Category Archives: SAT vs. ACT

09 Dec 2020

ACT Writing: To Take or Not To Take?

As more and more students opt to take the ACT, the “ACT Plus Writing” has become a well-known alternative to the “SAT With Essay.” But, we think the ACT Writing Test is still shrouded in a bit of mystery. Who requires ACT Writing and how heavily weighted is it when in the hands of a college admissions committee? Here, we will break down what exactly is the ACT Writing Test, which schools require it (hint: very few), and how to decide whether you should take it. Read on!

What is the ACT Writing Test? 

The ACT Writing Test is an optional 40-minute essay section that students can take immediately after completing the other sections of the ACT. It’s available to test-takers on all national ACT testing dates in the United States. It costs an additional $16. It’s important to note that you cannot take the ACT Writing Test on its own; you can only take it after completing the full ACT exam. 

The Writing Test is designed to measure the writing skills that are typically taught in high school English classes and, supposedly, indicate how you might perform in an entry-level composition class in college. 

The Writing Test is evaluated by two graders who each score your essay on a scale of 1-6 in four domains, giving scores out of 12 for each domain. Your score is then calculated by averaging those four domain scores, producing a total ACT Writing score from 2-12. Next, the ACT combines your essay score with your English and Reading sections score and averages them to give you an English Language Arts (ELA) subscore between 1 and 36. Though the Writing Test does provide additional information about your writing ability (under very specific, somewhat stressful conditions), your ACT Writing score is not factored into your composite ACT score. 

Which schools require ACT Writing?  

In recent years, many schools that previously required ACT Writing have decided to make the section optional. Some schools have even made the decision to stop reviewing the Writing score altogether, even if students do take it and submit their score. 

Perhaps surprisingly, most top schools do not require ACT Writing! Many top-tier colleges including Harvard, Yale, Duke, Princeton, and Brown have all stopped requiring ACT writing over the past several years. In fact, none of the Ivy League schools require ACT Writing currently. As of Fall 2020, only 12 schools in the US still require the ACT with Writing.

There are several schools that still recommend, but do not require, ACT Writing. Yale, Tulane, Amherst, University of Michigan, Middlebury, and Lehigh all fall under this category.

Should I take it? 

So, it seems as though very few programs — and no highly selective programs — are actually requiring ACT Writing these days. What does this mean for test-takers debating whether or not to take the ACT Writing Test? While most schools no longer require ACT Writing, it’s still recommended for many schools if you can do well on it. 

It is essential to understand the testing requirements and preferences of the programs to which you are applying. If any of the schools on your list require the ACT Plus Writing (or make clear that they strongly recommend it), the decision has been made for you: take it! If not, the bottom line is this: a strong Writing score will almost always elevate your application. The ACT Writing Test can be an excellent way to showcase your stellar writing skills and give you an edge in the college admissions process!

If you are seeking support in preparing for the ACT Writing Test, or any other exam for that matter, we would be delighted to help. We wish everyone a happy finals season! As always, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

19 Nov 2020

Update on At-Home SAT / ACT Testing

Since the spring, there has been much speculation surrounding the launch of online versions of the SAT and ACT. With last-minute test center closings and the public health risks associated with in-person testing, at-home SAT / ACT alternatives would be a welcome relief to many. Many graduate school entrance exams, including the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, successfully transitioned to an online, at-home format back in March. This transition did not come without its challenges. Proctoring, in particular, poses a unique challenge and has sparked significant public debate about the ethics and efficacy of automated proctoring services that are garnering more and more users during the pandemic. While many argue that web-based proctoring services are invasive and stress-inducing for test-takers, the College Board and ACT grapple with how to create accessible, cheat-proof, and glitch-free versions of their respective exams. 

As things stand now, ACT has indicated that students in the US can expect the release of an online ACT in late 2020 (any day now!) or early 2021. (The release seems unlikely before 2021). This version of the ACT is expected to look like the computer-based ACT that is currently offered to international students. The College Board, on the other hand, has not released any concrete information about when an online SAT might be available to the masses. They have cited internet access concerns as a central reason for the delayed rollout. For both exams, the technology requirements remain unknown. Unequal access to the technology required to take an online exam at home compounds the myriad of obstacles in making at-home SAT and ACT testing an equitable reality. 

As we all await official updates from the College Board and ACT, we’ve outlined a couple possibilities that have been raised:

Live proctoring – ACT and College Board both acknowledge that at-home testing will require proctoring on an unprecedented scale. ACT has been transparent about looking at several options, including the possibility of live proctoring for each full-length exam. This would require a webcam on each student for the duration of the exam. The College Board has not provided further details on how they plan to proctor at-home exams. 

Provisional score reports – The ACT has come forth with another option that would require students to take both an unproctored full-length exam and a shorter, live-proctored exam. With this option, students would receive a “provisional score report” for the full-length exam. In order to verify their provisional score, they would then take the short, proctored exam and the scores from each exam would be compared in order to eliminate or identify incongruencies in exam performance. It’s possible that this approach would inadvertently increase testing anxiety without providing a reliable means of verifying students’ skills. 

Perhaps, as at-home COVID testing becomes a more widespread reality, so too will at-home SAT and ACT testing. As always, we will stay up-to-date on the latest testing news as the pandemic progresses. Please stay tuned and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re seeking additional support. We are always happy to help; we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

28 Oct 2020

Understanding Your SAT / ACT Scores

If you’ve recently taken the SAT or ACT, more likely than not you are anxiously awaiting your score report. Your score report will provide a lot of useful information about your exam performance, but interpreting SAT or ACT scores is not as easy as one might think. For those of you just embarking on your test prep journey, understanding how the scoring works for your exam of choice is essential to planning your test prep most effectively. 

It’s important to understand that scaled scores take into account the difficulty level of the specific exam that you took, recognizing that difficulty level may vary slightly from one version of the test to the next. ACT and College Board start by calculating your raw score for each section, which is simply the number of questions you answered correctly. The raw score is then converted into a scaled score. Both College Board and ACT utilize a process they refer to as “equating” when converting raw scores to scaled scores. College Board explains, “Equating makes sure that a score for a test taken on one date is equivalent to a score from another date… it’s important that the score a student receives on the SAT means the same regardless of when the student took the test. This ensures that there’s no advantage to taking the SAT during one administration versus another.” 

Contrary to popular belief, the SAT and ACT are not “graded on a curve” in the traditional sense. The process of equating ensures that a student’s score is based only on how they performed on test day and is never affected by another test-taker’s performance, according to College Board and ACT.

Scaled Scores on the ACT 

For the ACT, scaled scores are reported as a number out of 36. You will get a scaled score out of 36 for each of the four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Your composite score is the average of those four scaled scores. In other words, ACT adds up all four scaled scores and then divides that value by four. 

Scaled Scores on the SAT

College Board calculates verbal section scores differently than the math sections. You will receive scaled scores out of 40 for the reading and writing sections of the SAT. Your reading and writing scaled scores are then added together and multiplied by 10 to give you a scaled verbal score out of 800. 

Your raw scores for the two math sections (No Calculator and Calculator) are added together, giving your final math raw score. This combined raw math score is converted directly to a scaled score out of 800. 

Your scaled verbal and math scores are then added together to give you a total score out of 1600.

ACT Percentiles

Your percentile rank, distinct from your scaled scores, represents the percentage of students whose score is equal to or lower than yours. If you are in the 80th percentile, for example, this means that 80% of test-takers earned scores that were equivalent to or below your score. 

On the ACT, you’ll receive two separate percentiles: a US Rank and a State Rank. Simply put, these ranks represent the percentages of recent high school graduates in the US and recent graduates in your state who took the ACT and earned scores equal to or lower than yours.

For more information on scoring, you can check out the ACT website

SAT Percentiles

Two percentiles will show up on your SAT score report. The Nationally Representative Sample Percentile indicates where you stand compared to all 11th and 12th grade students in the US, including those who did not even take the SAT. The SAT User Percentile indicates how you scored compared to students in the past three graduating classes who took the current SAT during high school. 

College Board provides a detailed breakdown of the SAT Score Report. You can check it out here.

As you can see, there is no “passing” or “failing” when it comes to the SAT or ACT. However, it is essential to understand how you will be scored on these tests in order to make an informed decision about which exam will play to your strengths and how to construct a test prep plan that addresses your weaknesses. If you are seeking guidance in this process, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

16 Oct 2020

The State of ACT / SAT Testing Amidst COVID

As COVID cases spike once again in the US, the ACT and College Board continue to adapt to the ever-evolving situation. This means more test cancellations and general unrest surrounding SAT and ACT administrations. Back in late September, of the 334,000 students registered to take the SAT, about 183,000 of those students were unable to test. Of the 363,000 registered to take the SAT or SAT Subject Tests in early October, 154,000 were unable to do so due to test center cancellations. We expect the gap between the number of test registrations and tests successfully taken to continue to widen as we move into late October. 

If you are planning to test in the near future, it is more important than ever to stay up to date on cancellations in your area and we want to help you do that. Read on for a few ways to stay up to date on cancellations for the SAT and ACT. 

SAT Cancellations

As we noted in a blog post back in August, the College Board continues to reiterate that individual test centers decide whether or not to administer the SAT, pending local public health guidelines, which could mean unexpected test cancellations right up until test day. 

College Board suggests that students frequently check their email as well as the test center closure page before and on test day to confirm their center is in fact open. College Board notes, “Test centers may have closed or rescheduled to a makeup date at the last minute even if there is still an active admission ticket. If this happens, students will be notified that they shouldn’t report to their test center, and they’ll receive a follow up notification after the test day to confirm whether a makeup is available or if they will receive a refund.”

ACT Cancellations

Similarly, the ACT acknowledges “continued limitations in test center capacity and inevitable cancellations” throughout the remainder of 2020-2021 test dates. Decisions to close test centers are made on a site-by-site basis by test center staff following CDC and local public health guidelines. 

If you are registered for an ACT test date, you can expect regular email updates from ACT Monday through Friday by 6pm CT regarding your registration. In addition to checking your email, be sure to check this list of cancelled test centers frequently. Scroll to the bottom of this list to find information regarding Rescheduled October National ACT Test Centers.

In short, test cancellations are skyrocketing as COVID cases continue to climb. We understand how unsettling this must be for those of you preparing to take the SAT / ACT and want to support you in your test preparation, even (and especially) amidst growing uncertainty. As always, we are here to help. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

18 Sep 2020

ACT Math: Is It Getting More Difficult?

Since 2016, the ACT Math section has undergone some changes that, indeed, have made the section a bit more difficult. The ACT has introduced a wider variety of advanced math topics since 2016, though it has not increased the emphasis placed on difficult questions. Rather, the ACT rotates these topics among the most challenging math questions that typically show up at the conclusion of the section. The bulk of the content remains the same, but you may run into some questions towards the end of the math section that feel more challenging.

ACT vs. SAT Math 

While the redesigned SAT has narrowed its focus in the math section and tends to include more algebra (accounting for more than 60% of the math sections!), the ACT has moved in the opposite direction by expanding its scope to include a broader variety of advanced topics. For example, over the past several years the ACT has begun including topics like matrix multiplication, conic sections, asymptotes, terminal sides and coterminal angles — the list goes on. 

The range of topics covered by the ACT is looking more and more like that of the SAT Math II Subject Test. The key distinction here, however, is that the ACT is not placing the same degree of emphasis on the hardest math concepts — chances are the advanced topics will show up in small numbers towards the end of the section. 

By pushing the upper limits of math content difficulty, the ACT requires students to achieve a higher level of mastery in advanced math concepts in order to attain top scores. This may be part of a larger scheme to more effectively populate the full score range, with more of a tangible distinction between scores in the 30-36 range. Fewer students with perfect scores allows for a broader range of scaled and raw scores. 

How Useful Is My Calculator? 

Additionally, the ACT writers seem to be crafting problems that render your calculator less useful. By asking more conceptual questions or asking for answers in terms of variables rather than numerical values, the ACT pushes test-takers to more deeply understand the content. The ACT is also directly assessing math vocabulary by asking for the computational definition of independent events in a probability question, for example. Without explicit knowledge of these terms, a student will be less likely to select the correct answer and a calculator will be of no use to you in these cases.

All this is to say: Yes, the ACT is including more difficult concepts in the math section, but not to worry! Every test-taker is experiencing the same increase in difficulty level and scores will be scaled accordingly. For top score hopefuls, mastering the advanced math concepts will be key to working towards that 34, 35, or 36. If math is your strong suit, this may be an opportunity to make your ACT score stand out. If you’re struggling with ACT math content, trying to figure out how to structure your study regimen, looking to take your test scores to the next level, or anything in between, we would be happy to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out! At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

08 Sep 2020

SAT Section 5: What is it?

There is much speculation surrounding the mysterious Section 5 of the SAT. Some students end up taking this fifth 20-minute section while others do not. Additionally, the content covered in this wildcard of a section can vary widely from test to test. Let’s demystify Section 5 by understanding its function, whether you can expect to see a Section 5 on your exam, and how the additional section will (or, more likely, will not) affect your score. 

What is the function of this section? 

Section 5 of the SAT is widely believed to be an experimental section, created as an opportunity for the College Board to pretest content, answer choices, and test question philosophies on a captive audience under test conditions. College Board has been persistently vague about this section, noting in the SAT Advising and Admission Handbook, “To allow for pretesting, some students taking the SAT with no Essay will take a fifth, 20-minute section. Any section of the SAT may contain both operational and pretest items.” 

Operational items are questions that count towards your score. Pretest items, on the other hand, are not scored and do not contribute to your score. College Board has been uncharacteristically opaque about whether or not this section counts towards students’ final scores. 

Will this section affect my score? 

Though the College Board has made it impossible to say with absolute certainty that the experimental Section 5 will not count towards your score, never in the history of the redesigned SAT has a question from anyone’s 5th section appeared in the scored Question-and-Answer Service sections that are sent back to students. All signs indicate that this section is unscored and exists primarily to test out future material. It is likely that the College Board is being vague on this point to ensure that students take the section seriously, in order to obtain the most accurate data possible. If students were certain that the section would not contribute to their scores, they may not give it their all (or skip it completely). 

Will I have to take the additional section? 

A close reading of the Spring and Summer 2019 The SAT and SAT Subject Tests Supervisor Manual reveals, “At some centers, certain administrations will include an additional 20-minute section to be completed by all SAT test takers, including students taking the SAT with Essay.” 

So, while it used to be the case that only students taking the SAT without the Essay could expect to see a Section 5, now those taking the SAT with Essay should not be surprised to encounter the experimental section either. Test takers with extended time, however, will not see a Section 5 on their exams. 

How will this experimental section affect my test prep? 

Showing up on Test Day knowing exactly what to expect is the best way to feel confident going into the SAT (or any exam for that matter). So, expecting to encounter a 20-minute section in Math, Reading, or Writing after the Math with Calculator section or the Essay is a good way to mentally prepare yourself and avoid unwelcome surprises. 

Though it seems unlikely that Section 5 will affect your score, it is not outside the realm of possibility. By continuing with your diligent test prep and taking every single question on your exam seriously, you will be set up for success on the SAT. 

We are always happy to answer questions and provide support for all aspects of the test preparation process. Especially during uncertain times such as these, we are here to help and ensure that your test prep goes as smoothly as possible. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

28 Aug 2020

SAT Test Center Closings

If you are planning to take the SAT in the near future, be sure to keep an eye on the SAT Test Center Closings page on the College Board website. It is important to note that individual test centers decide whether or not to administer the SAT, pending health and safety. College Board notes, “All weekend test centers must adhere to local public health guidelines and follow College Board requirements.” In the rapidly changing landscape of a pandemic, this could mean unexpected test cancellations (even at the very last minute). 

This page will be updated with new information every three hours. We recommend checking the College Board website, your email, as well as your individual test center’s website the night before and morning of your scheduled exam. There is also the possibility of test centers reducing their capacity, in which case test-takers will be notified by email. It is essential that College Board has your correct contact info in the event of a last minute change. You can confirm your contact details here.  

If your test center makes the decision to close, expect to be contacted directly by email or text for more details on the cancellation, reduced capacity, a refund, or a possible location change and makeup date. 

If your test center is closed, you can register for a future test date. 


We understand that the possibility of a last minute change must feel jarring, especially for those who have been preparing diligently for your exams. As we all navigate this unprecedented and unpredictable time, we are here to help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

01 May 2020

COVID-Related News: ACT / SAT / AP

We hope you’re staying safe and well. With daily updates and changes on the standardized testing front, we are here to provide the most up-to-date COVID-related news. As always, we want to ensure that you feel supported in the test prep process. At this unprecedented time, having clarity on the when’s, where’s, and how’s of taking your SAT, ACT, or AP exams is essential. Here’s what we know: 

ACT Updates: 

Though ACT June test dates have not been officially cancelled, there is still a strong likelihood of June cancellations. We recommend that students registered for the June administration utilize the Flexible Scheduling option to change their June test date to July for free. At this time, July seems a safer bet and officially changing your test date may relieve some of the uncertainty-induced stress and allow you to create a more productive test preparation schedule.

Without any formal announcement, ACT has also opened up their July test date to New York state! Currently, there are no available testing sites in NYC, but this could change, so keep an eye on your registration portal. 

Looking ahead to the fall, ACT will be offering three previously planned test dates on September 12th, October 24th, and December 12th. While we don’t have full details on timeline yet, ACT will also be unveiling their new at-home digital testing option in the late fall / early winter. 

This option would allow students to take the test at home on a computer, which would certainly be a game changer. (This is becoming a trend in the world of standardized testing, check out what we have to say about the new online LSAT.)

In other ACT news, starting in September 2020 students who have already taken the full ACT exam will have the option to retake one or more specific sections of the test. Section retakes will eventually be offered digitally as well, which will be a test-taking timesaver and speed up the wait time for receiving scores. 

SAT Updates: 

Continue preparing for the August exam! (See our previous post about June cancellations and recommendation.) The College Board plans to provide weekend SAT administrations every month through the end of 2020 beginning in August, public health permitting. This means that students will be able to test on August 29th, September 26th (new!), October 3rd, November 7th, or December 5th. Remember, most colleges will accept scores through the November administration for early applications, so rising seniors still have four remaining opportunities to test.

According to College Board, students will be notified during the week of May 26th about registration for these test dates, but we recommend keeping an eye on your email and the website in case anything changes. Rising seniors without test scores and students registered for June test dates will be granted priority access before registration opens up for everyone else. The College Board will be sending out clarifying information on what that priority access looks like on the week of May 26th, as well. 

AP Exam Updates: 

AP exams will look very different this year: all exams will be delivered online, to be taken at home. The tests will be limited to 45 minutes and the multiple choice portion of all exams will be eliminated. Additionally, exams will be open note. Check out these tips for success on open note exams and stay tuned for more tips on how to approach the new exam format. 

AP exams will be offered May 11th – 22nd, with make-up exams offered June 1st – 5th. Though having more time to prepare for your AP exams may seem appealing, all students should plan to take their tests during the May testing window. If you encounter any issues in May, the June testing window will serve as a contingency plan. No additional make-up dates will be offered, so it is crucial to plan to take your exam(s) in May! 

This year, AP exams will only include content that is typically covered by teachers through early March. The College Board assures us that they are committed to upholding the integrity of their AP exams, especially under such unusual circumstances, which will mean extra attention to exam security and fairness. They will be utilizing tools to detect plagiarism and other testing irregularities. 

Despite these major changes, the College Board is determined to honor the time and effort that high school students have poured into their AP classes this year. They are enthusiastic that colleges will give credit to students with qualifying 2020 AP scores. Many top colleges including Yale and the UC schools have publicly pledged support for granting 2020 AP credit. Many other colleges, however, are still evaluating how they will handle incoming scores. Because of the changes made this year, it’s possible that there will be no official mandate for schools to offer AP credit. As more colleges comment publicly on the matter and set a precedent, the landscape of 2020 AP credit will become clearer.

We know this testing season holds many unforeseen changes. As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need additional support. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™ — especially in such uncertain times.

16 Apr 2020

Coronavirus: ACT over SAT?

Billy Wheelan, Founder

ACT’s June administration, though in doubt, remains on for now. We should know in the coming days if testing centers will be able to accommodate June 13 testers. Now that there are officially no SAT administrations scheduled until August, the July 18 ACT is becoming a more attractive option for students who want to test over the summer instead of waiting until practically the fall. We can’t know for sure what will happen in the coming weeks but the July administration (not offered in the state of New York, so New Yorkers should register in a neighboring state), should it be offered, would provide an opportunity for students to test earlier in the calendar year than if had they waited for the SAT in August.

For students applying to the most competitive schools in the United States, the decision to switch to the ACT brings with it another big benefit: more Subject Test dates. Because a student must choose between taking the SAT or up to three SAT Subject Tests on each test date, making the switch to the ACT frees up testing dates in August, September, October, November (not available to international students), and December for Subject Tests should The College Board administer them on all planned testing dates. That factor alone provides a compelling reason to consider switching test prep from SAT to ACT for those students who score similarly on a concordance table between the two tests. 

Finally, ACT has more experience offering their exam digitally than does The College Board. We believe if the global pandemic continues and both organizations are forced to develop in-home options, ACT is better prepared to make that rollout happen more smoothly than The College Board. 

As always, we invite you to contact us if we can be of service to you.

15 Apr 2020

SAT June Administration Cancelled

Earlier today The College Board announced that the scheduled June administration of the SAT and SAT Subject Tests will be cancelled. While the news was expected, The College Board’s revised testing plan will significantly impact rising juniors and seniors. Rather than adding summer testing dates, The College Board instead plans to offer its first administration on the previously scheduled August date, with additional dates rapidly falling in the fall: one administration in September, October, November, and early December. Should schools remain closed and unable to administer the SAT by August, The College Board has suggested it will offer a digital version of the exam to be administered at home. The College Board has been late to offering digital versions of its exams (the PSAT 8/9 and 10 can be offered digitally in schools but paper-based testing remains the norm) so the digital version, reportedly already under development, would need to be rapidly rolled out. 


The schedule change means students will need to be extremely well-prepared for the August administration as there will be limited time between administrations to adjust preparation schedules. Our students often take the May and June administrations and then decide whether or not to continue to prepare for the August administration given their Spring scores. Without the June administration, students should anticipate a preparation schedule through the summer and into the fall. And while we anticipate many colleges waiving or reducing testing requirements for this year’s applicants, strong SAT, SAT Subject Test, and ACT scores will make the prepared candidate stand out even more. 


While the change intensifies the summer test preparation schedule, it also provides the prepared student with the opportunity to take and retake College Board exams in the late summer and early fall with less risk of score backslide. 

We know this change will likely add importance to test preparation at just the time students are feeling most uncertain about their newly-established online schooling and uprooted summer plans. For rising seniors, writing college applications only adds to the anxiety. Rest assured, we are here to provide you with reliable and thoughtful revisions to your test preparation plans. We’re ready to collaborate with our partners, students, and parents to ensure our students are as prepared as ever come test day. 


At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™ 


Warmly,
Billy Wheelan

Founder