Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of the SAT & ACT exams, and when should I take them?
The SAT and ACT are used by colleges as one of the gauges for determining acceptance; most (but not all) colleges and universities accept both exams. In theory, since all students taking the SAT & ACT do so under standardized conditions, they are on a level playing field. Most 11th grade students take one or both exams one to three times; if they are not yet satisfied with their scores, they can take the tests again in the first half of 12th grade. We recommend that 11th grade students get trained and then take one or two of each test early-to-midway through the school year; if their scores on one test are significantly higher than on the other, they can focus future studies (in the second half of 11th grade and/or the first half of 12th grade) on their stronger exam. The testing companies aim for each of their tests to be at the same difficulty level and the exams are curved to compensate for scoring differences, so there is no one particular month in which the test is easier or harder. Ideally, students should take the test when they will be most available to do extensive studying and test prep. When selecting a test date, consider factors such as AP exams, athletic competitions, finals, amount of preparation and extracurricular activities.
Does it hurt a student to take the SAT or ACT more than once?
Not typically. Most students take the tests two to four times, and most colleges look at the highest subscores from each of the sections. For example, if on the March SAT a student does well in Reading/Writing but lousy in Math and then, on the October SAT, does well in Math but lousy in Reading/Writing, most (though not all) colleges will look at the high Reading/Writing from March and the high Math from October -- this process has become known as "super-scoring." Note that the testing companies do NOT average grades if a student takes the test multiple times, nor do most colleges...this is an extremely common myth. However, we do not recommend that students take multiple SATs or ACTs unless they have also increased their knowledge and skill levels between test administrations through additional training. Note that while students have the option to select which full test results the colleges receive, some colleges REQUIRE the reporting of all test results and failure to do so can lead to disqualification as a candidate for admission, so check with your colleges of choice before suppressing the results for any given test date.
Should I take the SAT & ACT once just to get a feel for the tests?
No. Before taking their first driving test, most students enroll in a driver's education course...they would never consider taking the test without training. You should never take an important exam inadequately prepared, and getting professional training for your first SAT and ACT allows more time to further enhance your test-taking skills should you later decide to retake the tests. If you have ever taken the PSAT, PLAN or PreACT, or if you’ve taken a published previously-administered SAT or ACT exam, you already have a feel for the tests. Full practice exams are also available online, in high school guidance offices, and in the official study guides published by the companies that make the exams.
What is the purpose of the PSAT, ASPIRE and PreACT exams, and when are they taken?
The main purpose of the PSAT exam is to give students practice on a test similar to the SAT; the ASPIRE and PreACT exams provide exposure to similar content as is found on the ACT using a broader range of questions. The tests are used to predict future SAT and ACT scores, respectively. In addition, a few scholarships (such as the National Merit Scholarship) are based upon 11th grade PSAT performance. Recently, the grades to which these exams are available have expanded from 10th & 11th to as early as 8th (for the PSAT) or 3rd (for the ASPIRE). Since in most cases the only exam that carries weight is the 11th grade PSAT, in our opinion it is overkill to put excessive time and money into preparing for the tests in earlier grades. Advance preparation for the 10th or 11th grade PSAT has value in that, by applying stronger test-taking skills on the PSAT, students strengthen skills that should lead to higher score increases on subsequent SAT exams. In Miami-Dade County, all public school students take the PSAT in October of their 10th grade year; most will elect to take the test again in 11th grade. Note that in response to COVID-19, an additional 2021 PSAT date was offered in January; at this point, the organization that produces the test does not have plans to do the same thing in 2022.
Should I elect to take the optional essay?
For the SAT, this option will no longer matter beginning in July 2021, as the essay portion of the SAT has been discontinued. If you are in the Class of 2021 and are applying to a school with a later application deadline, check with the colleges to which you are applying to find out if they require the essay. For students who will still be in high school in September 2021, there is no need to take the SAT with the essay. As of March 2021, the ACT organization has not indicated any plan to discontinue the essay portion. In past years, some colleges have required the essay section to have been completed in order for your test scores to be considered...while the number of colleges doing so has been dropping, check with each and every college to which you are considering applying. Unless you are 100% certain that none of your preferred colleges will require the essay, it is best to complete that section every time you take the exams. Note that since the essay appears at the end of the test, it will not hurt your performance on the short answer sections that determine your main score. .
How important is it to take an SAT/ACT prep course?
This depends upon your current scores and upon how much emphasis is placed on the SAT or ACT by your preferred colleges. Many colleges place heavy emphasis on standardized testing while others do not require the SAT or ACT at all. The SAT & ACT require some knowledge and skills not taught in high school, so if the exams will be an important factor to your preferred colleges, finding an effective prep course can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.
How do I find out the policies of the colleges regarding SAT & ACT exams?
One option is to purchase a college guide from a bookseller. You can also request an information packet from college admissions offices or you can visit the schools’ websites. Note that colleges annually reevaluate and change their admission requirements & policies regarding tests, deadlines and which sections they consider, so make sure any information you have gathered will be applicable during the year in which you seek admission. IMPORTANT COVID-19 UPDATE: Colleges and universities have been making adjustments to their admissions policies in response to situations that have arisen both directly and indirectly because of COVID-19. Make sure to check with the colleges to make sure that you are aware of the latest changes. Also note that some schools have adopted test-optional policies (this is NOT the case with Florida State schools); be aware that for schools that are "test optional", this does not mean they are "test blind", so performing well on standardized tests can still substantially improve your chances of acceptance to your colleges of choice.
What should I look for in an SAT/ACT prep course?
In addition to price, schedule and location, there are several other factors to consider. The number of course hours is more important than the number of class dates. The instructor should spend the vast majority of class time teaching, not testing. Actual SAT and ACT questions should be incorporated throughout the course, and an avenue for making up missed classes is a definite plus. Since no course can guarantee that every student will reach his/her target scores the first time out, look for a guarantee allowing students to retake the course should they fail to achieve a significant increase. Most importantly, find out about the experience and track record of the instructor; it is irrelevant how many years the company itself has been in business or what the company’s average score increase is if those factors do not apply to the specific instructor with whom the student will be working. If possible, observe the instructor teaching -- if a student likes the teacher’s style and feels the instructor is knowledgable and effective, that student is more likely to learn.
How do the SAT and ACT differ?
Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a Science Reasoning section; most of the questions in that section do not require actual science knowledge but, rather, the skill to quickly location information in charts, graphs and descriptions of experiments and theories -- this skill is also useful for some types of Math and Reading questions on the SAT. The SAT, unlike the ACT, includes some math questions that are not multiple-choice but rather free-response; also, though most problems on the SAT allow calculator usage, one smaller Math section does not. The ACT allows less time per question than does the SAT; however, the SAT provides a math facts-and-equations box while the ACT does not. The SAT is eliminating the Essay section beginning in Summer 2021, while the ACT currently still includes an optional essay section at the end of the test...the essay score is a separate score that is NOT included in the overall ACT score calculation. The reality, however, is that two exams have far more in common, which is why Higher Standards simultaneously prepares for both tests. For example, both exams have four short-answer sections, math concepts on both exams range from General Math through Trigonometry, and both exams have similar grammar correction and reading comprehension sections. Most of the facts and strategies that are applicable for one test are also applicable for the other. Depending upon their strengths and weaknesses, some students may do slightly better on one test than on the other, but neither exam is inherently more difficult. We strongly encourage students to take both exams at the end of the course, as students are often surprised by which test emerges as their stronger test once they have completed their training.
What were the SAT-2 Subject Tests, and should they matter to me?
The SAT-2 Subject Tests were one-hour exams covering academic subjects in Mathematics, Literature, Science, Foreign Language and History. In response to COVID-19, an increased number of schools chose to deemphasize the Subject Tests, and The College Board (the maker of the test) has decided to discontinue the SAT-2 Subject Tests in the summer of 2021. Students who will still be in high school in the 2021-22 academic year will no longer need to incorporate the SAT-2 Subject Tests into their test-taking plans.
What are the GPA and test requirements for the Florida Bright Futures scholarships...and should I still apply for the scholarships if I plan to attend an out-of-state school?
The Florida Academic Scholars (FAS) award provides 100% of tuition costs and a $300 book stipend at Florida public institutions, while the Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) award provides 77% of those tuition costs; the award amount that would have been provided to the student for a public institution can also be applied toward the tuition at private institutions in Florida. Both scholarships require community service hours and a minimum weighted GPA (based upon specific core college-preparatory coursework): a 3.5 for the FAS and a 3.0 for the FMS. For the Class of 2021 & beyond, the SAT/ACT requirements are 1330 SAT/29 ACT (for the FAS) & 1210 SAT/25 ACT (for the FMS) -- these score requirements are based on super-scoring, i.e. the highest section of each type, even if they were earned on separate test dates. Note that even test dates as late as June of a student’s senior year can be applied toward the scholarships. Even if you plan to attend an out-of-state college, you should still apply for the scholarship in your senior year of high school because the scholarship is only attainable while you are still in high school but remains valid for up to five years after your high school graduation; thus, if you change your mind within those five years and transfer to a Florida university, the scholarship will still be available to you.
What special accommodations are available for students with learning disabilities, and how do I go about getting them?
There are a number of special accommodations that students can receive to compensate for various learning differences. The most common accommodations allow students 50% or 100% extra time. SAT and ACT score reports do not distinguish between standard and nonstandard testing, so the colleges will be unaware of any special conditions under which students took the exam. If you suspect you have a learning difference, do not hesitate to get tested; it is far better to be well-informed, and special testing accommodations in school and on standardized tests are meant to level a playing field that would otherwise be imbalanced against your favor. Note also that having been diagnosed with a learning disability does not automatically entitle you to special testing accommodations. The testing must be recent, the psychometrician needs to recommend the special accommodations, the student’s high school needs to be informed (a person cannot have a learning disability for SAT & ACT purposes but be free of that issue at school), an Eligibility Form must be submitted to the testing companies, and a number of other hurdles must be jumped. This approval process can take months and is not guaranteed, so start the process early. For additional guidance, you can call ETS/College Board at 609-771-7137 and the ACT Organization at 319-337-1332.
More questions? We’d be happy to answer them! Call Higher Standards at 305-969-2012.