Should My Child Take the ACT?
At The Learning Consultants, we enjoy teaching the ACT. In general, we recommend that our Shoreline, CT students take the ACT test. But we have several qualifications to that advice.
We recently gave a speech on the subject in Guilford, CT. As we noted, for many the answer is a simple “yes”. Many guidance counselors in Fairfield County CT schools advise this, too.
The main reason: there is nothing to lose. If the test goes poorly, then the student simply does not need to submit the score to the school. If it goes well, then the student has an additional way to present his case for college admissions.
Also many schools accept the ACT as a substitute for either SAT I or SAT II scores. Having the ACT as a hedge for either score creates wonderful flexibility.
Moreover, many of our students have done a good amount of generalized test prep (reading, writing and grammar) that overlaps with the content on the ACT. Given the relatively minimal additional prep needed (science and more intensity on grammar), the time cost v. benefit analysis weighs toward taking the test.
Finally, for most students applying to competitive colleges, it makes sense to maximize the possibility of admission by taking the ACT and then comparing it to the SAT.
So, if you are a Shoreline, CT student considering the ACT test, the simple answer is “Yes, take the ACT.”
Our first caution is that the student should have time to prep for the ACT test. We have encountered many students who were glibly told by their advisors to take the ACT because its the “easier” test. Bad advice. You have to prepare.
While not having as many high IQ-type questions as the SAT, the ACT is still a tough test. We have had many students come to us after they had been crushed by the ACT. Their universal lament: “I was told it was going to be easy, so I didn’t prepare.”
We recall one student from Madison, CT who walked into the ACT test without any preparation. Her performance was dreadful — not because the material was so hard, but because she did not understand some basic elements of ACT testing, such as the fact that the ACT does not have a guessing penalty. She left over 10 questions blank in the math section alone and hurt her score.
Given that the tests are on a curve and that now there is a greater number of students from competitive Northeastern and West Coast suburbs taking the ACT, the notion that the ACT test is easier is growing increasingly flawed.
While recognizing that we are showing some Northeastern bias, we have to say that there is some truth to the notion that the ACT was easier about 10 years ago when most of the students who took the test were from the Midwest and South. We recall mentioning the ACT to a very well-educated family from East Lyme, CT and getting a look of puzzlement.
We are not suggesting any difference of intelligence in the people in the various regions of the United States. But there is no doubt that there is a greater competitive environment in schools in the Washington, DC, New York and Boston suburbs and Shoreline, CT, than in places in the middle of the country.
Given that students in these locations are now taking the ACT with far greater frequency, the curve is now reflecting a higher level of competition for our Shoreline, CT students.
Our second caution is that there is an “energy” issue that must be considered. Students are busy. Many do not have time to prepare for all these tests.
For example, if a student has done very well on the SAT, then there is no compelling reason to take the ACT. Many will be advised, nonetheless, to take the ACT, too.
However, if the student does not have the time to prep adequately, then taking the ACT might simply amount to a wasted day. Also keep in mind that time spent studying for the ACT is time that could have been spent preparing for the SAT.
With that said, those that do well on the SAT, typically, also do well on the ACT. For that reason, if they have the time to prep for the ACT, they might as well go for it.
The third caution is based on anecdotal evidence from numerous writers on the subject and our own conversations with admissions officers. There is a subconscious bias in favor of the SAT among many, if not most, admissions officers, particularly at top schools.
Why? There is simply an assumption that if a student is only turning in ACT scores, then they must not have done as well on the SAT.
For those students who did very well on the ACT, the bias will likely not hinder them too much. But for those who did only reasonably well on the ACT, and only a touch better than they did on the SAT, they might be wise to consider this bias.
With all that said, many wise guidance counselors and college advisors in Shoreline, CT will agree that the students should take the ACT — but only if they are well prepared.
How the Learning Consultants Prepares Students for the ACT
Test prep methodology is very similar for the SAT and the ACT.
The ACT consists of English (grammar with writing optional); Math, Reading, and Scientific Reasoning sections.
The SAT consists of Reading, Math, and Writing (grammar and writing).
The general content and techniques designed to tackle the problems are mostly the same for reading and math for both tests.
The ACT does not have a sentence completion section. For that reason, vocabulary building is more intense for SAT prep.
Otherwise, the ACT has four long passages, as opposed to the SAT, which has some short passages mixed with the long passages.
The ACT has more standard knowledge questions in math (hence its reputation, somewhat overstated, that the ACT tests knowledge more than problem-solving, compared to the SAT).
The ACT requires a greater understanding of basic trigonometry. This can be part of the problem when we are preparing students who were hopeful that the ACT would be a lot easier. If the student has not done Algebra II/trigonometry yet, then we need to teach about 10% of the math section.
The ACT math section actually requires students to work more quickly (60 questions in 60 minutes). For that reason, we also work on speed with ACT test-takers.
We place a greater emphasis on grammar for ACT test-takers than for SAT test takers — a major difference in our preparation methodology.
The SAT has a demanding grammar section that comprises two-thirds of the overall Writing score. But many colleges have expressed either confusion about the Writing section, and for that reason do not count the score, or view the section with some skepticism. Such colleges do not weigh that score as importantly as they consider the Reading and Math sections.
The ACT score, on the other hand, is a composite of all 4 sections. For that reason, the English section is equally important. This demands that we spend time teaching grammar when we work with students preparing for the ACT.
Scientific Reasoning is the most unique section of the ACT.
Oddly enough, and again undercutting its reputation for “testing what you know,” the ACT actually does not require any knowledge gained in science classes.
The section is essentially data interpretation of charts, graphs, and experiments.
It looks very difficult at first glance. But with preparation, it actually is reasonably easy, in part, because, we have a discovered a technique that makes the section very manageable.
For example, we recently held an ACT group class in Waterford, CT. The students really disliked science and were worried that the science section would really hinder them.
While the students were initially worried about the format, they gradually learned that most of the work was simple data interpretation. Ultimately, they did very well.