27 Jan 2022

Big Changes Ahead, the SAT is moving to an all digital format

What’s changing: The SAT is moving to an all digital format in 2023 outside the U.S. and in 2024 here in the U.S. That means students in 9th grade (and below) during the 2021-2022 school year will be the first U.S. students to sit for the new exam.

How is the test different?

-It’s much shorter. The current SAT is 3 hours, and the new version will require only 2

-There aren’t as many questions, and you’ll have more time to answer each one

-Reading passages are shorter with fewer questions per passage and they will cover a wider range of topics

-It’s a section-adaptive test (more on that below)

-It’s more secure (probably)

-No more non calculator section: you’ll have access to a calculator for all questions

-You’ll be able to take it on a flexible schedule – no more set exam dates – and many schools will offer testing during the school day

How is it the same?

-It’s still out of 1600

-You’ll still be able to practice on Kahn Academy’s site, since they will be getting new practice tests by the end of 2022

-You’ll still be able to choose whether or not to send your score to each of the colleges to which you are applying

-You will still test at a school site

Why this change is happening:

The move to test optional has put pressure on College Board and ACT to remain relevant. And with nearly 700,000 fewer students sitting for the exam, College Board was wise to take action. But many of these changes were coming before the pandemic and the roll out of digital options may have actually been slowed by staffing issues and students learning remotely. The GRE (which is from the same test maker, College Board) had already gone digital before the pandemic. College Board was thus able to quickly pivot and create an in-home administration for that exam. In contrast, there are no plans for an in-home version of the SAT.

The new testing format should also increase equity. College Board will connect students with resources about vocational and two-year college programs, not just four-year universities. And by increasing the number of SAT School Day administrations, the test makers are giving the opportunity to test to students who work, have family obligations on the weekends, or can’t afford to travel to far-flung testing sites. This flexibility will help low-income students. Plus, tablets and computers will be provided for test takers who don’t have their own devices. 

Questions and Answers

Q: Wait, how does that work? How can they make it so much shorter? Why was it so long to begin with? I hate long tests!

A: Most students feel the same. The move to digital allows for the test to transition to a section-adaptive format. Each subject is divided into 2 sections. If you do well in the first, you get a harder second section. Conversely, if you don’t do as well in the first, you get an easier second section. Ideally, this allows for an accurate score assessment to happen more quickly and efficiently.

Q: Are there drawbacks to that format?

A: Totally. Test takers who have sat for the GRE for grad school admission know already that one troubling aspect of this format is that awesome test takers who don’t do as well as they usually do in an early part of the exam are then bucketed down to an easier second section. That means there is no opportunity to recover and get a great score. Essentially, you’ve gotten score locked.

Q: What about scratch paper? Can’t I just take it on paper anyway?

A: No. The move to an all-digital format is one reason why the Reading section is being so dramatically reconfigured. It’s impossible to take margin notes and scan 90 lines of text repeatedly to answer each question. So the text needs to be bite-sized to get this to work. That means a set of short passages paired with one question each. 

Q: I have heard a lot about test security recently. Rick Singer found a way for his families to manipulate the system. Is this new format more secure?

A: Somewhat. Keep reading.

Test security: What’s good

-The ability to mix up the order of questions means it will be more difficult for students to copy the work of others in their room. College Board has sophisticated algorithms to detect cheating and when patterns are uncovered the scores of entire rooms – not just those who were cheating – can be delayed or canceled.

-Many test security issues arise from compromised materials: those with access to test booklets steal them before or after the exam and share them. When tests are digitally delivered, there are no paper copies floating around ahead of the exam.

Test security: What’s not so good

-Section-adaptive tests come with their own challenges. We don’t know exactly how questions will be constructed for each exam but often question banks are employed. As the test is being administered much more frequently, questions from the bank are reused for a given time period (say 30 days). Test takers have the capacity to do what we call “brain dumping,” a practice where individuals leave an exam and then immediately post or share everything they can remember. This isn’t such a big deal when a test is administered only once (though College Board is known to sometimes reuse sections or entire tests). But if the same set of questions is being used in various combinations over a defined period, it is possible for brain dumpers to figure out every item on the exam. When you see a surge of test takers sitting for an exam on day 27, 28, or 29 of an exam period, the reason is often brain dumping.

The practice of sharing questions and answers on forums like Reddit will only intensify. And students will likely be restricted to taking the test only once in a question bank period to ensure they don’t see the same questions twice.

Q: I like test optional. I only want to submit my grades.

A: You’ll still be able to and most of us in test prep world think test optional is here to stay. But competitive students overwhelmingly want to submit scores anyway – more students are preparing for the SAT here at Sentia than ever before – and the shorter format coupled with more exam days is going to be pretty appealing to many students. Given that there are more than 25,000 high schools in the US, the SAT will continue to provide a common measuring stick by which the academic accomplishments of all students can be assessed. That’s particularly important in an era of grade inflation: most U.S. students graduate from high school with an A average. It’s pretty hard to measure academic success when more than 50% of graduating students have exceptionally strong report cards to show.  

Q: What about the ACT?

A: Given our decades of experience, we know that many students stick with the exam they know in the first year or two of a change. Thus, the ACT may see a short-term boost in popularity. That’s particularly true for strong students who want to practice on a lot of previously-administered official testing material. At first, there won’t be much out there for the new SAT. To respond to market demand, test prep behemoths will create “spun” material of dubious quality. These practice tests and question sets resemble those of the SAT but are actually poor imitations that don’t help students prepare for the real exam. However, the ACT will likely be changing soon too; it’s hard to compete with a shorter digital exam that is administered far more frequently. Plus, studies show that most students prefer a digital experience.

Q: I have a learning difference. How will my test-taking experience change?

A: We don’t anticipate this being a significant issue. In fact, the move to a digital format may allow for more flexibility in administration – particularly for those students who test in school over multiple days. 50% extended time, by far the most commonly awarded accommodation, is almost certainly here to stay. 

Q: This is all overwhelming. Can you give me some good news?

A: Sentia Senior Tutor David Rosenberg offers this sage advice: “”Adapting to new test formats is old hat for any SAT tutor worth their salt. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again, and we’re more than prepared to do it now. With any iteration of the test, the underlying strategy remains the same: lay a solid foundation of content knowledge, get smart about timing, leverage the structure of the test to the student’s advantage. Lean on us; we’ll be way ahead of you in knowing this new test cold. Ultimately, no matter what the new test looks like, Sentia tutors are going to find a way to make it work in your favor.”

Q: I have more questions.

A: Comment below or reach out to us directly. We love talking to students and families and welcome your call. 

Billy Wheelan

23 Jul 2021

ACT Streamlines Requirements for Disability Accommodations

This week, the ACT announced plans to increase accessibility to the ACT test. The policy change means that the ACT will approve allowable accommodations already included in students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 plans. This means that students who already receive accommodations at their school under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act will automatically be eligible to receive the allowable testing accommodations when they register for the ACT starting with the 2021-22 testing year. To learn more about these changes, check out this article here.

19 May 2021

Key Differences between the SSAT and ISEE

To some, the private school admissions process has become as daunting as the college admissions process. One of the many elements required to apply to private schools is the ISEE or SSAT. For many students, this is one of their first experiences sitting for a standardized test. As such, it can be a bit scary for students and their parents. But it doesn’t have to be! Here’s what you need to know:

What’s the difference between the SSAT and ISEE?

These tests are similar in many ways. Both have a quantitative reasoning section, which tests a student’s problem solving skills and command of mathematical reasoning. Both tests also include a reading comprehension section, as well as a verbal reasoning section that involves synonym questions Finally, both tests end with a timed essay which requires a student to showcase their descriptive writing skills.

In addition to the quantitative reasoning section, the ISEE has a mathematics achievement section, which tests students’ understanding of content and skills taught in school. Overall, the math content on the ISEE tends to be slightly more advanced than that of the SSAT. For this reason, and because the ISEE has two math sections instead of one, the ISEE is generally best suited to students whose strength is math. 

The ISEE’s verbal reasoning section is slightly less challenging than that of the SSAT, as it consists of synonyms and sentence completion questions. The SSAT’s verbal section tends to be more difficult —  it includes a portion that tests a student’s command of analogies. Due to the challenging nature of this section, and because the SSAT only has one math section, the SSAT is usually better suited to students whose strengths lie in English and language arts.

The only way to know for sure which test is the best fit for a child is for them to take a mock test of each. Their experience with each test, along with a professional assessment of the scores, can help to determine which test a student should pursue.

When should my child take the SSAT or ISEE?

Most students take these tests in the late fall or early winter. Schools usually want to see scores by January, so families should count backwards to decide which test sittings are best suited to the timeline for admission. 

How many times can my child take the SSAT or ISEE?

Each test has slightly different rules regarding this. Students can take the ISEE once per season. The fall season concludes at the end of November, and the winter season starts in December. So most students sign up for a test in each season. The SSAT’s rules are less restrictive; students are permitted to take the tests as many times as they’d like.

When should my child start preparing for the test?

Most students benefit from three to six months of tutoring leading up to their first sitting of a standardized test. Of course, this varies depending on a student’s baseline score, so it’s important for any student beginning the test prep journey to start with a mock test. 

Do you have more questions about ISEE/SSAT prep? I’d be happy to answer them! Reach out to me at

Lauren Singerman

Director of Tutoring, Sentia Education

03 May 2021

The Importance of AP Exams

With all the standardized tests out there, AP exams are often underappreciated in the grand scheme of the college admissions/preparation process. 

High AP scores can be a strong differentiating factor in your overall application, especially when applying to top tier schools.  AP scores have the potential to demonstrate that you are pushing yourself to take the most rigorous coursework available to you and are capable of handling college-level material.  Of course, every college wants to see that you are challenging yourself, but more importantly, the types of critical thinking skills you develop in taking these courses are precisely the sort of techniques you will need to succeed in your first year of college.  

Beyond the admissions process, AP classes can be instrumental in determining your course load in college.  More and more colleges are granting credit for AP scores (this even includes credit for a score of 3 on an exam, depending on the school) and there has also been a wider range of subject areas accepted by schools.  

AP scores can ultimately save you time and money — whether that be allowing you to skip Intro to Econ or get credit for a course requirement entirely — your scores are bound to help you during your time in college in one way or another. It is also important to note that you can take an AP exam without having taken the course itself.  If there is a subject area you feel confident reviewing on your own, you have nothing to lose by seeing how you do on the exam! Who knows — that $94 test could ultimately save you $1,800 to $3,000 by counting toward a three credit college course or, at the very least, allow you to skip some introductory courses/requirements, freeing up your schedule to take the courses you actually want to take sooner.  

I can say from my personal experience matriculating at an Ivy League school that having a full semester’s worth of AP credit ensured that I graduated on time. My alma mater required a rather high number of credits to graduate, and despite taking a full load each semester, I came dangerously close to not hitting the full number of credits I needed.

If you are worried about low AP scores, don’t be! Advanced Placement scores are by no means a make or break factor in the admissions process. You can always withhold or cancel a score (you just have to make sure you request this by the appropriate deadline).  You can also retake an AP exam the following year in May if you are unhappy with your scores — you just need to make sure you cancel the low score before the deadline so it can be removed from your record.

All in all, getting a high score on the AP exam proves to colleges that you are extremely well qualified for the rigors of college academics while also making you that much more prepared for the high-level analysis and reasoning that college classes require. 

It might not seem like it now, but trust me: knowing how to make document inferences for APUSH, write thoughtful rhetorical analysis responses for AP Lang, or design an experiment that could be used to reject the null hypothesis for AP Bio are all essential skills that will position you to be a successful college student. 

Emily Eckert, Education Associate

31 Mar 2021

Managing Your Time in the Age of Covid

It has been a strange and devastating year, with rippling effects in nearly every part of our lives. One such effect has been a complete reimagining of how students attend school. For students who struggle to manage their time – indeed, for most students – hybrid and remote learning have presented serious challenges. Their schedules alone can be incredibly confusing; I have a student whose classes switch between live and asynchronous, remote and in-person. All of these classes have both homework and asynchronous classwork. For even the most organized student, keeping a schedule like this straight and managing all of the work can become overwhelming.

Beyond the logistics of keeping schedules, classwork, and homework straight, there lies the very real challenge of spending hours a day learning on Zoom, Google Meet, or some other remote learning platform. Having myself completed a teaching certification in July that required me to be on Zoom for seven hours a day for three weeks, I know first-hand how draining this can be.

So what can students do to make all of this easier?

I have my students write out a daily schedule, in which they clearly map out every hour of the school day. This helps them to keep track of their live classes, and it also helps them to block out time for asynchronous classwork. If a student does this at the beginning of the week, they can lean on this schedule to guide them through each day; it eliminates the energy spent on the guesswork of “where am I supposed to be now? What am I supposed to be doing?” Getting in the habit of creating a schedule also sets students up for success down the road. Many students struggle when they enter college because the combination of more free hours and heavier workload requires some top-notch time management skills. If a student has started implementing these skills in high school, it sets them up for success.  

Another tip is to encourage students to write out their daily schedules on paper or in a physical planner, rather than on their phones or in Google Calendar. Working on a written schedule provides a nice break from screens, and there’s something satisfying about physically crossing tasks off of a list.

Lauren Singerman, Director of Tutoring

25 Mar 2021

Reading Your Way Through the SAT & ACT

Back in June, we put together several reading lists for students looking to bulk up on their summer reading. But did you know that reading is actually an excellent way to prepare for the SAT or ACT? Or really any test for that matter! Let’s break down the test sections and see how strong reading skills will give you a leg up on every part of the ACT or SAT… 

English, Writing, and Reading

Of course, strong verbal skills will serve you well on the Reading and Writing Sections of the SAT and the English and Reading sections of the ACT. While it may seem that the English and Writing sections are mainly focused on grammar, punctuation, and syntax — not purely reading comprehension — strong reading skills are still essential to success. Many of the Writing questions require you to wade through long, convoluted sentences and then determine how the sentence might be improved. If you have lots of practice reading complex material in any context — from novels to articles to nonfiction — you will have a much easier time of understanding these passages. The errors may even begin to jump out at you! 


The application of your reading skills to the Math sections of the SAT and ACT are certainly less intuitive, but equally important! The vast majority of math problems on these exams are not purely testing your mastery of mathematical concepts. Even the most straightforward problems are accompanied by text, some of which can be translated into mathematical notation if you are able to decipher what the problem is telling you. In the case of a word problem, this might look something like translating a paragraph into a system of equations. These problems — the ones that require you to read through a lengthy chunk of text before getting to the mathematical objective — can feel especially daunting. With strong reading comprehension skills, not only will these questions feel more manageable, but you will also be able to breeze through them with plenty of time on the clock. 


Similar to Math sections, the Science section is full of scientific graphs and charts, but the bulk of the passages are paragraphs describing an experiment or situation. What skills will serve you best in distilling down and picking out the essential information? Your reading skills, of course! Basically, the Science section is a glorified Reading section: read the passage, synthesize the information, and answer questions about the material provided. Don’t be intimidated by the graphs and charts, they’re only there to help you! 

Hopefully, we’ve convinced you to squeeze a little more reading time into your busy schedule. It will pay off not only in your test prep endeavors, but in whatever academic pursuits are on the horizon. Check out our post on Reading for SAT & ACT Preparation and while you’re at it, take a look at our general Reading Suggestions. Happy reading! If you’re looking for additional academic or test prep support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. As always, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

10 Mar 2021

ACT At-Home Testing Update

Back in November of 2020, ACT alluded to the imminent release of an online, at-home testing alternative for students struggling to take the ACT in person due to COVID-related barriers. However, ACT recently announced — definitively this time — that an at-home test will not be rolled out this year.

ACT CEO Janet Godwin notes that between extensive research and collaboration with partner organizations, ACT has “laid the groundwork for remote proctoring, but more development time is needed to launch an accessible, secure, and customer-centric option.” ACT cites their commitment to “equitable access to remote proctoring” as the reason for the delay, as they work to ensure their remote proctoring options suit the needs of students and institutions alike. 

In the meantime, both ACT and the College Board are striving to keep students as up-to-date as possible on test center closures, which have disrupted testing schedules throughout the past year. Students can register for the April 17th ACT test date through March 12th (late registration runs from March 12th – March 26th). If cancellations occur between the date a student registers and March 26th, students will be able to request a change at no cost to them through their MyACT portal. At Sentia, we have many students, particularly those located in California, who have experienced closures and opted to sign up to test at centers several hours from home where seats are available. Though these solutions are not ideal, given that remote proctoring will not become an option this year, those who are eager to include test scores reflecting their academic abilities with their college applications may need to travel (safely) in order to take the ACT or SAT. 

ACT is also ramping up their notification practices to ensure that students are notified promptly of any test center closures that affect their testing plan. Students can expect to receive an email notification if there is a test center closure, if ACT moves them from a closed or at-capacity test center to an open test center, and when test scores are released. 

As for the College Board, keep an eye on this SAT Test Center Closings database if you have plans to take the SAT in the coming months. Additionally, we recommend that students contact their SAT testing centers directly to confirm that they are still open. The College Board will continue to contact students directly if their chosen testing centers are closed, but it would be best to get out ahead of this and reschedule if necessary, in case there’s a delay in the College Board contacting those who have been affected by test center closures. 

We know that last-minute testing disruptions and closures can be overwhelming. We want to help ensure that your testing experience goes as smoothly as possible. If that means finding a new testing location, formulating a test prep plan, or working through testing strategies, we are always happy to help. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way.

04 Mar 2021

Embracing Small Wins

It’s a tricky thing, embarking on standardized test prep. So many students and their families have voices in their ears, bombarding them with widely varying opinions regarding how to do it “right.”

“She’s going to need to meet with a tutor twice a week for a full year to come even close to the score she needs.”

“My son takes a practice test once a week! It’s the only way to do it!”

“No 8’s and 9’s on the ISEE? Forget about applying to any decent schools.”

These opinions can come from friends, family members, admissions counselors, tutors…anyone who has been through the process and considers themselves an expert.

Here’s the thing, though: the tests are standardized. Students aren’t. A student is not a number on a score report. And the number on the score report isn’t the final say in admissions.

After many years as a tutoring company administrator and tutor for various standardized tests, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is the importance of managing expectations. And here’s what I know: if a student meets with a tutor once a week for a few months, is motivated and focused in sessions, asks questions, does their homework, and takes a mock test roughly once a month, that student is very likely to improve their score. That improvement comes from a combination of learning new material and new strategies, learning how to manage time, and becoming more comfortable with the format of the test. 

But what will that improvement look like? It’s not the same for everyone.

A student’s final score is almost always directly proportional to where they started from. If an ACT student comes into test prep having forgotten most of what they learned in Algebra, the priority will be to strengthen their confidence with those basic skills before moving on to more advanced math topics. And the speed with which they absorb and retain those skills will dictate how much more material is covered. If this student started with a 20 on the Math section of their first mock, and – within four months of tutoring – they’re up to a 25, that is a huge win in my book. Five points is quite a leap. Now, a 25 is not a 34, which is closer to what most students and their parents would like to see. But for that student, considering where they started, a 25 should be seen as a great accomplishment. It should be celebrated! 

Celebrating small victories is crucial to progress in the test prep process. Giving students permission to focus on small achievements boosts their confidence and motivates them to continue to improve. Focusing on what they don’t have or haven’t achieved can lead to frustration, a feeling of helplessness, and – therefore – diminishing returns. 

A tutor can set a student up for success with these small victories by working with the student to set reasonable goals. For example: answering the first 25 questions of the ACT Math section correctly on their next mock; writing down their own word choice for the synonym portion of the next ISEE mock before looking at the answer choices; really drilling the comma rules and nailing those questions on the next SAT mock test. 

In a process that can feel overwhelming and intimidating for many, setting realistic goals and managing expectations only sets students up for success. This idea has guided my work as a tutor and administrator for many years, and I think it has had a hand in helping my students to feel empowered and motivated in their navigation of the test prep process.

Lauren Singerman, Director of Tutoring

17 Feb 2021

Talking to Yourself: The Benefits of Subvocalization

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to studying — or focusing on any intellectually stimulating task, for that matter. Some people prefer a quiet atmosphere while others can focus with loud music blasting in the background. Others enjoy the ambient noise of a coffee shop while working (though coffee shop study sessions feel like a thing of the past). Recently, much attention has been paid to the power of spoken self-affirmation as a means of self-empowerment. Talking to oneself, either silently or aloud, can also serve as a cognitive and intellectual tool with the potential to increase motivation, emotional regulation, and have a hand in developing metacognition and reasoning. 

Subvocalization, also known as silent speech, is the internal speech that we typically employ while reading; it is the mechanism by which we silently say the sound of a word as if it were read aloud. Subvocalization is a natural process that helps the mind comprehend and remember the meaning of the material that is being read. Billy Wheelan, the founder of Sentia Education, often teaches subvocalization to his students and recognizes both its value and potential drawbacks as a studying and test-taking tool. 

Here’s Billy’s take: “Subvocalization can benefit test-takers in several ways: for the student who rushes, subvocalization provides a way to stay on pace. In the ACT Science section, it provides a mechanism for ensuring the test-taker is considering carefully which chart or graph she’s using as evidence — lest she accidentally reason a response from looking at the wrong source material. And while subvocalization slows most students down too much to be employed widely in passage-based reading, it’s a great way to unpack tricky sentences or paragraph transitions. Subvocalization really should be in every test-taker’s arsenal and it’s easy to practice on your own as you complete question sets or mock tests.”

By (silently) articulating ourselves, we are forced to pay more attention to crafting a cohesive idea or argument. For many, self-talk conjures up the image of an imagined listener or interrogator, pushing us to more critically examine our thoughts. Another fascinating offshoot of subvocalization is the tendency to move our bodies while thinking deeply or talking to ourselves. If you’re ever paced back and forth while thinking or talking something out, you’ve already employed this technique intuitively! 

Evidence shows that movement enhances our ability to think and learn. In fact, activities such as speaking aloud, writing, or dancing do not begin in the brain and simply trigger the body to move, as one might assume. Rather, these actions require both the body and mind to work together as an integrated whole, influencing one another. So, physical actions like moving the jaw as you silently talk yourself through a difficult math problem, for example, can enhance your comprehension of the task at hand. Don’t take our word for it — give it a try next time you sit down (or pace back and forth) to study, write, or simply think! And though talking aloud to yourself would be frowned upon on Test Day, no one will fault you for subvocalization. 

If you’re interested in learning more about our tutoring techniques, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. All of our tutors are well-versed in test-taking techniques that have helped many of our students reach their target scores. We are also passionate about providing academic support to students of all ages, especially during such a challenging time for students and educators everywhere. We are here to help. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

09 Feb 2021

2021 AP Exam Update

Now that SAT Subject Tests have been discontinued, all heads turn to AP exams. In the absence of Subject Tests, AP exams will be key for students who are looking to demonstrate their mastery of more specialized academic areas, beyond the scope of the SAT or ACT. AP exams in 2020 looked far different than years prior, as College Board was forced to create alternative modes of testing to accommodate COVID-related health and safety protocols. With the pandemic ever-present and 2021 AP exams fast-approaching, College Board has released final details on this spring’s AP exams after learning from the challenges of last spring. 

This year, there will be three test dates for each subject: 

Administration 1: May 3-7, 10-12, 14, 17 (exact date depends on the subject) – These will be available as a paper-based in-school test only. 

Administration 2: May 18-21, 24-28 –  These will be available as either paper-based in-school tests OR as online at-home tests.

Administration 3: June 1-4, 7-11 – These will be available as either paper-based in-school tests OR as online at-home tests.

The type of test (at-home online or in-school paper-based) and test date will be determined by the student’s school. The abbreviated, open note AP exams of last year have been redesigned to more holistically reflect the curriculum of each AP course. This year’s online AP exams will be full length, can only be taken on a laptop or desktop computer, and free-response questions must be typed. For more detailed and subject-specific information about 2021 AP exams, check out College Board’s official 2021 AP Exam Format Information. 

We understand how important AP exams are this year and how jarring it is to pivot from preparing for one test to another. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re seeking guidance on how to navigate the recent changes from College Board. We are always happy to help! At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!