Category Archives: SAT

Taking the Online Version of the ACT—Pros and Cons

For the past few years, the state of Ohio has paid for all juniors to take one standardized test for free in the spring. Generally, schools in Ohio (with a few exceptions) have chosen the ACT as it is the student-preferred test in Ohio.  Over the past few years, an increasing number of schools have been offering this test only through an online portal.  With this trend increasing every year, it is a good idea to understand the pros and cons for online tests.

Pros:

The first advantage to the online test is that there is a timer on the screen. Since time management is such an issue for many students who take the ACT this is very nice.  However, timing is manageable by any student with a watch, so this is not a huge advantage. Similarly, there is a built-in calculator if a student doesn’t have one of his or her own. However, if the student is unfamiliar with the layout of this calculator, it can be as much a hindrance as a help.

A second advantage can be that many students might prefer working through a test on a screen if that is the format with which they are most familiar from school. Many schools now use tablets instead of paper versions of textbooks. For students who go to a school like this, an online version of the ACT may be more familiar.

The third and biggest pro for the online test is the speed with which test results come back. With online grading, it is just a matter of a few days before students can access their results. However, even with paper tests, ten to fifteen days is the most the majority of the students wait. I don’t think that is a big enough difference to justify switching to online tests.

 

Cons:

The cons are far more numerous. The biggest con that I see is the inability to write on the test. Many of the strategies that students find the most helpful involve interacting with the test instead of just looking at it. On the science and reading especially, circling, underlining, and writing on the test are enormously helpful. When schools decide to do online tests, they are taking away this resource from the students. When students are exhausted from this test, being able to write on the test so that they don’t have to remember everything can give their brains a bit of a break! While the online test does have some resources to cross out answers and highlight text, this is not going to be as quick or as natural as a paper test and does have limitations. In addition, students can expect a learning curve on the first part of the test until they are comfortable with the tools in the online portal.

Another big strategy that helps students maximize their scores is being able to do the easy questions first or skip questions and go back to them later. While the ACT online does all it can to make this easy, it still is tougher than with a paper test, which means that many students won’t focus on getting all the easy points first. Instead, they’ll do the questions in the order they are presented, often resulting in wasted time.

The screen itself can also cause issues. Many students associate screens with entertainment. When students study with screens in front of them they are often flipping between what they should be doing and Instagram, Youtube, Reddit, music, and other distractions. While this certainly won’t be possible on the ACT, students have come to associate screens with distractions. Because of this, many students have concentration issues when they are looking at.

In addition, technical issues may be an issue for select students. Paper and pencil are fairly impervious to technical issues. In a school where every student is issued a computer, there is going to be a good handful of students who may not have their computer fully charged on test day. There can also be issues with internet connection, power supply, software etc. While some of these issues can be easily resolved, others can’t. Keep in mind that an easily solved issue is still going to cause stress for the student—something that should be avoided at all costs.

Another issue with screens is that many school issued computers are chrome books or other similar computers that have tiny screens. This can lead to issues with being able to see all the information at once (on the reading and science) and just overall makes it more difficult to interact with the test.

Finally, as any optometrist will tell you, staring at a screen for three and half hours can cause physical issues. While students may say that “they’re used to it,” they probably don’t often stare at screen for that long. Even if they don’t realize it, they likely look up and around quite often to rest their eyes. On the ACT, all these mini-breaks can really add up to time lost.

In short, if your school is considering an online test you should, if possible, request a paper test. If you absolutely can’t get a paper test, prepare for the difficulties of online testing by using this resource given by the ACT

https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Preparing-for-Online.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0e78F_CW6MhyIFX3835GZf1XWQ1QBt7brJTTc7L4aSeJVMeCVagIJfiP0

 

This will allow you, at the very least, to become comfortable with the program prior to test day!

Best of luck!

Michal Strawn

A Range of Difficulties on Standardized Tests

After taking the SAT or ACT students will often complain that the test was tougher than what they practiced for. They will also often say that it was easier than they expected. However, these observations don’t necessarily mean that student scores will go up or down. On the contrary, a test isn’t helpful to colleges trying to gauge a student’s ability if the test isn’t consistent. In order to ensure consistency in score the ACT and SAT curve scores according to the difficulty of the specific test taken.

So what does the mean for students taking the test? Well, first of all, students should do a wide range of practice from the easiest things they can find to the toughest.  Practicing a wide range of difficulties will allow students to be ready for anything.  This will hopefully allow students to remain calm on the test no matter what is thrown at them.

Second, students need to remember to stick to their strategies regardless of the difficulty. The temptation with easy tests is to zip right through it. However, this leads to simple, small mistakes; the curve on the easier tests makes those mistakes costly. Conversely, students need to make sure to stay calm on the tougher tests. Mistakes on those really difficult questions won’t count against them as much, but panicking will cause more mistakes. Having strategies in place and sticking to those strategies will help students maximize their scores on both ends of the spectrum.

In the end, students need to remember that they can’t control what is on the tests. They can only control how they react to it. Through careful and deliberate practice, students can ensure that they react in a calm manner which will allow them to live up to their potential!

State Funded Standardized Tests: SAT

Last year, the State of Ohio decided to pay for one standardized test for each junior in the state.  This decision was made after the ACT and SAT were included as pathways for graduation and, in part, to help reduce college application costs for families. Last year (as far as I know) all the schools here in central Ohio chose to have their juniors take the ACT. This year, however, one very large public district and one small private school are choosing to give their students the SAT as their free test.  Many of my students who attend these schools are curious as to why they are being forced to take the SAT: a test that is largely forgotten by most students in Ohio.  For many students who have chosen to focus on the ACT this is a nuisance. It is simply another test on their schedule that they have to study for even though they already have ACT scores that will take them to the college of their choice.  I believe that the school districts, however, have made a choice that will be good for many students.

The ACT and SAT are more similar now than they ever have been before. However, the tests still have differences that make some people more prone to succeed on one over another. For example, deep thinking and algebra strong students tend to succeed more readily on the SAT. Most students don’t realize this. They plan on taking the ACT because that’s what all their friends are taking and what (most) schools have as their standard junior test. By forcing students to try the SAT schools are helping students realize what test they are better on so that they can focus on it from there on out.

If your junior is at a school where they are offering the SAT encourage him or her to go in with an open mind and just do his or her best. Afterword, ask him or her which test felt more comfortable. Then, when scores come out see which one is better and have the student focus on that test moving forward. If your junior doesn’t go to a school where the SAT is being offered, consider signing up for a public test date. After all, you’ll never know if you don’t try!

Should I Take the ACT or the SAT?

I would highly recommend that students try BOTH the SAT and ACT.  While both tests are accepted by colleges everywhere some students find that they prefer one test over another. Why not focus on your strengths? However, you can only know for sure where your strengths are by taking them both.  Once you have taken both tests, you will know whether you should focus on just one of them going forward.  If your scores on both were pretty comparable, you can try both of them again.

Let’s say that you don’t want to take the time and money to explore which test is preferable – you want to pick one and stick with it.  Here are some ways you can make that decision.

  1. Look at your PSAT and Pre-ACT scores.  The PSAT corresponds to the SAT, and the Pre-ACT corresponds to the ACT.  Most students take the PSAT as juniors, and most take the Pre-ACT as sophomores.  The easiest way to compare them is to look at the percentiles that you earned on each test.  If, for example, if you have an 80thpercentile on the PSAT and a 65thpercentile on the Pre-ACT, it would probably make more sense to focus your efforts on the SAT.  If the percentiles are comparable, you should probably do both the ACT and SAT at least once.
  2. Do you qualify for extended time? If so, I would recommend focusing on the ACT.  In my tutoring experience, students who have extended time tend to find the ACT easier than the SAT.   Students find this to be the case because the questions and passages on the ACT tend to be a bit more straight-forward and less “outside-the-box”, making them much more doable for students who have more time to process them.  Much of the coaching I do for students with the ACT is with respect to timing, and if you have extended time on the ACT, you can focus much more on your critical thinking process rather than on how quickly you are doing things.
  3. Do you struggle with timing? You should almost certainly focus on the SAT.  The ACT Math, Reading and Science are all pretty tough for students to finish.  In my experience, few students have difficulty finishing the SAT.
  4. Do you have test anxiety? If so, the SAT may be a better fit because the questions go in order from easiest to hardest on almost every section, so it is much less likely that you will become stuck on a tough question.  Also, you won’t have to worry about time as much.
  5. What is the Superscoring Policy of the College you Most Want to Attend?  Most colleges will superscore the SAT, which means they will take the best score from each section of the test over several test dates.  A few colleges superscore the ACT.  If you are applying to a college that DOES superscore the ACT, you may want to be more open to taking the ACT because you will have more opportunities to earn a solid score.  If the college only superscores the SAT and you tend to be somewhat inconsistent in your performance on test day, the SAT may be a better fit for you.

 

What You Need To Know about the PSAT and SAT Test Math Fill-In or Grid-In Questions

The Math Fill-In Questions on the PSAT and SAT can be quite unsettling for many students because they are different than the other questions throughout the test.  In my tutoring and teaching experience, these are the four things that often surprise students when it comes to the SAT Math Fill-In Questions:

  • There Are No Negative Answers.  There is no way to bubble a negative response in, so if you ever find yourself coming up with a negative answer, know that you are incorrect!
  • Sometimes, There Are Multiple Correct Answers.  The SAT computer grading system will pick up on ranges of correct answers – sometimes there may be 2 or 3 correct answers, sometimes there may be hundreds! Knowing this may help you prevent overthinking.
  • There Is NO GUESSING PENALTY on the Fill-In Questions.   The new SAT has NO GUESSING PENALTY! Be certain that you answer every single one of the fill-in questions!
  • You DO NOT Have to Reduce Fractions!  If you enter a fraction like 3/24, the SAT computers will compute that you actually meant 1/8 and still give you the correct answer.

You can find practice for the Fill-In Questions on the College Board Website:

http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/psat/prep/gridins/gridins.html

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart

 

 

New Concordance Tables for SAT and ACT Score Conversion

The College Board has just released updated concordance tables so that students can compare scores from the ACT to the SAT.  Students can also use the tables to compare scores from the old SAT to the new SAT.  Here is a link to the new tables:

https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/pdf/higher-ed-brief-sat-concordance.pdf

The college board has also created an app for smart phones that converts scores among these different tests.

Use these resources to compare your scores to determine whether the ACT or SAT is a better fit.

New PSAT Book for Barron’s is done!

I am thrilled to report that I finished my manuscript for the new Barron’s Strategies and Practice for the New PSAT/NMSQT this past week.  This was the most challenging professional task I have ever taken on, given the very short amount of time and the minimal information available about the new PSAT.  Fortunately, I am quite pleased with the 85,000 word final product and I look forward to using it with my students this spring.

I started writing the text in February after signing my contract with Barron’s.  There was just enough information available at that time to create a body of practice and review materials.  I carefully reviewed the College Board test specifications for the new SAT and PSAT, as well as the practice questions they released.  It is fortunate that the new PSAT and SAT are more like the ACT than they were in the past, since I have great familiarity with the ACT having written the most recent Barron’s ACT Guide.

Just a few days before my April 1 deadline, the College Board finally released a full-length sample PSAT.  I had to make a few tweaks to my book materials, but all in all my original materials were very well-aligned with the practice PSAT.

The new PSAT book will feature a number of things that will make it extremely useful for students preparing for the 2015 PSAT:

–Several hundred practice questions, representing the equivalent of over 3 full-length PSAT tests.

–Comprehensive answer explanations to every question, including explanations of why incorrect answers are wrong.

–Extensive strategies and content review.

You can check out the new book here:

http://www.amazon.com/Barrons-Strategies-Practice-PSAT-NMSQT/dp/143800768X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1428270936&sr=8-2&keywords=barrons+psat

Please contact BWS Education for any of your tutoring needs as you prepare for the brand new 2015 PSAT and 2016 SAT.

3 Things Students Can Do to Prepare for the New 2015 PSAT

What should students do to prepare for the new PSAT?

1. Read widely and deeply. Students should read texts from a variety of content areas, from world literature to natural science, to become familiar with the types of materials they will encounter. The PSAT reading will not be difficult for most students to finish, so they should focus on learning to read well rather than read quickly.

2. Learn grammar fundamentals. Many students have not had thorough training in grammar. The new PSAT will expect students to thoroughly understand proper punctuation, parallelism, subject-verb agreement, and a host of other topics. Since grammar is often not taught in depth at many schools, students may want to review independently.

3. Brush up on algebra and statistics. There is very little geometry and trigonometry on the new PSAT. If someone is trying to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, they will want to study geometry so they can be prepared for the handful of questions that will arise. If someone has more moderate goals, they can emphasize algebraic and statistical fundamentals.

Major Changes to the PSAT in 2015

I am currently writing the new Barron’s PSAT Guide, so I have become very well-versed in what the new PSAT will look like.   Here is my concise summary of the major changes coming to the PSAT this fall:

Current PSAT Vocab:  Students need to spend countless hours memorizing obscure vocabulary words that they will probably not use again.

New PSAT Vocab:  Students focus on deciphering the meaning of words based on context clues.  The potential words are ones that are more widely used in professional settings.

Current PSAT Math:  An emphasis on pure mathematical reasoning, with many problems more akin to IQ test questions than ones that students are very likely to encounter in the real world.

New PSAT Math:  A major shift towards practical word problems, data analysis, statistics, and algebra.  The mathematical concepts are ones used in a variety of careers, both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and non-STEM ones.

Current PSAT Guessing:  There is a quarter point guessing penalty for missed questions.  (If students answer a question correctly, they earn a full point; if they omit it, they receive zero points; if they answer incorrectly, they lose a quarter point).  In my tutoring experience, the guessing penalty drives students nuts as they spend inordinate amounts of time trying to determine whether they should answer a question or leave it blank.

New PSAT Guessing:  There is no guessing penalty–simply answer every question.  Students can devote their mental energy to the problems presented instead of wasting it on trying to decide whether to answer.

Current PSAT Theme:  The current SAT is more a test of pure problem solving skills, with not much of a focus on practical applications.

New PSAT Theme:  No one will be able to justifiably say that there is nothing useful or practical being evaluated on the new SAT.  It has writing passages from career fields, lots of real world mathematical word problems, and reading passages from the great historical & political documents of the U.S. and world.

The New 2016 SAT vs. the Old SAT

With the PSAT/NMSQT changing in the fall, and the SAT changing in March, 2016, students and parents are very confused about what these changes mean to the content of the test.  To make things much easier, here is a PDF summary of how the new SAT will compare to the old SAT.  Hope you find it helpful!

https://www.bwseducationconsulting.com/docs/2016_New_SAT_Summary.pdf