Is it time to reconsider the SAT?

Since we started Breakaway back in 2011, we have always provided instruction for both the ACT and the SAT.  However, as I have been inclined to say over the years, because we live in the great state of Minnesota, there has always seemed to be a bias among our students towards the ACT.  Whether it’s because we live just a few hours north of where the ACT was born in the late 1950s, or because of the lingering (and incorrect) perception that the SAT was for schools in the Northeast or on the West Coast, the SAT has not been preferred by many students here in Minnesota.

And for much of these past eight years, that has been just fine.  In 2011, the ACT overtook the SAT as the most popular test in the nation and has continued to ride that wave of popularity for much of the time since.  At the same time, the SAT did a bit of soul searching and determined that its test was not especially effective at what it purported to do, which was to determine the readiness of a student to tackle a college curriculum.  As such, in 2015-2016, the SAT undertook a complete overhaul and, in March 2016, debuted the “revised” SAT.  Thus, for the past few years, it has been reasonable enough to suggest that focusing exclusively on the ACT made sense given the turmoil over at the SAT.

But the past may not be prologue for 2019 and beyond.  All of a sudden, perhaps due to winning some large state contracts or the lingering popularity of the PSAT, the SAT has regained its position as the most popular test in America.  And things for the SAT – and for preparing for the SAT – look a LOT different today than they did just a few years ago for a number of reasons.

First, and most importantly, we now have access to a much greater number of real SATs for practice than we did just a year or two ago.  When the College Board relaunched the SAT in March 2016, they also released four practice exams.  In the following year, College Board released a few more exams, but the overall number paled in comparison to the more than 40 real ACTs we can use to prep a student for that test.  Fast forward to the summer of 2019, we now have 18 SATs that we can use for prep, including eight initial practice exams plus an additional ten real SAT that have been administered since October 2016.  That’s more than 50 hours of practice materials, an amount adequate enough to help a student prepare for 2-3 real SATs.

Second, by bringing the SAT back into consideration, we can now offer students who struggle with the time constraints of the ACT a less time constrained option.  At the highest level, the ACT by design is a time-constrained test.  As the student proceeds through the test, it becomes more time-constrained.  By the time the student reaches the reading and science sections (after completing English and math), they will encounter sections dense with information, 40 questions and just 35 minutes to deal with each.  By contrast, the SAT is a much less time-constrained test.  Compared to the ACT, where a student has about three hours to answer 215 questions, the SAT gives the student a little over three hours to answer just 155 questions.  For students who may process information a bit more slowly or find the time constraints of the ACT may make them uncomfortable, the SAT can offer an intriguing alternative.

To be fair, the SAT makes up for giving the student more time to test by making its test more challenging.  On the reading test, for example, the SAT presents the student with five passages of about 800 words each and 10-11 questions per passage, and gives the student 65 minutes for the section.  On a per passage basis, that works out to 13 minutes per passage, unlike the ACT where students have just under nine minutes to deal with a given passage.  However, the SAT reading passages can be more challenging and simply not as “black and white” as what the ACT offers.  Correct answers can be drawn from “implicit” information about a given passage on the SAT, whereas on the ACT, if an answer is correct, it is because there is explicit information provided in the passage, and we can typically point to the exact line of the passage where that information can be found.

The third reason a student may want to consider the SAT would be due to the absence of a science section.  Some students find the ACT’s science section to be too challenging or off-putting, so the opportunity to jump over to a test where there is no science section and one that offers the student much more time can be intriguing.  The science test on the ACT is essentially a data analysis test, as information about various types of science, e.g., biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy and meteorology, is presented in a graphical format (charts and graphs).  While the SAT does not have a science test, it does embed graphical information across all four sections of its test, so students will have to analyze data in reading, in writing and in the math sections.  But students will have more time to deal with interpreting and analyzing the graphical information on the SAT….and it won’t be confined to just science.

The final reason a student may want to consider taking a practice SAT is to compare one’s performance on a practice ACT to a practice SAT.  For students who are first embarking on the test preparation process, i.e., rising juniors, summer offers a terrific time to sit for both a practice ACT and an SAT and to compare performance between the tests.  While students often score similarly between the tests, in those cases where there is a discrepancy in scores, students can capitalize on the scoring advantage one or the other test presents. Students working with Breakaway are welcome to come out anytime to take a practice SAT.  To sign up for a test, please click here.

On a separate but related note, for students who qualify for extra time on their standardized tests, Breakaway continues to recommend targeting the ACT.  Because the test is more straightforward and “black and white”, students with extra time, with practice and good instruction, should be able to drive some significant improvements on the ACT without having to worry about the rigid time constraints.

Breakaway offers private instruction for the SAT throughout the year.  During the summer, we are pleased to offer a small group SAT prep class starting in late July.  Here is some information on that program:

Breakaway’s Small Group Instruction for the SAT

Breakaway is pleased to provide intensive SAT instruction to a small group of students at our office in St. Louis Park this summer.  All students are welcome to attend. Designed for groups of 6-10 students, small group SAT instruction offers plenty of individualized instruction and expert guidance from Breakaway’s talented instructors.  The program also includes full-length practice exams, score reports and analyses to identify your areas of strength and weakness.  In addition, parents and students can expect thorough reviews of the following:

  • Comprehensive reviews of all commonly tested concepts in grammar, algebra I, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, and other advanced math topics
  • Critical test-taking and time management strategies for all sections of the test
  • A proprietary and proven study guide that provides thorough overviews of each section of the test, including key concepts, hundreds of sample problems and critical insights about test-taking and time-management strategies
  • Access to weekend practice tests throughout the summer

Prep for the August 24th SAT at Breakaway’s office in St. Louis Park

New this year, Breakaway is pleased to present an intensive four-week, twice per week small group SAT prep course, designed to help students get ready for the August 24th SAT.  The class will meet on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at our office in St. Louis Park.

  • St. Louis Park C: July 23 – August 15 – (Tuesdays & Thursdays) – 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. (24 hours)
  • The program, which includes 24 hours of in-class instruction, practice tests and all materials, is $1,195.

Please contact Ron Michalak at [email protected] for more details or to register.


Learn more about the SAT and PSAT

Though the SAT has never been a popular test in the state of Minnesota (about ten times as many students take the ACT than do the SAT), most students will take the PSAT in October of their junior year.  Breakaway offers comprehensive test prep programs for both the PSAT and the SAT.

PSAT

In October of each year, nearly two million high school juniors take the PSAT.  Though primarily known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, the PSAT is also a valid indicator of how well a student will perform on the SAT.  As such, knowing more about this test and what its results tell you can give you some very good insights into whether the SAT is a good fit for your student.

During the 2015-2016 school year, both the PSAT and the SAT were redesigned and relaunched.  With the relaunch, both tests returned to scales similar to the traditional 1600-point SAT scale.  The revised PSAT, which debuted in October 2015, has a peculiar 1520-point scale that is comprised of two scores: an evidence-based reading and writing section score and a math section score, each offering a total of 760 points (or 1520 points together).  The redesigned SAT offers a 1600-point scale.  The 80-point difference between the two tests is due to the PSAT’s elimination of several of the most difficult problems found on the SAT.  By eliminating the most difficult problems, the PSAT scale was revised downward from 1600 to 1520.  However, the PSAT scores allow the student who takes the test to understand how he or she would perform on an SAT.  Thus, if a student scored a 600 on reading and a 620 on math on the PSAT, he or she could reasonably expect to score similarly (1220) on the SAT.

For top scorers, the PSAT is also the test that qualifies students for the National Merit Scholarship.  More than $25 million in scholarships are available through this program.  Every year, approximately 16,000 students nationwide become National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalists based on their score on the PSAT.  Another 34,000 students are recognized as Commended Scholars.  Together with the National Merit Scholars, these groups comprise the top 50,000 scorers nationwide.

For the Class of 2018, the cutoff score for Commended Scholars was a 210; the cutoff score for National Merit Scholars was 220.  A student’s National Merit qualifying score is calculated by doubling the student’s reading and writing score and adding the student’s math score to that total.  That total is then divided by ten.  Here’s an example: suppose a student scores a 620 in reading and a 640 in math.  The student’s National Merit Score would be calculated by doubling the reading score (620 x 2 = 1240) and adding the math score (640) to get a score of 1860.  That score is then divided by ten to arrive at a 186.  Cutoff scores for a given class are announced in September of that class’s senior year.

Want to give your student a boost on the PSAT? Breakaway offers private instruction for the PSAT, as well as Breakaway PSAT bootcamps in September only.  Here is some information on private instruction for the PSAT:

  • Comprehensive reviews of all commonly tested concepts in grammar, algebra I, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, other advanced math topics, chemistry, physics and biology
  • Critical test-taking and time management strategies for all sections of the test, including the time-constrained sections of reading and science
  • A proprietary and proven study guide that provides thorough overviews of each section of the test, including key concepts, hundreds of sample problems and critical insights about test-taking and time-management strategies
  • Access to ten practice PSAT exams
  • Access to Breakaway’s proctored practice tests held nearly every weekend of the year at our testing center at 3440 Beltline Blvd. in St. Louis Park
  • Convenient lesson times and locations; instructors are available seven days per week, daytimes and evenings
  • The cost for private instruction is $125/hour. There is a one-time $100 fee for materials and practice tests.

Ready to get started?  Click here to register for a practice test. Or, if you’d prefer to arrange a call to discuss your student and how Breakaway could help, please click here to complete an inquiry form.

Breakaway also offers a PSAT bootcamp in September.  Click here to learn more!

SAT

Completely redesigned and relaunched in 2016, the new SAT returned to its historical scale of 1600 points and is once again comprised of a reading and a math score.  The evidence-based reading and writing section is a combined section that includes both a 65-minute, 52-question reading section plus a 35-minute, 44-question writing (grammar) test.  Math is now comprised of a 25-minute “no calculator permitted” section with 20 questions, and a 55-minute, 38-question math section in which calculators are permitted.

Since the SAT’s redesign, we have certainly noticed an increased number of similarities between the ACT and the SAT, including a nearly identical grammar section, an overlap in the range of math concepts tested, from basic algebra through geometry, algebra II and trigonometry, and similar tests of reading comprehension.  However, for its part, the SAT remains less time-constrained than the ACT, though the SAT makes up for its more “relaxed” pace by offering generally more challenging questions across all sections of the test.

Breakaway offers a comprehensive program of test prep for students who wish to prepare for the PSAT and/or the SAT.  Private PSAT/SAT instruction with Breakaway includes the following:

  • Comprehensive reviews of all commonly tested concepts in grammar, algebra I, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry and other advanced math topics
  • Critical test-taking and time management strategies for all sections of the test, including the reading, writing, math (with calculator) and math (without calculator) sections
  • A proprietary and proven study guide that provides thorough overviews of each section of the test, including key concepts, hundreds of sample problems and critical insights about test-taking and time-management strategies
  • Access to more than 20 official SATs and PSATs
  • Access to Breakaway’s proctored practice tests held nearly every weekend of the year at our testing center at 3440 Beltline Blvd. in St. Louis Park
  • Convenient lesson times and locations; instructors are available seven days per week, day times and evenings
  • The cost for private instruction is $125/hour. There is a one-time $100 fee for materials and practice tests.

Ready to get started?  Click here to register for a practice test. Or, if you’d prefer to arrange a call to discuss your student and how Breakaway could help, please click here to complete an inquiry form, or call Ron Michalak, Breakaway’s founder, at 612-216-5133.