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Goodbye SAT, Hello ACT!!!

Well, well, well. If the folks at college board intended to make their test (the SAT) more competitive with the ACT (which had recently overtaken the SAT as the most popular college admissions test), boy did they misfire. Never in my more than 10 years of tutoring for these tests have I done so much ACT tutoring! Of course that may change over time as people come back to the SAT, but if I used to do 80% SAT and 20% ACT tutoring, those percentages are now reversed. And this is New York, where the SAT has long reigned supreme!

In the coming months I will be posting more about the new SAT as I myself become more acquainted with it. But I couldn’t help but comment on the difference I have seen in local demand for the ACT. And it is not without good reason…

First of all, College Board has not released that much practice material for the new test, so even if one were inclined to prepare for the SAT, one would not have a whole lot to work with. Aside from the 4 practice tests they released, there is not much else that one can use. I have not gone through that much of the material from Khan Academy (aside from the tests), but I suspect that the additional material that is being housed on the Khan site is not being written by ETS (the company that produces the SAT). Conversely there is a wealth on material available for the ACT, including many, many old previously administered tests that make it very easy to prepare for the ACT.

Another thing is that the new SAT is now a lot like the ACT (which is itself an absolute shame in my opinion…I am really, really going to miss the old SAT). When the SAT was very different from the ACT it gave people a reason to opt for that test instead of the ACT. In the past I really viewed the SAT as a superior test. But now that the SAT is so unabashedly mimicking the ACT (and I mean really mimicking it), why would one take this new imposter test when the real thing (the ACT) has been running relatively unchanged for many, many years. I am glossing over key differences between the tests that will, in the future, undoubtedly influence people’s decision, but the general impression that most people seem to have at the moment is that the SAT is now just a copy of the ACT. Oh, how far you have fallen SAT!

One interesting thing to just throw in here. PSAT scores were recently released and I have to say that an interesting thing has happened. Many people seem to have done really well on the PSAT – so well that they are now considering taking the SAT as well. At first I thought I was crazy to think that the PSAT scores could have been artificially inflated a little to encourage people to take the SAT. I still think that idea seems a little far-fetched, but I recently came across something on Erica Meltzer’s blog (author of The Critical Reader and The Ultimate Grammar Guide to the SAT) in which she pointed to what appears to be some tinkering with the percentiles in order to give the impression that people are in a higher percentile than they really should be. I don’t know if this is true, but if so it is an ingenious (albeit slimy) way to lure people back to the SAT.

Anyway, for now I am enjoying all of the ACT tutoring I am doing and have discovered a new found love for the test. I will never love it as much as I loved the old SAT, and ACT Inc. just does not really have their act together the way the producer of such an important test should (in my opinion, for example, they don’t vet their questions adequately and there are things that happen on the ACT that are unfair and that would never have happened on the old SAT). But for now I have embraced the ACT and have come to appreciate it in ways that I never anticipated. Goodbye SAT, hello ACT!

Changes to the ACT Reading and Science Sections

For the last several ACTs now, including the June test (which I took), there has been a difference in both the ACT Reading and Science sections. And by the looks of it, the change is probably here to stay. Not to be outdone by the folks at College Board, the makers of the ACT probably decided that they too needed to adapt and tweak the test some to at the very least give the appearance of being dedicated to continually “improving” the test. Unlike the folks at College Board, however, the people behind the ACT never seem to give the proper warning and release of information that they should – students just go in there, expect a certain test, and are sometimes surprised by slight changes that either were not announced or were announced so as to make sure that nobody noticed!

Change to the Reading Section
The change to the ACT Reading section is pretty well-known at this point. One “passage” on the Reading section is now actually 2 smaller passages with some comparative questions accompanying them. The paired passages seem to be appearing in the Humanities part of the Reading section and usually contain about 6 or 7 questions that ask about the passage individually and then 3 or 4 questions that ask about the passages together. There is really no reason to sweat this change. The versions of this new format that I have seen, including the one that was on the June 2015 ACT, were pretty straightforward and not as hard as the same variety that appears on the SAT. The single passage questions usually come first and then are followed by the comparative questions. So just like on the SAT, it makes sense to read the passages one-by-one, answering the questions that deal with one passage before turning to the other one, and then dealing with the comparative questions last, once you have answered all of the other questions. That strategy would probably be intuitive to most people, but I thought it was worthy of mention anyway. If you would like to see an example of the new format, visit the below link:

http://www.actstudent.org/sampletest/reading/read_05.html

Change to the Science Section
The change to the ACT Science is much less known – even though it was there on the February test I didn’t even know about it until much later. And it will likely still surprise people for some time until it becomes common knowledge (which again may take a long time since the folks at ACT, Inc. are not helping people become more aware!). The ACT science section used to have 7 passages – 3 Experiments, 3 Charts and Graphs, and 1 Dueling Scientists (these are the informal names – ACT uses a slightly different nomenclature). Since February, however, the Science section has consisted of 6 passages, most of which have had an additional question added on.

At this point it’s difficult to say if there will be an exact structure to the Science section that will be replicated on every exam since ACT, Inc. has not released any guidelines to help test takers, but it seems likely that the structure will be 3 Experiments (probably 7 questions each), 2 Charts and Graphs (6 questions each), and 1 Dueling Scientists (7 questions). The number of questions may change but I would be surprised if all future ACTs didn’t have 3 Experiments, 2 Charts and Graphs, and 1 Dueling Scientists.

What does this all mean for test takers? Not that much really – just a change in pacing strategies. What I would definitely recommend and what I am recommending to my students is that as soon as the Science section begins they immediately skip forward to see how many passages there are. If there are 7, then the familiar 5 minutes per passage strategy would still apply. If there are 6 passages then they have something closer to 6 minutes per passage. Its actually a hair under 6 minutes per passage so students need to be mindful of that, but generally they should target 6 minutes per passage and try to be a little ahead of that pacing.

Other Changes
ACT, Inc. also recently announced changes to the Writing (Essay) section of the exam (changes that actually affected the September exam). I will deal with those changes in another post since the changes are a little more involved, so stay tuned, but if you would like to get more information about those changes please go to:

http://www.actstudent.org/writing/enhancements/

College Confidential: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

For those who don’t know, College Confidential is the most popular SAT forum on the internet. It is a great resource for students and parents alike on topics ranging from standardized testing to admissions concerns. Nevertheless, there are some down sides to the site and I recently had a bad experience dealing with a site moderator so this post will explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of College Confidential.

The Good
Overall, College Confidential is a great resource. Many people studying for the SAT and ACT post questions and responses on there and many experts (as well as some “posers”) often answer questions or provide advice as well. Generally speaking the people who post are either hard working and high scoring students who have pretty good insights about the tests or experts who really know the tests and how to study for them. There are even parents and admissions officers from schools around the country who post on the forums. And like any good forum, the community is very supportive (generally speaking) and it is a great place to air questions, anxieties, etc. I would regard College Confidential as the best forum for information regarding the SAT and ACT and really anything related to college admissions.

The Bad
Maybe the word “bad” is a little strong here, but one of the biggest drawbacks of the College Confidential forums, especially for students using the site to get information and support, is that  the students who post tend to be extremely high achievers and it can be very, very discouraging to surf around through the forums. For example, you will often (very often) see people posting asking if they should retake the SAT because they are not happy with the 740CR, 780W, 710M score that they currently have. And even the amount of work and dedication that most of the posters put in to preparing for the SAT and ACT is not normal (in the sense that most would-be test-takers study far, far less). So it can be a little discouraging for people who are not super motivated and who are not scoring at the top end of the spectrum. I have had students complain that browsing the site was a very discouraging experience, so be forewarned.

The Ugly
Like all forums, College Confidential has moderators and it is never a good thing when moderators come to have an inflated sense of their own power and importance. It is especially bad when the site administrators don’t appreciate the posters who make the site so valuable and without whom the site would cease to exist. I recently had an unfortunate experience with 2 separate moderators who basically bullied me and threatened to ban me from the site. It was a ridiculous incident, but at one point one of the moderators threatened that if I even messaged him back he would ban me. What did I do? Obviously I messaged him back. This particular moderator (fallenchemist) and the other one who contacted me previously were just down-right nasty to me from there very first communication and for no good reason. When I pointed out that posters like me who contributed valuable information to the community were part of what made the site so valuable and that it was inappropriate to be nasty and threatening, he banned me. I pointed out that I was posting for the benefit of the readers and posters and that banning me for no other reason than that I was not going to simply sit there and take his abuse without defending myself was just a going to be a detriment to the community. It didn’t matter – when I messaged him back I was banned.  Shame on you fallenchemist.  So needless to say I will not be offering my advice or answering questions on College Confidential anymore (unless I choose to create a new anonymous identity). This is the ugly side of College Confidential.

That said, College Confidential is still a very good site and a valuable source of information. Just be careful not to cross a power-intoxicated moderator on the site!!!