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.  To learn more about private instruction for the SAT, please click here.  During the summer only, we are pleased to offer a small group SAT prep class starting July.  Learn more about the small group prep class by clicking here.

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.