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So Many Tests, So Little Time Means Test Prep

Posted by Gil Gibori on Wed, Oct 22, 2014 @ 05:10 AM


The testing season has begun. Juniors are getting ready for the ACT and SAT's right now. They should also be thinking about which SAT Subjects Tests they will be preparing for as well. Seniors, and some underclassman, are in the moving along in the AP classes, preparing for the exams in May.

With so many tests on the horizon. We thought we could help make sense of them for you.



The ACT sports four multiple-choice subject tests covering English, Math, Reading Comprehension, and Science Reasoning. These are designed to evaluate your overall educational development and your ability to complete college-level work.

As far as scoring goes, your subject test scores (ranging from 1 to 36) are determined after throwing out any incorrect answers. There is no penalty for guessing on the ACT.  The four areas are then averaged together to come up with your overall, or composite, score.

The ACT also includes an optional 30-minute writing test designed to measure your skill in planning and writing a short essay. This segment is your chance to show off your writing skills! If you opt to take it, the additional scores will be reported. These scores are reported separately.

So, if writing is a weak area, you might want to take the ACT and skip the writing section, since it's currently optional (although some schools require it).


When looking at the SAT in comparison to the ACT, a clear difference is that the SAT is designed to evaluate your general thinking and problem-solving abilities. It starts with a required 25-minute essay. This is the start to the Writing section, which you'll complete in addition to the Critical Reading and Math sections. The SAT differs from the ACT in terms of the amount of time you'll have to complete it (3 hours and 5 minutes) and the format in which you provide your answers.

Similar to the ACT, the SAT has multiple-choice areas, but it also has a part in the Math section where you'll be required to produce your answers. And unlike the ACT, the SAT does penalize for wrong answers on the multiple-choice questions (but not on the student-produced ones).

When considering the ACT vs. the SAT, keep in mind that both tests allot ample time for completion, but the SAT has fewer questions — 140 compared to the 215 on the ACT. The SAT also focuses heavily on vocabulary, while the ACT hones in on grammar and punctuation.


In spite of their differences, neither test is more likely than the other to produce a great score. In fact, when viewing a comparison of the ACT and SAT, the vast majority of students perform comparably on both tests.

You may not even need to think in terms of ACT vs. SAT. If the colleges you're interested in accept scores from either test, you may want to consider taking both admissions tests. Each one tests you in a different way, so you might opt to take both to see which one you perform better on.

However, if you're short on time and money and want to put your efforts towards test prep for only one of the tests, your best bet is to take a practice exam for each. Chicago Academic, like many tutoring and test prep companies, offers complimentary diagnostic exams.

If you are starting early and considering the tests as a sophomore, you may still have time to take the PLAN, which is similar to a practice ACT, or the PSAT, which is similar to a practice SAT.

Generally, students in the Midwest region of the U.S. predominantly take the ACT exam. In fact, in Illinois every junior is required to take an ACT as part of the two day Prairies State Achievement Examination (PSAE) in April.

While foreign schools tend to require the SAT, we have yet to interact with a university in the U.S. that does not accept both. Make sure to check and see if the school you are applying to requires both ACT and SAT or just one.


The SAT also provides you with the chance to take Subject Tests. A few schools may require you to take some of these tests as additional requirements to your admission application. It's possible you won't need to take any, but you may want to consider it if you have strengths in particular subjects. All of your scores from these additional tests will be reported, whether they were required or not.

If you're concerned that your scores on the required SAT sections may be less than stellar, consider registering for — and getting test prep in — additional Subject Tests in areas that can demonstrate your skills in specific subjects like English, history, mathematics, science, and various languages.


If your high school offers AP classes, and you feel academically qualified, you should take advantage of the opportunity. The successful completion of Advanced Placement classes benefits students during both the college application process and while in college.

Your academic record is the most important part of your college application. Admissions counselors consider class rigor to be a critical component of a transcript. Succeeding in rigorous courses is the best sign of a student’s preparedness for college. The most challenging courses in any high school are the college-level Advanced Placement classes.

AP classes require the type of high-level calculating and critical thinking that students encounter in their first year of college. This is why admission counselors pay such close attention to AP credits. The scores on the AP exams taken senior year are not as important to the application process, being at the end of the school year. But the credits earned by scoring well on those exams can save money and time in college by eliminating certain required courses.


Topics: ACT Test Prep Tutors in Chicago, ACT tutoring in Chicago, ACT test prep Chicago