Test Prep Guide: ACT & SAT

What are the tests for?

The ACT and the SAT are used in the college admissions process. After the academic transcript, they are the most important method for students to display their academic achievement and potential.

Who should take which test?

The best way to determine which test is right is to complete full diagnostics in both tests.

When should students begin to prepare?

The duration of SAT/ACT prep varies significantly from student to student, but a good goal is to wrap up the preparation in the winter or very early spring of junior year in order to avoid the convergence of SAT/ACTs, subject tests, finals and APs in the spring (though some students will continue prep into fall of Senior year to achieve their best score). To that end, we recommend students take a full diagnostic test during their sophomore year. Sophomores who anticipate significant prep, want to finish prep quickly, or can work through the summer should start prep around February or March if they have time, with the goal of finishing prep by the fall of Junior year. Other students will begin preparing in August with the goal of finishing in February or March, if not sooner.

How is prep individualized?

In pedagogical terms, an effective ACT/SAT tutor will customize his or her instruction of a student to develop a student-specific strategy and that student’s own metacognition.

Content: Classes can waste students’ time by teaching them content they already know. Forum’s diagnostics analyze proficiency over more than 60 topics so tutors can target the areas students need to learn — and the ones that will garner them the greatest points.

Strategy: A student’s custom strategy will incorporate nearly every detail of test-taking, from the way they read a passage to the way they approach each question type to unlocking the potential of their calculator to knowing which questions to skip to eliminating answer choices when they’re stuck — to even the timing of their breaks. Experienced tutors will have tried-and-true approaches ready to incorporate as soon as they understand a student’s learning style, working style, and proclivities.

Metacognition: Often, the obstacle between a student’s current performance and desired performance is a matter of execution more than knowledge, ability, or proper strategies. Effective tutoring, then, will identify the scenarios or triggers that lead to mistakes or lapses so that the student can incorporate the self-knowledge necessary to ensure reliable peak performance. These cues are often certain question types, which the student can identify by a word or phrase, but they are just as often psychological or emotional cues, such as test anxiety.

What’s a good score?

Again, the strength of a given score will depend on the standards of the college. A good bet is to check the average scores of admitted students at a given school. For NYC students, universities will generally want to see scores above the 75th percentile of that range.However, this chart summarizes some rough guidelines for NYC private school students without consideration for other accommodations (i.e. recruits). Scores may be more lenient for non-NYC private school students.

Are there alternative assessments?

In terms of college entrance exams, no. The ACT and the SAT are the only standardized exams accepted by all American undergraduate institutions. However, an increasing number of colleges are becoming “test optional,” meaning that applicants need only submit scores if they wish to. While these policies can present a welcome reprieve from the pressure and burden of standardized tests, they are also a way for colleges to game their own stats. As schools become test optional, students will submit their scores only if those scores are strong — leading to an increase in the average score of the pools of applicants and admitted students and thus higher rankings for the institution.