading plus science plus the 75 English.

So the proportions on this test are a little bit different. different, and again, the speed. 40 questions, 35 minutes, and you do this multiple times, right? So you have to be able to reset between each section. Again, also writing optional essay, check schools to make sure, uh, you know where you need to submit an essay and if your schools want an essay.

Okay, so right, I’ve sort of pre flagged this in some of our outline, but what factors you could, should you consider? Or, sure, quantity, quality versus quantity of question, right? The averaging of the scores is really important, but also how fast can you read, how fast can you make your way through questions, right?

And then on the SAT, being thoughtful and deliberate about your math skills and your vocabulary skills is going to be important. And again, Reading comprehension. I cannot underscore this enough. The ACT science section is not actually, actually asking you to do any science for the most part. You might do one or two math problems, but you are not mixing anything, you are not doing any experiments.

You are simply reading about experiments and phenomenon that are already happening, or have already happened, and are asked questions about experimental procedures and results. So if that is a kind of reading that comes easily to you, then the ACT, huge bonus over the SAT, because you decrease the amount of applied problem solving you have to do, and it’s an increase in the amount of reading comprehension that you do.

But if it’s the other way around, and you’re like, give me an equation any day, then you want to sort of consider how that will be weighted within the context of this test. Okay. And now, right, when do you take these tests? Again, set in the overview, 10th or 11th grade for PSAT. You can take it as early as 8th grade if you go, often, like, outside of the general administered tests and ask, for example, to take a test at, like, a, school district, high school that is in your school district, that kind of thing.

Only your 11th grade scores though will be considered for National Merit Scholarship, so if you are interested in being a National Merit Scholar, bear in mind that if you take it multiple times, the 10th grade one will not count. SAT, ACT, you can, most people start taking these junior year, and the largest, and the biggest reason for that is because the amount of, especially math that you need to know, you want to wait until you’re, you know, at least in the sort of pre calculus, calculus range.

You can take it your senior fall. I personally would not recommend taking it your senior fall, because you’re also trying to apply to college as your senior fall, and that is a lot of things to do at once. If you can take your SAT, ACT, your junior winter, or your junior spring, before you have to do your end of the year, exams, especially if you have AP exams for junior year, if you can find a nice sweet spot in the middle there, that’s going to be when you’re the least burdened with other college application requirements.

And then AP tests are usually taken when you take an AP course. You take an AP course and then you take an AP test at the end. Some students will take a test without the AP course. For example, if you really love computer science and you’ve been coding since you were five, but your school does not have a computer science class, then you can take an AP computer science test.

And often, you know, students will score well if it’s something that they’ve studied in depth outside of school.

So what are some of the ways that we can prepare for standardized tests? These are my personal recommendations in a very holistic way that focuses on studying smarter as opposed to studying harder. I think a lot of the things that are advertised for standardized tests are, here’s a prep course, here’s another prep course, here’s a prep book with 800 questions in it, here’s another prep book with 800 more questions in it.

And while those resources are very good and very useful for a lot of students, if you keep doing the same thing over and over without adapting, and figuring out where and how you need to improve, and you just continue to do rote practice, I have often found in my personal experience in both specifically standardized test tutoring and also in general college admissions, that it’s harder to improve your results.

So, Work harder, but also work smarter. And so, these are my tips for working smarter. Especially when you have a high workload and a lot of pressure when it comes to the other elements of your college application and trying to make it through high school. So the first, practice your tests in actual testing conditions.

Hold yourself, when you practice, to the timing. Don’t let yourself have extra time. Work with a timer, work with the sort of mentality that this is what it’s going to look like when I walk into the test and someone’s proctoring it. It allows you to confront your nerves. It allows you to be spatially comfortable with, right, how is my desk going to be set up when I take the actual test?

Where am I putting my, uh, sort of non digital watch so that I can see the time if the room that I’m in doesn’t have a clock, right? How do I line up my pencils and erasers even? Being able to practice that all ahead of time means that that’s all stuff that you don’t have to think about the day of the test.

You have your routine, you’re ready to go, and you’ve Troubleshoot it for yourself, the things that might go wrong or the things you might struggle with from a timing perspective when it comes to the test. So that’s the first thing is, right, practice the way you play. The second is critically reviewing why you missed questions in practice problems and review and making sure that you figure out You know, is it because I rush?

Is it because I’m going too slowly and I ran out of time? Is it because I simply do not know this concept? Is it that I struggle with the wording and how certain questions are being asked on certain portions of the test? Figuring out why you’re missing the questions can often lead to a lot of small adjustments that will make life much better for you in the long run.

A good example for me is that I had an issue with timing where if I had a question that I was a little bit confused about or didn’t know, I would spend too much time on that question and then end up rushing at the end on other questions that were easier for me And that would not be that difficult if I was not pressed for time.

And so one of the things that helped me a lot was learning that if I couldn’t solve the question in about 30 seconds for the ACT or felt like I had a clear path towards solving the question that I needed to move on and come back. That’s not a universal thing, but that was what worked well for me. Next thing, concentrate your time and effort on topics that are more difficult for you.

I feel like this one is straightforward, but it can be really easy to just continue practice testing with the things that are comfortable for us and the things that we know we’ll do well on, but really force yourself to deal with that one mutant algebra that you didn’t like and didn’t pay attention to, or that one grammar structure that is really deeply confusing for you.

And the last is to figure out how to minimize sort of careless or procedural, I think is a better word, mistakes and errors. Are you underthinking questions? Are you overthinking questions? Are you reading too fast? All those kinds of things. The more that you can eliminate errors that are not based on knowledge, but rather based on how you’re test taking, the more you can afford to maybe miss a question because you simply don’t know how to answer it.

So those would be my best tips for preparing for standardized tests. For the day of the test, first thing, get good sleep two nights before. Not just one night, two nights before. If you’ve ever stayed up too late, you often find that the next day, you’re kind of, you know, able to function, but the day after it will hit you.

So get good sleep two nights before. Lay out all of your testing materials in advance, the night before. Don’t scramble to do anything the day of the test, but make sure you have your ID, your testing paperwork, your pencils, your water, and your snacks, because you do get breaks during these tests, they are really long, so making sure that you have a balanced snack that includes maybe a little bit of sugar for a boost of energy, but also some staying protein and, uh, complex carbohydrates is a good idea.

I was a big trail mix person. If you are not allergic to nuts, trail mix is a good way to go. Don’t cram the morning of the test, or even the 24 hours before the test, especially if it’s the ACT or the SAT. If you are still cramming, AP’s sometimes, you know, you got a lot of tests, You gotta do what you gotta do, but for the big standardized test, AP’s, or for the SAT, ACT, if you do not know it within 24 hours before the test, you probably are not gonna know it.

And so I would say tapering before the test, right, and knowing exactly what you need to work on is very helpful. And then, during the test, I mentioned that you do have breaks, have a plan for your breaks. When do you need to go to the bathroom? When is it most helpful for you to eat, right? You know, where are you going to walk?

Are you someone who would prefer to sit in your seat and just kind of collapse between sections of the test? Or are you someone that needs to get up and walk down the hallway? Whatever that is, have a plan for your breaks so that you’re resetting yourself because it is an endurance game, right? It’s like a very long sprint.

And so you want to balance yourself accordingly. My standardized testing experience, which I’m sure you’re like, Who is this person and why are they talking to me about this? So, I’d like to share a little bit about my journey. So, sophomore spring, I took Which was for me, 2015. Oh, that was a while ago. I took my ac, I started taking my standardized test.

I took AP biology, AP European history, and then in terms of the big standardized test, I took my ACT, my SAT, what was then called a subject test in biology that year. I would recommend that if you’re going to take. the subject test for the SAT or the SAT 2s, that you take it the year that you’ve taken the class, right?

If you are taking an advanced level biology or physics class, take the SAT or the ACT, sorry, take the SAT 2 at the end of that year. It just makes the most sense. You don’t want to take it a year afterwards. My junior fall, I took the PSAT. Which is the version of the PSAT that y’all are taking now in this application cycle.

And I also took the old version of the SAT. I took the very last test date possible for the 2400 ranking SAT, which has since been switched. And so, I knew that when I took the PSAT, which was the new format, because my year was the year that transitioned, that, uh, I did okay, but that I didn’t really like the ways in which the SAT had shifted.

I was a big memorization person in high school. I loved reading, so things like vocabulary were not as difficult for me, and the old SAT really emphasized those things, and the new SAT didn’t as much, so I took it and I was like, you know, it’s fine. But this is not what I want to sink all of my time into.

So I said, okay, I’ll take the old SAT, I’ll see how it goes. And if I don’t like my score, I’ll make some decisions from there. So I took the SAT, I took the old one. I did again, okay, but not where I wanted to be or where I knew I could achieve on that SAT, especially because I ran into a specific test that wasn’t super compatible with my math strengths at the time.

And I knew that. When I looked at my score report, which also look at your score report, that where I was missing questions and where I expected to miss questions or miss questions in the past versus what I was actually missing on the test, didn’t really, didn’t really, didn’t really, didn’t really wasn’t a really accurate measure of where I was at in math and had a lot to do with the types of math questions that were being asked on that particular iteration.

So some of it is just luck. My junior spring, I thought about it a lot, but I decided to flip to the ACT. I took a practice test and found that the rhythm of the test, uh, speed of the test and the content of the test, again, as someone who loved to read, who loves science, who still does a lot of science reading professionally now.

That was very much in my niche, and so it played to my strength, and I felt really comfortable. I pretty much only took the official ACT practice test. I think there, more than the SAT, this is also just my personal opinion, so, not word of law, you might run into people who think differently. But for me, the ACT practice test book mirrored the actual test more than the SAT did, and so this is the official one that you can buy, it is red, it’s like, by the SAT.

It’s written by the ACT company. And I felt that those practice tests were a really good measure of what I was going to be seeing, more so than like the supplemental material on something like Khan Academy on the actual test. And so I did the entire book. I really focused on practice tests only, but again, my strategy in particular, because I felt like I was comfortable with most of the material.

And so it was just, how am I going to take this test? How am I going to excel at this particular testing format? And so. I was really lucky when I took my junior spring ACT. Just as I said, my SAT math didn’t align with what I was studying at the time. My ACT. Spring test worked really well. Like, I can still remember some of the reading passages that I had because I genuinely thought the reading passages were cool and interesting, and so I was happy with my score at the end of it.

I felt engaged when I took the test, I felt ready, and I wasn’t putting as much pressure on myself, and so I felt really comfortable with it and was really happy with how everything turned out. The advice that I would give to y’all, and you can maybe glean some of this from what I’ve said so far. It’s first of all, vibes.

No one will know what test feels the most comfortable for you, besides you. So, take a full length practice SAT, and test it out. in test conditions and a full length practice ACT in test conditions. And just see, you know, which one made me feel overwhelmed, which one made me feel more confident, which one did I get a better score on, which one did I like taking better, right?

If you’re going to have to study this much for a test, it should be as pleasant as humanly possible. And so that’s simply what I would call vibes. You know, you got to find a test that’s right for you. The next thing is that remember that these tests are only a small part of your overall portfolio.

Especially if you’re looking to apply to really elite schools like Harvard, Yale, etc. Everyone has the requisite grades and test scores. That just gets you through the door. The rest of your application, equally important as studying for the SAT. If you test poorly, think about how you’re framing your overall application to play to your strengths.

What in your portfolio will make up for the fact that you struggle with testing? If you test well, congratulations, but don’t sink so much time into testing that you’re neglecting your extracurriculars, you’re neglecting your essay, you’re neglecting the sort of overall holistic development of yourself as a student.

That is a thing that I see a lot where I’ll have What I’ve watched a lot of folks go through the college application process, and they have a really good standardized test score. But, they’re missing these other crucial parts of their portfolio that are going to make them truly competitive for elite schools.

And then they can’t figure out why they didn’t get into the elite schools because their test scores were so good. And it’s really easy to focus on the test score because there’s a metric, because there’s numbers, because you can see averages, right, across the nation. And so just bear in mind, right, that you need to have balance.

And again, as said before, studying smarter better than studying harder. Your strategy is going to beat the number of hours spent in repetition unless repetition is your thing. And so again, I think it’s very easy to sign up for course after course and book after book. Be thoughtful, be strategic about how you’re going to study.

Okay, we’re now moving into the question and answer section. And so I’ll go ahead and turn it back over to Anesha.

Anesha: Thanks so much, Mariko. Um, so that is the end of the presentation part of the webinar. I hope you found the information helpful. I learned some new things as going through. And I did try to tackle some of your questions in the chat earlier so that we can get to them.

As many as possible during this section, just a reminder that you can download the slides in the link. And I think Mariko shared a lot of really important information about the structure and timing of it. So I would definitely encourage folks to take a look at those in the handouts tab. We’re going to the way the live Q and a will work is I will read through your questions that you’ve submitted to the Q and a tab.

We may not get a chance to get to all of them. And some of them I am. Going to try to consolidate as they come in. I will paste your questions into the public chat so that other folks can see them and read them aloud so that Mariko can give us an answer. If it’s not letting you submit questions, you may have to log out and log back in through the custom link that was sent to you via email.

But other than that, but also just a reminder that we are recording the webinar, and it will be accessible to everybody tomorrow via website that I paste in the public chat. All right. Um, so I feel like a few folks asked that question. So yes, it is being recorded. You can access it tomorrow. Check the chat for that website.

Uh, the first question that I wanted to ask you, Mariko. Um, so there were a lot of questions about the ACT versus the SAT. So I’m going to ask you a combo of questions, but which is taken more often out of the test. Do colleges have a preference between the two?

Mariko: That’s a great question, and it’s certainly one that I understand why so many people ask because like, you know, what if I take the test that doesn’t look the best for me?

Colleges have no preference at all between the SAT and the ACT. It does not matter. More people take the SAT, and again, I think it’s been around longer and there is more brand name recognition, so I think that’s majority of the reason why. But you can take either, and I fully and highly encourage you to focus on the test that feels best for you.

Anesha: Building off on top of that, someone asked, and I think this is related to the fact that there’s a science section. Are there specific types of program that will typically want to see the ACT?

Mariko: Not really. I think that when, if you’re talking about the science section and the development of science in particular as part of your portfolio, because you want to go into science during college, the things that they’ll be more curious about are going to be the classes that you took in high school, what kinds of science classes you took and how well you did in them and how well you did on your science AP exams.

And also what are you doing extracurricularly in terms of because again, the science portion of the S of the ACT. is highly reading comprehension heavy. You don’t have to be a lover of science to do well on the science portion of the ACT. ACT.

Anesha: Thanks for adding that clarity. There are some questions that came up, and I feel like it might be good for us to talk about it at the jump.

So some folks are saying if you want to apply for national merit scholarship, how do you receive the information? So can you give a little bit of detail on that? And then also, just as an addendum, can you use the ACT for scholarships? Is there a similar equivalent for the national merit program on the ACT?

Mariko: Great question. So the National Merit Program is actually, because it’s run nationally, you have to do very little. You sign up for your school’s junior PSAT testing, and the nation, the college board, takes it from there. And you’ll be notified what your score is, and where you fell in that. overall category.

Also worth noting that National Merit Scholar scores for, are you a finalist, are you a semifinalist, do you get the scholarship, vary by state. It’s by average of state scores. So check your state’s particular scores on average year to year because they do fluctuate depending on how many people you have in your state.

Being from California, we have a lot of people. The score is pretty high.

Anesha: And then the ACT?

Mariko: Yes, yes. That’s the second part of the question. So a lot of private scholarships in particular will ask for your ACT scores. There is not a standardized, uh, sort of award system the way that there is for the National Merit Scholarship.

Though if you do quite well on your ACT, like they do give you commendation for that. So you can put that on the award section of your Common App or your college application process. But you, yeah, you don’t get money for it unless you apply for a private scholarship.

Anesha: Uh, and then, yeah, some private scholarships might have an ACT or might have a testing requirement and they can, they will probably also accept the ACT or the SAT.

Um, uh, sorry, I lost the question I wanted to ask. Oh, um, is there a limit of times on how often you should take the test? This is a great question.

Mariko: Yes, this is important. So, after three times. On either of the A’s, you could take, so you could take the SAT three times and you could take the ACT three times, but after you hit that three mark, colleges often start what we call super scoring your test.

It’s not fair to let someone take the SAT ten times, right? And so they’ll start taking the average of your total score if you take more than three, so my recommendation is to stop at three. Also, if you have to take the test more than three times, There are a lot of things you can probably do to study more productively so that you aren’t spending so much of your life and your family’s income on taking this test over and over again.

Anesha: Um, I’m trying to categorize questions. So, oh, and you mentioned this, so yeah, if you can dive a little bit deeper into SuperSort. So if you take the SAT junior and senior year, will colleges see both tests?

Mariko: So, again, if you take it less than three times, they will only see the test scores that you submit to them.

And you can choose whether or not to submit your test scores to colleges after you see the score that you have. Over three, though, they get pinged. They’re like, this kid’s taken this test a lot of times.

Anesha: It becomes a flag. Okay. Um, Oh, this is pivoting a little bit away from the, um, uh, ACT and SAT. Someone is internationally said, can I take an AP test as an international student?

Mariko: That’s a good question. It depends on the country you’re in and the kind of infrastructure that’s offered. I know, for example, in the UK, that like some schools will offer AP testing, but I would really talk to the folks that are in your school ecosystem and ask them. teachers, counselors, and also look on the college board website to see what your country allows and what kind of test opportunities they offer because it really depends on where you’re from.

Anesha: And then this is kind of a test taking question. Um, do you have any recommendations for, for when they will have to take multiple AP exams in the same week or on the same day?

Mariko: Ah, don’t miss, I don’t miss those days, I will say. So first, I would say plan things out about a month beforehand, right? Have a, I, I was really into lots of highlighters and color coding, but have a study Schedule, where you plan out, when am I taking a practice test?

When am I trying to finish this and that? Which of my AP teachers is going to do more test prep in class? And for which classes am I going to have to do most of the test prep on my own? Right, so plan early. The second thing I would say is figure out on your week of schedule how much you’re actually going to be able to absorb that week.

So normally what I would do is if I had two tests that were back to back, right, I would spend the the night before the first test, mostly focused on the first test, right? I would have done sort of equal studying throughout the week before, and then the night before, focus on the first test. I would take the first test.

I would normally then take a nap after whatever test I took, right? And then just do a brief review of my notes before the second test, and maybe spend a little bit more time on, um, Questions or concepts that I knew I was struggling a little bit with like if mitosis was a tough one for me Then I’d spend a little bit of extra time reviewing that but I would say the the key here though hugely is planning ahead and making sure all of your sort of body and mental maintenance is as as clear and as Put together as possible.

Like don’t don’t let yourself crash at the end because you’re like, oh I have all these tests

Anesha: So we’ve gotten a lot of questions around, uh, testing tips, testing strategies. And so I’ll start off with, um, do you recommend person review as the best setting tool for practice tests? Um, or just starting off with, are there any suggestions around practice tests?

Mariko: The official tests are always the most helpful. There are a limited number of official tests, that’s why companies like Princeton Review are useful, because they have so many questions, and you can specify within each, like, section or within each topic a bunch of questions. But I would say that the official books, especially for the ACT, are better than Princeton Review.

So start with the official tests and then figure out, right, based on what you’re struggling with, what you need the most help on. All

Anesha: right. And then a similar kind of strategy question. Does leaving answers blank, um, that you know, that you don’t know the answer to, how does it affect you on your score?

And if you, if there are different answers between the ACT and the SAT regarding blank questions.

Mariko: Ah, so this is an important one. The old SAT used to mark things against you if you got the wrong answer, but the current SAT does not, and neither does the ACT. So you should always, always fill in every single answer, even if you don’t know what it is, because you got a 25 percent chance if you’re guessing blindly, and if you can eliminate, you know, one or two, then that chance goes up significantly.

Um, but always fill everything in, even if it’s a panicked last minute fill in. Always fill everything in.

Anesha: I know we had some questions on, like, how long to take, so Um, How long before the SAT do you recommend studying? What should be the gap between prep and actually taking the test?

Mariko: I would say give yourself at least a month.

Um, but I think a lot of it depends on you, right? How long does it take for you to absorb new information? And also, how much time do you have to dedicate to studying? I think, um, you know, in my personal experience. I took longer to study for the PSAT SAT in the fall because when I was a junior my schedule was much busier in the fall.

I was a two sport varsity athlete and so I was playing in high school season for one varsity sport and playing like club travel sports outside of school for the other sport. So I knew that like my day to day schedule was really intense in the fall. But in the spring, when I took the ACT and also could also be why one of the many reasons why I did a bit better on it, I didn’t need as much time because I had done a lot of standardized test review at that point.

I just needed to familiarize myself with the like sort of format of the ACT. And I had a lot more time because I was only playing one sport and I was off for the other sport. So I didn’t have to worry as much about having free time after school. So I didn’t study for as long for the ACT as I did for the PSHE SAT.

Anesha: Thanks for that. Um, and I apologize. I know I’m, I’m getting a little glitchy, so I am sorry for that for folks who I’m cutting out for. Um, but before we move on to questions, just want to take a quick break for those of you who aren’t currently working with us. We know how overwhelming the admissions process can be.

You all have a ton of questions and we have a great team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts who are ready to help you and your families navigate it. Through one on one advising sessions, so you can definitely take the next step in your college admissions journey and sign up for free 45 to 60 minutes strategy session with an admission specialist on our team by using the QR code.

That’s on the screen during that meeting. We’ll talk about your extracurriculars, your application strategy, get aligned with your college list and help you outline to you’ll need to stand out in this competitive admissions world. Um, so we’ll leave that, uh, QR code up there and keep it moving with our questions.

And the next questions are, are kind of related to this test optional space. Um, and so the first one is, uh, the first one that I’ll pose to you is, do I have to take the SAT?

Mariko: You do not. I would check your schools though, and really make sure you know whether the school is test optional and how selective the school is, because even though some schools are test optional.

It can help to have the test scores in there if the test scores are good. But if you know that you are a, you don’t like testing, testing is not where you shine, and that your schools are test optional, then you do not have to take at this point, um, the SAT or ACT.

Anesha: along that same vein, is it true that if your GPA is high enough, these tests are not required?

Mariko: It depends on the school. I think this particular question is asking about some state schools, correct me if I’m wrong, um, where there’s sort of like a minimum GPA guarantees that you will be admitted into one of the state schools in the system, and so therefore you don’t have to take the tests, but again, Check the schools, and specifically for, you know, the really competitive ones, if you want to apply to any of the IVs or like top other IV esque schools, you probably should at least try to test, and then if it goes poorly, then you don’t have to include it, but you should expect to test on those.

Anesha: Yes. Uh, and then I guess if you can speak to, you know, I’m kind of moving in this backwards, but how do, how do colleges kind of rate and, uh, integrate or weigh, sorry, these tests in, in their admissions decisions? I don’t know if you can. So again, it

Mariko: depends on the selectivity of the schools and the strength of your overall portfolio, right?

If you are competing at the very, very elite schools, it is a sort of entry barrier check mark, right? Where it’s like, If you’re over a certain range, and again, the range sort of fluctuates from year to year, it depends, but like, if you’re in the, if you’re in the upper echelons, then it’s like, great, don’t have to worry about that, clear to sort of, right, focus on the other elements of your application.

And again, everyone’s applying. with good test scores and good grades, right? If you don’t have a good test score and you’re applying to those kinds of schools, it might be like, okay, a little bit of a flag here, let me check and see what the rest of your portfolio looks like. If it’s outstanding, it won’t matter.

I know people who got into Yale and did incredibly well with like 25s or 26s on their ACTs, right? For schools that are sort of a level below that, it is a little bit more, I would say, um, Make or break, um, not that I find that very rarely have I ever heard any admissions officer say that like, well, the student got, you know, a 1600 and the student got 1550 and that’s why we chose the student with the 1600, right?

It very much is in, um, conjunction with the rest of your application, but for if you struggled in high school, or if you had a bad year, right? That test score can really help to prove that, you know, Okay. Hey, the bad year I had was a bad year. Like a lot of stuff is going on. I was struggling to adjust to high school, whatever it is, but I have mastered this content and I can demonstrate it on command.

So it just depends on what school you’re applying to. And again, really depends on what the rest of your portfolio looks like.

Anesha: All right, I’m going to move away from the, yeah, the GP, the

question. And so, um, Two still required and one student was talking about. Bundling them. So is the SAT2 a bunch of separate tests on different subjects? Can we take different SAT2s? So if you could just talk, give a little bit more context to the SAT2s. Sorry, I think I might have cut out there.

Mariko: Uh, yeah, cut out a little bit, but I think I got the gist of it.

SAT2s. So you can bundle them. Uh, you can take up to two per session. I think that’s still the rule. And you can choose which ones you’re taking, so be strategic about what you’re taking and in which order, I think, is important. And you can take them at any time that the SAT is being offered. They’re also offering the SAT 2s, so you can slot that into your schedule, whatever works best for you.

Anesha: Um, I hate to contradict you, but I know this might be regional, but I feel like the SAT 2 was, SAT 2s were largely discontinued. Um, it might depend on certain sections where they are. I think. Oh,

Mariko: yes, you’re correct. You’re correct. Yeah. Yeah.

Anesha: Um, yeah. So no, you shouldn’t like, they might still be out there.

There might still be a lot of stuff. A test prep materials there, but I think colleges are going to look at the AP test. If you’re looking for kind of subject specific things, but again, would align that to you taking the AP class. Um, they, I don’t think they want to see you just taking a lot of random AP test.

If you haven’t taken the AP class, but if you are looking for subject specific, you feel like you shine in US history. And that’s the thing you want to be sure to highlight. You can go ahead and take the AP exams. Um, if you feel like that would be strategic for you. Uh, sorry, go ahead.

Mariko: Oh, sorry. I just, I would second that.

The SAT2s are, yeah, not, like, take your APs. The AP’s are the ones that are going to be looked at more seriously.

Anesha: Uh, oh, and one follow up. Someone asked regarding the number of times you take the test. The PSAT does not count towards your ACT count. So when we say twice, we mean two separate from the PSAT or three separate from the PSAT.

This is a question for around management, time management. How did you personally manage your schedule when it came to studying for these tests? Um, did you take a practice test every two weeks? How did you, how did you try to kind of pace out your, your prep time?

Mariko: Fantastic question. So I think for me, uh, I really, you know, first I looked at what my academic calendar and what my personal calendar looked like, and we tried to be very smart about when I was testing around, you know, make, if you are not going to be able to focus because you have a really big test in AP class, it’s important.

Like, don’t, don’t schedule your test for the next day. Right? I think that was the first thing. So mapping everything out and like one comprehensive calendar and being realistic about, Okay. what those commitments might look like, academic and non academic. The second thing is I would say have a plan, but be flexible, right?

You take your sort of initial practice test to assess where you’re at, and then figure out what do I need to devote the most time to, and what can I sort of knock out more easily. And for me, I don’t think I had a set schedule as to like, you know, I’m take a prep test every two weeks, although I did think about how many prep tests I had versus when my test date was.

I’m more focused on, okay, what did I do incorrectly in my practice test? And I’m going to fix the things as best I can that I did incorrectly before I take another practice test. And then I take the practice test to make sure that if it was a concept that I was struggling with or a timing thing that I was struggling with, that that was locked down.

And then I moved on to my next sort of subject or topic.

Anesha: Do you have any advice specifically for studying for SAT vocabulary?

Mariko: Vocabulary? I think if you are younger, right, and you’re not going to take the SAT until your 11th grade year, and I See some folks asking, right, like, when do you start studying?

Like, what grade? I would actually recommend just reading a lot. Like, read a lot. Because a lot of the vocabulary on the SAT is context dependent. And also, a lot of the vocabulary on the SAT is going to be words that you may not come across in your everyday life, but you might come across in a book. So the more you read, The easier everything will be.

And then I would say that there are some good flashcards or existing vocab systems. That’s where something like Princeton Review or Khan Academy could come in handy because they have done the like data analysis of what are the questions that are asked the most often and which words show up a lot. So, if you are really struggling with vocabulary specifically and in crunch time, then I would say, you know, folks have already done a lot of the work for you.

in terms of memorization. But also, sometimes memorizing flashcards is not that helpful. I would say write sentences with the vocab, try to use the vocab in your everyday life, try to teach the vocab to other people, right, instead of just regurgitating for the sake of a test.

Anesha: I know we wanted to do, save the last few minutes or so for kind of like rapid fire questions.

So I want to ask one more kind of thoughtful question. Um, So the student said, I make stupid mistakes on all of my tests because I get very nervous. My mind is not in the right place. Um, I take directions too literally. I, and so how do you have any advice on how to help them get into a better state of mind?

You were talking about vibes. How did they pick up on good vibes going into the test?

Mariko: So I think really figuring out. really sitting with your nervousness when you’re doing practice tests and figuring out how does your nervousness operate, right? What are the symptoms physically of you being nervous, right?

Is it you’re breathing too fast? Is that your heart rate? Is it you’re getting dizzy, right? For me, a lot of times it was breathing too fast. So I worked on my breathing. I worked on how to slow down my breathing and how I was breathing as I was literally reading a test question, right? To make sure that I was not like breathing too fast.

If it’s The thing that you’re nervous about is like, oh, you know, there’s so much pressure and I have to do this test and I have to get everything right and like that, right? Then you need to deal with the pressure part of it. But if you’re just nervous, cause you’re just like, I don’t know what’s going to be on there, right?

Those are kind of different kinds of nerves. So thinking about, right, what do your nerves look like and how can you address them and not just like suppress them and try to pretend they don’t exist, but acknowledge them and work with them. Because at the end of the being nervous, right? Those feelings, your body’s producing them.

because it wants you to be successful because it has the same goals as you, right? Because they know that this matters and you care about this. So working with that and then working through that in the practice test, right? Stopping and being like, okay, you know, let me take a second, figure out where I’m at, figure out what’s going on with my body, and then continuing to go on strategically is very helpful.

Anesha: Um, so I don’t know if you want to tackle the rapid questions or I can read some off for you. How do you, what works best for you? I’ll,

Mariko: I’ll just read them real fast and I’ll see how many I can get through. Okay. So, uh, Some of these we’ve already answered, but does it take 40 hours of studying to change your ACC score?

I would say no, there is no hard and fast rule. It depends on why you’re scoring the way that you’re scoring. I changed, I think I upped my score by three points in like two hours in one week just because I realized that I was doing a particular kind of math thing incorrectly. So you need to figure out what the issues you’re having are.

that are preventing you from improving your score first. Uh, you know, are these tests hard? It depends on your opinion. Uh, what was the amount of time for the science portion of the ACT? I believe it is 40 minutes, but you can go back in the slides and check for sure. When do you usually receive your scores for the PSAT in 11th grade?

November, December, unless they’ve changed it recently, but it depends on how long it takes them to grade them. So there is not a set date. Uh, you know, what is, what is my opinion on test optional schools? I think it depends on, again, the rest of your portfolio and how good of a test taker you are. How should you begin to study?

Take a practice test first. That would be my biggest recommendation. Take a practice test, figure out where you’re at. Uh, yes. answer questions no matter what. If you are good at math and science, but not reading, which is better ACT or SAT? I would say take both to practice, but the math is weighted a little bit higher on the SAT.

And if you don’t get the score you want after multiple times, should you just stop? Definitely stop before they stop super scoring you, but again, I would really try to figure out what’s the difference, right? How, why are you getting, if you got the same score twice in a row? What, what was, what was the thing that is not keeping you from improving, right?

Uh, you know, those are the things that I would ask. You do not get to choose the order that you take the test in. Uh, so, you need to, uh, When I said I had a well written test for the ACT, I just really liked the reading topics. They talked about Lord of the Rings and special effects, and I thought that was cool.

Uh, any tips for the SAT math section? Do a lot of practice problems and have your algebra theoretical knowledge, like, really down solid before you do it. Um, let’s see. What math course should a person be in? At least pre calculus. They go, they go up through that. And what is more important, GPA or SAT, ACT?

They’re looked at together. So one can help offset the other. At elite scores, only submit if you had a 32 on the SAT or 1450 on the S, or 32. I would say, yeah, for elite schools, if your, if your score is going to bring down your overall application, then don’t submit it. Although I, I think if you submitted a 31, I don’t think anyone would kill you.

Uh, you know, do you use a calculator? Yes, you’re allowed to use a four function calculator for both tests. And for the optional essay, You are not allowed to know the prompt beforehand. The essay is a separate score that you can choose to submit or not to submit to colleges. Can I elaborate more on how the subjects are averaged?

Well, you get a score for each subject like 31, 32, 34, 32, and then they do the average formula. Do a lot of students take both? Yes, a lot of students do take both. I would recommend instead of paying money to take both in real time that you take practice tests first. Uh, do I have recommendations on sites?

Uh, again, official sites are really good. Khan Academy has a lot of good stuff that’s partnered specifically with the SAT. You cannot submit your best math and best reading if they did not occur on the same day. Are there certain AP and IB science classes that colleges are going to take into consideration?

Uh, it depends on what classes your school offers and also which field of science you want to go into. Do they see the percentile and score breakdown or just the composite score? I think they can’t, they can see the score breakdown if they look really closely, but normally it’s just sort of one tab on the page with a lot of other information about you.

So, it, whether they actually look closely is a different question. How many AP classes should you take in a year? Well, you want to balance how much work you have and how well you’re going to do with the number of classes that you’re going to take and how that will affect your GPA. But I can’t give you a hard and fast answer.

It depends for both the number of exams and the number of classes on your school, the level of difficulty and what schools you want to go into. And test blind versus test optional is that test blind does not evaluate tests. I think this is a good one to end on. Test blind does not evaluate tests at all.

Test optional is you can choose whether or not to submit your tests. And test optional schools, again, will evaluate your entire application. If you don’t submit a test score, but everything else looks fantastic, then that might sort of be equivocal to someone who does submit a test score, um, but because they scored really well on that test and they struggled, you know, sophomore year with some of their grades.

Anesha: Thanks so much for that rapid fire. That was fun. That was fun to listen to at least. Um, so I appreciate you, you going through that and getting through so many more of those questions. So that is the end of our webinar. Thank you all for joining us tonight. And thank you Mariko for all of your amazing

tips and strategies for me. Later this month, actually this week, we have a session about staying organized. So for folks who are thinking about that time management, we hope that you’ll join us then. And then we’ll also end the month with a session on Social Media and Personal Branding and how that Impacts College Admissions on the 30th.

So we hope to see you soon. And if not, we hope you will take care and have a great evening until next time. Good night. Everybody.