Common Questions

Q

We've heard that Michigan colleges have switched to the SAT.  True?

A

NO!!  Every college in the nation accepts either ACT or SAT.  When you hear that Michigan has switched to SAT, what that actually refers to is the MME (Michigan Merit Exam).  All public high schools in Michigan administer the MME in April of a student's junior year.  That exam has three parts.  One part is the SAT.  It used to be the ACT.  This exam has always been available for kids to use for colleges, but since most kids take the test multiple times, it has never been "the" test they have to use for college admissions.  Students have, and continue to have, the option of using either test.

What's important to remember about the MME is the following:​

  •  The SAT the kids take in April does not have to be used for college admissions.

  • Michigan colleges and universities gladly accept the ACT for admissions.

  • The current ACT is much easier to study for than the SAT.

  • No one who does test prep really understands the nuances of the new SAT yet.

  • If you're going to spend money and time on test prep, the best bet, by far, is the ACT. 

Q

My kid has a high grade point average but doesn’t test well, especially on standardized tests. Why?  Will a test prep class help?

A

This is probably the most common phone conversation we have. The answer to this question, based only on experience, seems to be one of three reasons:

  • The student is not reading at grade-level and gets good grades by working very hard.

  • The student has difficulty applying what they have learned in school to an unfamiliar test such as the SAT or ACT.

  • The student’s personality is such that he or she works very slowly and methodically - a perfectionist. The student usually struggles with timing, often spending too much time wavering between answer choices.

 

A test-prep class will certainly help the second example. Becoming more familiar with the test and what it asks and how it tests various concepts eliminates the unfamiliarity that causes lower scores.

 

The first and third examples are tougher. The SAT and ACT tests are primarily reading comprehension tests. Students who work hard can achieve good grades by re-reading, taking notes, and other time-consuming strategies that are not possible on a timed test. Some students may actually be reading below grade-level. These students can raise their scores by taking a preparation class, but it often takes longer to achieve desired results.

 

Know of someone whose scores were surprisingly high? The student was likely an avid reader. For a perfectionist, it isn’t a matter of teaching the material on the test, it’s a matter of convincing the student that he or she can’t be 100% sure on every question. A class will help, but it may also take a little longer to raise scores because we’re asking the student to change their personality! This is why we feel it’s so important to allow students to return for free one-on-one help.

Q

How do we know what a good score is?

A

“Good” is only relative to the college a student wishes to attend.

 

College fairs are a great way to find out what a particular college is looking for. Check with your high school to find out when and where these are scheduled.

Calling the college yourself is another way to get an idea, or check on the internet.

 

If you call us, we can explain the scoring and percentiles and what they mean. The PSAT (pre-SAT) and or PLAN (pre-ACT) are often given to students in 9th and/or 10th grades. If you call us with those scores we can translate them for you.

Q

How does someone know if he or she really needs a preparation class?

A

The best candidate for a class is a student who has a high grade point average but low test scores by comparison.

 

For example: If a student hopes to attend the University of Michigan, he or she probably needs a very high GPA with a rigorous course schedule. If a student has 3.9 GPA but is scoring 25 on the ACT, that student would benefit by raising his or her test score because the test score is not as comparably high as the GPA.

 

If this same student, however, wished to attend MSU, he or she may be fine. So a huge factor is what colleges the student will be applying to. The sooner one knows, the better.

 

Another important factor is to know approximately what the student would score today on the SAT or ACT - before paying for a prep class. We can test the student for free - just call to schedule a time. The tests take about 3 hours each.

 

Also remember, high grades can offset lower test scores.

Q

Then who doesn’t need a prep class?

A

Besides the MSU example above, any student who can get a 29 or above on the ACT, or about 1400 or above on the SAT will probably not benefit from a long, expensive class. There may be an area or two of weakness, but these students can typically buy a book and study on their own.

 

The question for the student is, “When you make a mistake, do you understand what you did wrong?” If the answer is yes, then you can probably study on your own.

 

In addition: ACT scores lower than 17 may indicate a reading problem that that needs to be addressed before studying for the ACT. Students who believe a high SAT or ACT score will offset low grades or a lack of extracurricular activities are usually mistaken. A student with 2.8 gpa would most likely not be admitted to a top university like the University of Michigan even with a 32 on the ACT.

 

Students who have high ACT scores sometimes think they need a high score on the SAT as well. The truth is, every college accepts either SAT or ACT.

Q

Your class is advertised as ACT & SAT.  How does it prepare kids for both?

A

Both SAT and ACT have the following similarities:

  • English grammar, as well as essay editing type questions

  • Basic high school Algebra and Geometry concepts

  • Reading comprehension and the types of multiple choice questions generated from a passage

  • Data analysis via graphs and charts

  • Essay writing

The main reason we focus on the ACT is because we know it better!  It actually hasn't changed much since 1989. We understand how frequently certain topics are tested.  We know, for sure, what types of questions are always asked.  We even know how the ACT tries to trick students into certain wrong answers.  And, we understand the common difficulties students have with the different sections of the test.

The SAT is brand new.  It's more difficult than the ACT.  It requires much better reading skills than the ACT. No one yet knows how frequently certain topics are tested.  No one yet knows what types of issues kids frequently have with the different sections.

In short, if you're going to invest money in test prep, the ACT is, by far, the smarter choice.

Q

What expectations can a student have about raising test scores?

A

Reading skills are the key. A good reader will almost always have less difficulty raising his or her scores than someone who has struggled with reading. The SAT and ACT test reading comprehension skills more than anything else.

 

We see many students who had trouble with reading as early as 1st grade also have trouble on these tests, even though they do well in school. Typically, the English section on the ACT and the Writing section on the SAT are the easiest to raise.

 

The Math on the SAT is also quite easy to raise because there are a number of excellent strategies. Of course exposure to the tests is also very important. The more practice a student does, the better he or she will do - obvious but true.

 

To emphasize this point, we offer students a $100 incentive for taking 10 of our practice tests. Even after 20 years of teaching these classes, we are still often amazed at how high students can raise their scores.

 

Another thing to keep in mind is that some students simply need more time to raise their scores than others. That’s why we’ve always allowed our students to come back forever for free. Learn how to take the test in our course and continue to practice and review with us throughout the school year. Every student is different; some just need confidence while others need a thorough review of the content.

Q

Shouldn’t we just wait until our kid takes the test first time to see if we need a prep class?

A

You certainly can - but consider: Eleventh grade is a very busy year for high school students. After 10th grade, most students have had enough coursework in school to be able to handle the material on the SAT and ACT, so why wait?

 

The sooner the student knows where his or her scores are in comparison to the colleges he or she may want to attend, the sooner something can be done about it, or better yet, not worry about it. We let all our students come back for free, forever, so with us you get more of your money’s worth by starting now!

Q

What about the student who simply has trouble with timing.
Are there any ways to increase speed on these tests?

A

Think of sports. The best way to improve timing is to first make sure your technique is correct, then repeat that technique as often as possible.

 

If the only real problem is timing, the simple answer is: practice! Get as many practice tests as you can (use only real SAT’s and ACT’s though) and practice. Eventually a student will begin to see patterns in the questions which allow them to save time.

 

For example: The ACT Reading section contains one fiction passage. A very common question is: What is the mood of the narrator? If you see this question often enough, eventually you will learn to pay attention to the mood of the narrator as you read the story.

Q

When should a student start taking the “real” tests?

A

Opinions vary, but consider taking the ACT in December of 11th grade and the SAT in January or March of 11th grade (if at all).

 

With the ACT you can take it every time it’s offered and just send the score you like (most just use your best composite score).

 

With SAT, some colleges may mix and match scores to obtain the highest composite score - you have to check with the particular school. Nervous test-takers probably will want to take the test early to get more exposed to the timing and atmosphere.

Q

Is one test easier than the other? I’ve heard girls do better on the ACT than the SAT.

A

The new SAT appears to be much more difficult than the old SAT as well as the current ACT.  As we said above, the very fact that the SAT is so knew, makes the ACT easier just by the fact that there are many more sample tests available, and the books and study guides available for ACT will be much more accurate as to what's tested.

 

The only way to know for sure, though,  is to compare scores from both tests. One test may seem easier to a particular person, but all that really matters is which test score is higher by comparison.

 

We can help a student determine which test he or she is best at. Call us!

Q

Can a student study for these tests on his or her own?

A

Of course! Many graduate students take LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, and GRE classes simply because they know they won’t study on their own. The same holds true with ACT and SAT.

 

If you wish to study on your own there are a few basic guidelines we would suggest:

 

  • Determine which test (SAT or ACT) you are going to focus on. Take a practice SAT and ACT, then compare the scores to see which test best suits you.

  • Try to use only real SAT’s and ACT’s. That way you can trust the scores and know that your ability to finish on time is accurate. We list the books to get for SAT and ACT on page 3 as well as the web sites that contain “real” practice questions.

  • Make yourself a math formula sheet and/or flash cards, especially for ACT. You may be surprised how far back these tests go and how much math you’ve forgotten.

  • Buy a cheap English grammar book to review basic grammar such as comma usage, subject-verb agreement, run-ons, etc.

  • Set up a practice schedule just like you were taking a prep class and stick to it.

  • Do not underestimate “physical” preparation. Try to get a good night sleep every night the week of the test; eat healthy, and don’t get the flu!

  • If timing is an issue, get a watch for the test or a silent timer. You never know if you’ll be able to see the clock.

 

A note about practicing: Students can practice too much! If a student is always forced to practice by caring parents, he or she often develops sloppy technique because they’re just trying to get the test done so their parents don’t yell at them! You must be in the mood (as silly as that sounds).

 

It’s often a good idea to practice a section of a test rather than the whole test. If a student feels like they have to do 3 hours of ACT practice at a time rather than 10 or 20 minutes, they often develop sloppy habits - like not reading the reading passages carefully, or working too quickly. Marathon runners never run the entire 26 miles until the day of the marathon!

Q

What is the PSAT and how is it different than the SAT?

A

The PSAT is basically a “mini” SAT. It is only 2 hours and 10 minutes; the SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes.

The PSAT does not have an essay writing component and does not contain any Algebra II math questions.

 

Other than that, the content is exactly the same. If you study for the SAT you are studying for the PSAT as well; therefore, any SAT prep class will also prepare a student for the PSAT. The PSAT is used to determine National Merit Scholarships.

 

Students receive three scores for the PSAT, just like SAT; these scores are added together to determine the student’s Selection Index Score. The range of scores for Math, Reading, and Writing is between 20 and 80. 50 is approximately the national average. So if you are average, your selection index score would be 150.

 

To qualify for national merit most years in Michigan requires a selection index score of about 210! That’s equivalent to about a 31 on the ACT! You can be a “commended scholar” with a score of about 200. Colleges do not use PSAT scores for admissions and you do not have to take it.