Preparing for Summer Standardized Tests

⏱️  7 min read

written by

Brandon Wu

brandon wu

August 4, 2020


Many students strive to take standardized tests before their junior or senior year. Yet, many of us often fall behind because we lack motivation or resources to prepare in the first place.

To succeed on a standardized test, you need to know which test will best fit your test-taking ability.

Types Of Tests

SAT

The SAT is a standardized test that many students take for college admission. College Board offers the SAT seven times a year in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June.

The test has four mandatory sections and one optional section. The sections include Reading, Writing, No-Calculator Math, Calculator Math, and the optional rhetorical analysis essay. The reading section is 65 minutes long and has 52 multiple choice passage questions. It focuses on vocabulary in context and use of evidence for analysis.

The next section is writing, which is 35 minutes long, consisting of 44 questions based on grammar and editing skills.

There are two sections of math: no-calculator and calculator. The no-calculator section is 25 minutes long and has 20 questions. The calculator section is longer, with 38 questions taken in 55 minutes.

The last section is the essay, which is a rhetorical analysis written in 50 minutes. Students read a passage and analyze how the author makes their argument persuasive. In every essay, you will see this at the top of the article.

https://fiveable.me/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/sat-essay-300x241.png

IMAGE COURTESY OF KHAN ACADEMY AND COLLEGE BOARD

You will submit your SAT composite score to colleges and universities. Math and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (EBRW) each comprise 50% of the score, and you can score up to 1600 (800 on each section). Certain universities also require the essay for college admissions.

You should take the SAT over the ACT if you are good at analyzing complex passages and being good at mental math. Having experience writing rhetorical analyses, such as in AP English Language, will also be helpful for writing the essay.

ACT

The ACT is another standardized test that students take for college admission.  The ACT test dates are September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.

The test, just like the SAT, is structured into four sections with an optional essay. The section order is English, Math, Reading, and Science, ending with the argument essay.

The English section is 45 minutes long and consists of 75 questions. ACT English covers grammar rules and punctuation.

The Math section is 60 minutes long with 60 questions. ACT Math has more of a focus on geometry than the SAT, but the test also includes math with content up to Algebra II and trigonometry.

The Reading section is 35 minutes long with 40 questions. ACT Reading covers detail, main idea, vocabulary in context, and inference questions.

The Science section is also 35 minutes long with 40 questions. You don’t need much prior knowledge of science courses to succeed in this part of the ACT; the test covers mainly interpretation and analysis of data.

The optional argumentative essay is 40 minutes long. You will write an essay providing a perspective with evidence and analyze the relationship between your thesis and counterarguments. This is what the prompt will look like at the top of each essay.

https://fiveable.me/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Screen-Shot-2019-07-01-at-8.57.17-AM-300x104.png

IMAGE COURTESY OF ACT

Your composite score is on a scale from 1-36 and your essay is on a scale from 1-12. Each section of the ACT makes up 25% of the final composite ACT score, which you submit to colleges and universities. Certain universities also require the ACT essay, so check their admissions requirements before you sign up for the test.

You should take the ACT over the SAT if math is not your strongest subject (as it only makes up 25% of the ACT), if you are good at answering questions fast, and if you can interpret data quickly.

SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as SAT II) are exams for college admission on certain subjects. You can take three per exam administration, and there are 20 SAT subject tests offered. Most schools do not require SAT Subject tests, but some require or recommend them. The list of SAT subject tests is located here.

All SAT subject tests are 60 minutes long. Each subject test has a different amount of questions, depending on the subject. For instance, history will have more questions, but math has less.

What separates SAT subject tests from the SAT / ACT is the ability for you to choose which tests to take up to the exam administration date. For instance, you can decide to take only one subject test even if you signed up for two and you have the option of even taking extra (but getting billed later). You can also change your mind on which subject tests you want to take from registration to test day.

CLEP

College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams are college credit-granting exams. Over 2,900 universities accept CLEP credit and you can use this College Board search engine to see if your institution gives credit. There is no age minimum or maximum to take these tests, and you can even take CLEP tests in high school! The cost is $89 and certain test centers charge an extra $25 administration fee.

There are over 33 CLEP exams listed here. Most CLEP exams are 90 minutes long with 100 multiple choice questions taken on a computer. Community college or college campuses administer CLEP, unlike the SAT and ACT, and they can be retaken after 90 days.

Which Test And Which Date?

I recommend sticking to one standardized test – either the SAT or the ACT. It means you’re focusing your resources and studying on one test format rather than two. Taking two tests is manageable though, and you can still succeed.

You should take your first SAT or ACT at the earliest after completing the first semester of Algebra 2. This means the February ACT or March SAT of your freshman or sophomore year.

You should take the July ACT or August SAT before your junior year as your first standardized test. Then, you can retake your test of choice in the winter, with some schools even offering a free school day February ACT or March SAT.

Your goal is to complete SAT/ACT/SAT Subject Tests by second-semester junior year so you can focus on college applications in the summer. If you procrastinate, the last possible date to submit scores for Regular Decision admissions is the November ACT or December SAT.

Certain SAT subject tests are only offered on certain dates, so plan accordingly. For instance, World History is only offered in August, December, and June.

Resources For Each Test

Setting up a good study plan for about 3-4 weeks will help you succeed on any of these four standardized tests. The process is simple: taking a practice test, grading that practice test, and relearning missed concepts.

SAT

Succeeding on the SAT is entirely possible without a tutor. For free resources, the best study tool, in my opinion, is Khan Academy. They personalize your studying and help you develop a study plan. 1600.io also offers some free resources and practice. Another great resource are old SAT exams, which you can access here.

When taking a practice SAT, I recommend using this mock proctor to simulate the real test.

For paid resources, I recommend Erica Meltzer’s reading and writing books. They also contain an index of old practice questions with detailed explanations of answers. College Panda’s SAT Math book is excellent for the other half of the SAT. UWorld also offers a bank of questions with detailed explanations and performance tracking. This subreddit thread will help you with writing a good SAT essay. If you need immediate help on an SAT question, feel free to ask for help in the SAT subreddit or official r/SAT Discord.

ACT

Succeeding on the ACT is also possible without outside assistance. One of your best resources is past administered ACT exams, available here. For free help on ACT grammar rules, you can consult Erica Meltzer’s post and/or PrepScholar. For formulas to memorize before the ACT, use this post from PrepScholar. I recommend reading this guide with help for the essay.

When taking a practice ACT, I recommend using this mock proctor to simulate taking the real test.

For paid resources, Erica Meltzer once again has great reading and English books. College Panda also has a great math book and For the Love Of is an excellent science prep book.

If you need help with a practice ACT question or a concept, feel free to ask questions in the ACT subreddit or official r/ACT Discord.

SAT Subject Tests

The best resource is to practice with released SAT subject tests. Also, I recommend practicing with the Official Study Guide released by the College Board. This study guide contains one practice test per subject, and it is available to purchase at most bookstores, like Barnes & Noble.

Pro tip: If you don’t want to buy the book, just sit in a corner of the bookstore and work out practice tests on a table or in a corner.

College Board also publishes official SAT study guides for around $10-14 each. These specialized subject test guides have multiple tests per subject. But, they are only available for Math Level 1/2, World History, US History, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology.

The r/SAT subreddit and Discord can help you answer any questions you have.

CLEP

There are many free resources to help you prepare for CLEP. Free Clep Prep has free study guides for every CLEP exam. You can take online courses with ModernStates, who is endorsed by the College Board, for free. For free practice tests, Mometrix provides multiple practice test sections.

If you want paid resources, Mometrix offers flashcards and College Board has official study guides.

For help, DegreeForum and the r/CLEP subreddit can answer your questions.

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