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10 Myth Busters for Families Preparing for the College Admissions Process

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1. The SAT and ACT are weighted by colleges equally.  This past year marked the first time more students nationwide took the ACT than the SAT. Perhaps the most egregious myth about standardized tests is that the SAT is the superior test for college admission. 

2. SAT and ACT math is not as hard as you think.  Students don’t need “Algebra 2” to take the SAT. So what makes it so difficult? It’s the fact that the material is suddenly presented in weirdly worded questions and ways they’ve never seen before. The ACT is more straightforward, but the math section does cover “Algebra 2.” Technically, it also includes trigonometry—but only in four out of 60 questions.

3. Students don’t need to know anything about science for the ACT’s science section.  The section is simply testing a student’s ability to analyze charts, graphs and tables that happen to have scientific words in them. Replace all the key terms with more familiar things (butterflies, bunnies, rainbows …), and students will suddenly have a much different outlook. 

4. Vocabulary flash cards are a poor investment of time and energy.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with learning 300 new words. But if the sole purpose of studying flash cards is to bolster an SAT critical reading score, students and parents are on the wrong track. Consider this:  The section has 67 questions, 19 of which are vocabulary related. Each correct answer adds, on average, 10 points to a student’s score. To learn 300 vocab words for perhaps four additional correct answers is only going to increase a score by about 40 points. Focus on the reading passages.

5. The ACT is all about time. The SAT is all about approach. If you give students limitless time to complete both tests, their SAT scores won’t increase much, but their ACTs will likely skyrocket. Why? Because the ACT is more content based. Take the reading section as an example: 40 questions, 35 minutes, four passages, and 10 questions per passage. That breaks down to a little more than eight minutes to read a page-long passage and answer 10 questions about it—and they must do this four times. 

6. If you’re the parent of a student in ninth grade or below, brace yourself for changes.  Change is coming. The SAT will look completely different as early as 2015, focusing more on content (like its counterpart). And the ACT will begin allowing students to take the test on a computer. 

7. “SAT” doesn’t stand for anything. It used to stand for “scholastic aptitude test,” but they couldn’t prove it measured scholastic aptitude or intelligence. Now, it’s simply called the SAT reasoning test. Much to everyone’s chagrin, however, neither the SAT nor the ACT truly tests a student’s ability to achieve in the classroom or in life. 

8. Many colleges “Superscore” the SAT and ACT.  Huh? Well, say a student takes the SAT three times. On the first try, she scores highest in reading; on her next try, she aces math; and her final try, she scores highest in writing. Colleges that “Superscore” will combine her best section scores from these three test dates to create one, well, “super” score. Not every college, however, evaluates test scores this way. So be sure to call the admissions office to learn the policies—and be sure to actually call; online information isn’t always accurate.

9. Prepping the summer before junior year isn’t as “intense” or “crazy” as your teen thinks it is.  Kids may lash out at this suggestion, but it comes down to time management. The generally accepted notion is that students should wait until the second half of junior year to take the tests. But that seems silly when you consider everything else that’s going on: finals, AP tests, after-school activities, end- of-year projects, prom. Why throw in test prep on top of that?

10. Not all colleges look at the SAT writing section.  This may seem ridiculous, but many schools still only evaluate the SAT out of 1600, focusing exclusively on the critical reading and math. It’s not a secret; colleges are open about it. Be sure to call the admissions office to learn the policies. 

Eric Karlan is the cofounder and codirector of Ivy Experience, a local test prep, essay consulting and academic tutoring
company. Visit myivyexperience.com.

» Return to the 2014 College Guide

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