Archive for the ‘ACT exam’ Category

The Three Most Important Actions for a Second-Semester High School Junior

Thursday, February 20th, 2014


1. Take an official standardized test.  I mean, either the SAT or the ACT.
2. Apply to at least one scholarship.
3. Attend a summer conference/program/internship or get a summer job.

That’s it.  If you’re a high school junior in your second semester there are probably lots of other things for you to worry about like grades, athletics, your AP exams, etc. but make sure to DO these three things.

You can daydream and putz about college campuses all you want.  That can even be good; I’m not knocking it.  But I’m not giving you a list of things to think about; I’m giving you actionable items.  Frankly, who cares how you do them?  Just do them. (more…)

Planning for the Year Ahead

Sunday, June 9th, 2013
College Calendar

Yearly Calendar

June is here, and another academic year approaches the all-too-familiar frenzied climax.  Whether student or teacher, expert or novice, STOP.  BREATHE…ONE FULL BREATH.  Turn around on your timeline to face the past.  You made it.  Congratulate yourself, knowing there’s always more to come.

Snap back to now.  On deck we have: any and all finals, APs, SAT Subject Tests, potential SAT and/or ACT retakes.

Let’s start with seniors and work earlier chronologically:

SENIORS!  Those finals won’t get good marks by themselves.  No compromise to diligence here; see your final game through.  The victory lap will be that much sweeter.  As you do so, please remember those who helped you get here.  Celebrate the success together. (more…)

Superscoring and the ACT

Friday, September 28th, 2012

ACT Superscoring

ACT Superscoring

Superscoring on the SAT has been a hot topic for a while now, so by now you probably know that it has nothing to do with just doing super well on the test (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). With superscoring, schools look at your best scores for each section—critical reading, writing, and math—regardless of whether those highest section scores are from the same testing date or not, and add those three best section scores up into a “super score,” which will be higher than any of the actual scores you got on the SAT tests that you took (unless all your highest section scores happened on the same test/test date). (more…)

SAT Essay Prep and ACT Essay Prep

Friday, September 7th, 2012
SAT Essay and ACT Essay

SAT Essay and ACT Essay

Many people aren’t sure how to approach the essay section on the SAT Test and the ACT Test. It doesn’t seem as straightforward as the other sections on an SAT or ACT, they think—you can’t drill it with flashcards, the way you can when you work on SAT vocabulary prep; you can’t memorize rules the way you do for SAT or ACT grammar prep, and it certainly isn’t as black-and-white as SAT math prep, ACT math prep, or ACT science prep. In some ways, that’s right—the essay is different than the other questions. It’s not multiple-choice, and all it gives you is a prompt question and a couple blank pages. Instead of being graded by a machine, essays are graded by two readers—usually teachers—who each give a score between 0 and 6. The scores are then added together to form a score between 0 and 12.

However, when you break it down, an SAT and ACT essay is really nothing to be afraid of. The readers are not expecting you to be Shakespeare, they’re not expecting you to be the next great American novelist, and they’re not expecting perfect penmanship. All they want to see is that you’re able to choose a side on the issue they present you with, and write a clear, concise essay that fully supports the argument you’re making. ACT essay prep and SAT essay prep are possible and necessary, and if you do solid prep work, and little structured brainstorming before you start writing, you can write a fantastic essay in the 25 minutes provided. Here’s how:

In your SAT essay prep or ACT essay prep, one of the best things you can do is come in prepared with some great examples. “But,” you may say, “how can I think of examples ahead of time if I don’t know what the question is yet?” Well, that’s true, you don’t, but you do have access to lots of past ACT essay questions and SAT essay questions, and if you take a look at them, in any of your books or online, you’ll start to see some patterns. SAT essay questions tend to take the form of a general question about society or human nature that can be answered many ways, like “Should people take more responsibility for solving problems that affect their communities of the nation in general?” SAT essay prompts ask you to “Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.” ACT essay questions are a little more specific, and a little more relevant to the life of a teenager, like “Should schools adopt dress codes?” ACT essay prompts ask for your opinion, and ask you to explain it. Both ACT and SAT essay questions give you a lead-in to the question in which they present two possible points of view on the issue, which you can choose from when you start writing.

So, how can you prepare some examples? For the SAT essay, you can start making charts of four or five great examples from history and literature. Books you may have read in school like Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, and Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth are great for finding examples because they all have larger themes about society, personal responsibility, and how things can go wrong. Do yourself a favor, and fill out your chart with all the details you might want to have at your fingertips—you don’t want to be struggling to remember who wrote the book you want to use, or mix up the characters names. You can also note down some larger themes from each book, so it comes to mind when you’re thinking of examples.

As far as history goes, write down a few events or people who you know a lot about. There’s no point in trying to use examples that you’re not very familiar with—if you don’t know much about George Washington, it’s not going to help you very much to try to write about him. Instead, look for examples and events you’re knowledgeable about (maybe something you had to write a paper about in school) that reflects larger social themes. Civil Rights Movements, and polarizing characters in history who worked for social change are always helpful examples. Don’t forget recent history/current events—occupy Wall Street, for instance, would be a great example in an essay about taking responsibility for issues in your community, whether you want to argue that that it did work, and you should take responsibility, or that it didn’t work, and you shouldn’t. Just make sure you remind yourself of all the dates and facts beforehand.

Both the SAT essay questions and the ACT essay questions ask for examples about things that happened to you, and while it’s a lot easier to bring these to mind when you’re taking a test than it is to remember a book you read two years ago, it’s worth spending a little time thinking about. Particularly for ACT essays, it’s helpful to think about the question from multiple points of view: yours, maybe your parents or teachers, and perhaps the administration at your school, the local government, or the federal government.

The most helpful thing you can do, at the end of the day, is PRACTICE. When you’ve seen as many of these essays as we have, you realize that in some ways, they all start to look alike, and many of your favorite examples can be used again and again. Practice writing essays beforehand; practice using detailed examples, and developing a point of view. If you put in the prep time, and get used to brainstorming and writing a great essay in 25 minutes, when test day rolls around that essay will be a piece of cak

Format of the ACT and SAT

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

What is the format of the ACT? What is the format of the SAT? How do they compare?

SAT Math

SAT Math

When students reach their sophomore and junior years of high school, they are faced with a choice.  If they are planning to go ahead and attend college they must take a standardized test, and they obviously want to do their best.  The SAT and ACT, as the two standardized test choices that are presented to American students, share many similarities but also differ greatly.  One of the main ways the SAT and ACT differ is in their respective formats.


The SAT consists of ten sections.  Three of these sections test you on math, three of these sections test you on reading, and three of these sections test you on writing.  The last section is called the experimental section and can test you either in math, science, or writingThe experimental section of the SAT is not graded but is a way the College Board (the institution that creates and administers the test) can try out new questions.  You must take this section and will have no idea which section is the Experimental section.

The three SAT Math sections break down as follows: one section consists of twenty multiple choice questions, one section consists of sixteen multiple choice questions, and finally one section consists of eight multiple choice questions and ten questions that require the student to fill in the answer herself.

The three SAT Reading sections break down as follows: one section consists of twenty-four questions that includes eight vocabulary questions and sixteen reading comprehension questions, one section consists of twenty four questions that includes five vocabulary questions and nineteen reading comprehension questions, and finally one section consists of nineteen questions that includes six vocabulary questions and thirteen reading comprehension questions.

The three SAT Writing sections break down as follows: one section consists of a persuasive essay that you are given twenty-five minutes to write, one section consists of thirty-five multiple choice questions on grammar, and finally one section consists of fourteen multiple choice questions on grammar.


The ACT on the other hand consists of five sections. One section tests English, one section tests Math, one section tests Science, one section tests Reading, and one section is an optional persuasive essay.  The English section of the ACT consists of seventy-five questions relating to 5 passages of writing. These multiple choice questions, which you are given forty-five minutes to complete, test both your knowledge of grammar and your command and understanding of style.  The Math section consists of sixty multiple- choice questions that you are given sixty minutes to complete.  The reading section consists of 40 reading comprehension questions that refer to four passages. Thirty-five minutes are allotted for this section.  The science section consists of forty questions that you are given thirty-five minutes to complete.  These forty questions refer to seven passages that describe the results of experiments and competing scientific explanations.  Finally you are given thirty minutes to complete an optional essay.  If you complete the writing portion of the ACT, it can count for both the SAT I and SATII to many colleges.

The SAT takes a total of three hours and forty-five minutes to complete, with some additional time added in for the administration and proctoring of the test.  However, within that span of time you are continually switching between subject matter and the test is broken down into more bite sized pieces.  The ACT on the other hand, takes two hours and fifty-five minutes without the essay, and three hours and twenty minutes with the essay.  In this slightly shorter amount of time you are required to focus on single subjects for a much longer span of time, however once your are done with a subject, you are really done with it – a difference from the SAT.

Both these tests are challenging and rewarding, and the only way to get a really good sense of which one is a better fit for you is to take a mock SAT test and a mock ACT test and compare them.  CATES offers free mock – tests every weekend, so come down and see which test works for you.