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SAT, ACT Test Prep: Answers to common questions

Sheba Lowe Brown of A+ Test Prep shares the answers to some common questions about the ACTs and SATs.

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Sheba Lowe Brown, A+ Test Prep
I featured Sheba Lowe Brown a couple of weeks ago. The Durham mom of four is a former long-time high school teacher and now runs A+ Test Prep and Academic Services.

For years, she has helped high school students prepare for standardized tests as they get ready for life beyond high school. Today, Brown shares some answers to commonly asked questions about the SAT and ACT. Here's a good opportunity for parents who haven't had to sharpen a No. 2 pencil for years ... even decades ... to bone up on these important tests.

Q: Do colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT?

A: No. Colleges and universities accept scores for both tests.

Q. Are the SAT and ACT similar?

A. Both tests include multiple-choice questions in reading, math and English. Both tests include an essay section. However, only the ACT includes a science section. The two tests are scored very differently and timed differently as well.

Q. Which test should I take: SAT or ACT?

A: One of the best ways to make this decision is to take both the PSAT and the ACT PLAN before the junior year. Examine your test results carefully. Also, take into consideration your learning style and which test you feel more comfortable with. Some students do perform better on one test than the other; for other students, it’s a toss-up. Attend the A+ “SAT or ACT for Me?” session to learn more about making this very important decision. Students don’t have to take both tests, but they can.

Q. I’m a student-athlete. Should I wait until after the season is over to take the SAT/ACT?
A: No, especially if you’re a senior. If you're a student who is serious about college, this part of your application cannot take a back 

seat to sports. Too many seniors ignore the ACT and SAT and then are under tremendous stress to earn a certain score without enough preparation. The best plan is get the needed score BEFORE the senior year.

Q. What if I’m not a good test taker?

A: Usually this statement simply means that the student is not adequately prepared. Lack of preparation induces stress, which makes it difficult to concentrate, which ultimately leads to poor performance. Again, don’t procrastinate: prepare early and get the scores you need early.

Q. I have an IEP (or 504, etc.). Can I receive accommodations on the ACT or SAT?

A: Absolutely. But both tests have a process for doing so, which can take a few weeks. Again, don’t wait.

Q. I’m a high school freshman. What can I do now to start getting ready?

A: Read! Whether taking the SAT or the ACT, students will need to be proficient readers who can understand and analyze a variety of texts (including texts in math and science). Students can also take the PSAT. In North Carolina, sophomores take the ACT PLAN. Both the ACT and SAT offer a free Question-of-the-Day and practices tests on their websites.

Q. Should I take the PSAT?

A: YES. For underclassmen, the Preliminary SAT provides firsthand practice for the SAT and is the best way to assess their readiness level for the SAT and to begin sharpening their testing skills. Taking the PSAT can help with SAT scores and financial aid. It measures reading, math, and writing and can be a student’s entryway into the world of scholarship awards and national academic recognition. Juniors must take this test to enter the National Merit Scholarship Corporation program, even if they’ve taken it before. 

Q. I’ll be taking the ACT or SAT again. What should I do to get ready?

A: If the Question and Answer Service is available for the previous test date, order it and develop a study plan based on those results. Identify and prioritize content and skills for practice and review. Take a class, get a tutor, use a study book. Whatever you do, don’t take the test again without a clear idea of how much you want to improve your score and a clear plan to do so. Set up a study plan and FOLLOW THROUGH.

Q. How do I know if my score is “good?"

A: “Good” varies based on which colleges and universities the student is applying to and how much scholarship money he or she wants. Students should do their research beforehand. Find out score range of admitted students and determine how your scores fall in line. Don’t get caught up in comparing their scores with those of their friends.

Q: Is it true that the SAT will be changing soon?
A: Yes, the SAT will change in spring 2016, so the Class of 2017 and beyond will be taking this new test. Visit our website to learn more about the redesigned SAT.


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