Everything You Need to Know to Prepare for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT

April 13, 2017

Why Are These Tests Important?

If you’re applying to college, you’ll need to take the SAT and/or the ACT. The SAT and the ACT help colleges interpret students’ academic readiness. If a student with a good GPA scores poorly on the SAT/ACT, colleges will often times interpret that student’s GPA as inflated. If a student with a bad GPA scores well on the SAT/ACT, colleges will not be as critical towards a student’s GPA. Ultimately, a good score on the SAT/ACT is vital for college admissions and it can only help you.

Why do colleges put so much weight on these tests? Because colleges are judged and ranked, by US news and several other sites, by their average SAT/ACT scores. The more selective colleges are in their admissions process, the higher average scores they will get. This translates to a higher average SAT/ACT, which in turn boosts a college’s ranking on US news (the most popular college ranking site).

What about the PSAT?

The PSAT is used to determine students eligible for the National Merit Scholarship. To learn more about this scholarship, visit http://www.nationalmerit.org/s/1758/interior.aspx?sid=1758&gid=2&pgid=424

General structural and scoring differences between the ACT, the SAT, and the PSAT

The ACT

The ACT favors fast test takers. The ACT is composed of an English section, a Math section, a Reading section, a Science section, and an Essay (which is optional but recommended). The timing (and order) for each section is as follows:

·         1st section: English – 75 questions in 45 minutes

·         2nd section: Math – 60 questions in 60 minutes

·         3rd section: Reading – 40 questions in 35 minutes

·         4th section: Science – 40 questions in 35 minutes

·         5th section: Essay (optional) – 1 essay in 40 minutes

Each section is graded from 1-36 (with 36 being the best score possible). Colleges often look at your ACT composite score, the average of the first four sections. NOTE: The essay does not factor into a student’s composite score!

The SAT

The SAT favors analytical students who are strong in math, because the math section accounts for 50% of a student’s score on the test. The SAT is composed of a Reading section, a Writing and Language section, two Math sections, and an Essay (which is optional but recommended). The timing (and order) for each section is as follows:

·         1st section: Reading – 52 questions in 65 minutes

·         2nd section: Writing and Language – 44 questions in 35 minutes

·         3rd section: Math No Calculator – 20 questions in 25 minutes

·         4th section: Math Calculator – 38 questions in 55 minutes

·         5th section: Essay (optional) – 1 essay in 50 minutes

As you can see, the SAT allots more time per question than the ACT; thus, questions on the SAT tend to be slightly harder and more analytical than questions on the ACT.

Each section is scored based on a raw score, the amount of questions that a student gets correct. The raw score on a section is then converted to a scale score. There are two “combined” sections that are scored: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (Reading + Writing and Language) and Math (Math No Calculator + Math Calculator). These “combined” sections are scored between 200 and 800 points; the “combined” sections are then added together to determine a student’s score on the SAT (out of 1600). NOTE: The essay does not factor into a student’s SAT score!

 

The PSAT

The PSAT is similar to the SAT in structure and scoring; however, the PSAT has no essay and asks less analytical questions than the SAT. The timing (and order) for each section is as follows:

·         1st section: Reading – 48 questions in 60 minutes

·         2nd section: Writing and Language – 44 questions in 35 minutes

·         3rd section: Math – 47 questions in 70 minutes.

The scoring on the PSAT is similar to the SAT in all respects besides scaled score: each section is scored out of 760 instead of 800. Overall, the highest achievable score on the PSAT is a 1520.

 

 

Resources for success

Books

ACT

·         The Official ACT Prep Guide 2016-2017

·         The Real ACT Prep Guide 3rd edition

·         ACT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective ACT Strategies Ever Published (Supplement to The Real ACT Prep Guide 3rd edition)

·         Cracking the ACT with 6 Practice Tests, 2017 Edition

·         Barron's ACT 36, 3rd Edition: Aiming for the Perfect Score

SAT

·         The College Panda's SAT Math: Advanced Guide and Workbook for the New SAT

·         The Official SAT Study Guide, 2016 Edition

o   NOTE: The tests within this book are available online for free. See our blog on free SAT practice tests

·         The College Panda's SAT Writing: Advanced Guide and Workbook for the New SAT

·         Cracking the SAT Premium Edition with 6 Practice Tests, 2017

·         The Critical Reader, 2nd Edition

 

Free Online Resources

ACT

·         TopTierLearning Blog

·         Crackact.com

·         Act.org

SAT

·         TopTierLearning Blog

·         Khan Academy

·         Collegeboard.org

 

Tutors

As shown, Top Tier Learning gives you the most bang for your buck. Affordable personalized standardized test prep at a price that won’t break your budget!

How parents can help

·         Parents need to set their students up with the resources required to succeed

·         Parents need to contact local tutors that their students trust

·         Parents need to be involved in their student’s progress!

Author

Giovanni Zinzi