While many colleges and universities no longer require SAT and ACT test results as part of admission applications, there are large numbers of students and their parents who worry that not taking standardized entrance exams could negatively impact their application standings.
“To tell them all of a sudden this past year that the tests no longer matter is hard for them to swallow,” said one Riverside County high school counselor. The result is there is still high demand by students at both public and private high schools for standardized tests to be conducted at the high schools they attend.
One such school is the Army and Navy Academy, a boarding school in California for middle- and high-school age boys. Located on an oceanfront campus in Carlsbad, Calif., the 110-year-old college preparatory military academy’s comprehensive program prepares its high school Cadets to succeed in college and beyond.
Differences between the ACT and SAT
The American College Testing exam, dubbed the ACT, is an achievement-centered test that focuses on skills learned through the examinees’ school curriculum. The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is better known as a test of reasoning which does not change from one examination to the next. Both cover math, English, and reading but the ACT includes science as a testing component. The SAT allots 25 minutes during the testing period for examinees to write a 25-minute essay.
However, earlier this month (January 2021), the College Board which administers the SAT, announced it will be dropping the essay section from the test as well as the subject matter tests for students at U.S. schools. The organization said it plans to develop a test version that can be administered digitally by live proctors at testing centers but has given no timeframe for when that version would be introduced. More information is expected to be provided in April.
The ACT exam includes four multiple-choice subject tests covering the above topics that tests the students’ overall educational development and their ability to manage to manage college-level academics. Students have just under three hours to complete the tests.
An average of 9 of the 60 math questions in the ACT exam are concepts that the SAT doesn’t cover such as logarithms, trigonometry, and advanced geometric shapes. Students who haven’t taken these subjects in high school are likely to face higher challenges with the ACT math section.
The current SAT has vocabulary-specific questions, with each exam having about 19 or so questions in the critical reading section that assess the students’ vocabulary. Test-takers fill in blank spaces with their choice from a list of multiple words. There also have been contextual problems that asks students what words mean within particular passages.
Both the SAT and ACT allow similar timeframes to complete, but the SAT’s present format has 240 questions, compared to the ACT’s 215 questions. SAT grading has come under criticism because of its weighted focus on longer essays with bigger demands for vocabulary mastery. Many experts have suggested the best way to improve a SAT score is to use “bigger” words. Clearly, that advice will no longer be applicable in the new SAT format.
Another major difference between the two exams lies in the question of whether it’s advisable for an examinee to outright guess answers. There’s no penalty for answering questions wrong in the ACT. On the other hand, the current SAT has penalized students who give a wrong answer, resulting in the loss of ¼ of a point for each error.
Allow plenty of time to prepare
Unlike “cramming” a few hours for a mid-term or final exam on a high school topic, preparing for a college admissions exam requires a study schedule far more rigorous. Some students prepare better by doing so by themselves, others benefit from group sessions where they can exchange information and ideas with their peers. It’s important for students to know which works best for them. The one thing different study routines have in common is the need to prepare over a period of several months, rather than a number of panic-filled days.
Sitting for a high-stakes exam is a difficult challenge, so in addition to taking practice tests and reviewing the content of the topics being tested, it’s preferable to be physically prepared as well. Prior to sitting down for the exam, it’s a good idea to exercise the appropriate muscles beforehand to develop stamina. Regular exercise helps improve mental acuity as well as physical endurance over time.
At the same time, it’s equally important for students who are preparing the take the exam to recognize they need to rest. Test-takers need an appropriate number of hours of sleep in order to be refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges at hand. The more they can focus on maintaining good sleep, dietary, and exercise standards, the more likely they’ll be to be in top condition for the exam.
How the Academy’s ‘Warriors’ prepare
The Army and Navy Academy has in place a rigorous training program to prepare Cadets for the SAT and ACT exams. However, the scope of that program depends on the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hamper the process. Prior to the virus outbreak, Cadets, (whose school mascot is a “Warrior”), had the opportunity to take the SAT three or four times on campus and the ACT exam one time. Younger Cadets have become acclimated to standardized testing early, beginning with 7th– and 8th-grade Cadets taking the ACT Aspire exam in December.
Older Cadets in the 9th and 10th grades now take the PSAT and 11th– and 12th-grade boys take the SAT exam in October. During the pandemic, the school is providing Cadets with extra resources to help prepare them to take the exam, including a separate day in October when Cadets in all grades take their respective exams the same day.
One new admission-oriented test is in the works
While the long-term future is unsure for the SAT and ACT tests, admission-oriented testing is still an important criterion for admissions to many schools, including the University of California which is developing its own standardized test for its multiple campuses throughout the state. The Army and Navy Academy is closely monitoring the development of the UC test and will build it into the Academy’s curriculum and test preparation program when it is finalized. The same goes for incorporating upcoming changes to the SAT test.
Meanwhile, stay tuned for updates on the new digital SAT exam as well as the new UC exam when details become available.