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Help! SAT or ACT for risk-averse son?

SuchannSuchann Posts: 29Registered User New Member
edited March 2011 in ACT Preparation
My son (junior in IB program) has not taken the SAT or ACT yet. He took the PSAT after taking 10 or so practice tests last summer, and his scores were: M 69, CR 59, W 59. He is NOT a good standardized test taker, as he doesn't perform well under pressure. So, we delayed his SAT/ACT until early summer (June) to give him more time to prep. Some more information:

Unweighted GPA is 4.0
Weighted is 4.8+
Class ranking is not available yet, but he'll definitely be top 5% if not higher
Other than concert band, has taken nothing but honors/AP/IB courses all three years
Math is his strong suit, though his test score doesn't show that (he's in precalc now)
He's not an expressive writer, and his vocabulary isn't particularly strong, but his grammar/mechanics are excellent
He is not a fast reader
He is risk-averse; his lower-than-hoped-for scores are due largely to his leaving answers blank because he wasn't sure

This might indicate that he's better suited for the ACT, which doesn't penalize wrong answers any more than blank answers (i.e., never leave anything blank).

My questions:
1. Is the SAT or ACT w/writing best for him?
2. What kind of people do better on one versus the other?
3. Should he go ahead and take both? (I don't want him to be burned out on tests, as this spring/summer he'll also be taking two IB SL exams, an AP exam, and two SAT subject tests in math and science).
4. How much does an expensive test prep class (e.g., Princeton Review) help versus self-prep using books/practice tests?

I would love to hear advice from other parents and students who have gone through this dilemma recently, particularly those "overachievers" who work hard for perfect grades but don't test well.
Post edited by Suchann on
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Replies to: Help! SAT or ACT for risk-averse son?

  • AMZ1AMZAMZ1AMZ Posts: 92User Awaiting Email Confirmation Junior Member
    1. ACT is much more time constrained than the SAT, thus adding to the pressure he would feel. I've not taken either yet, but in terms of practice tests I've barely ever felt time pressure during the SAT, yet the time constraints of the ACT often kill me.

    2. People who don't work too hard in school and fly by on natural smarts usually do better on the SAT than ACT, and people who are more studious/"book smart" generally do better on the ACT than SAT. Key word: generally. I am part of the studious/"book smart" demographic yet I prefer the SAT simply because of the damn Reading section which kills me (time is the enemy). I can nail both math/writing sections, but I personally need more time for reading. That's why the SAT may be better for your son.

    3. I haven't taken either yet so I can't accurately comment on that. I'm taking both though.

    4. http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/sat-preparation/68210-xiggis-sat-prep-advice.html <- Found that much more useful than any class
  • CollegeChica12CollegeChica12 Posts: 216Registered User Junior Member
    I have taken the ACT/PSAT/SAT and agree that the ACT is more time constrained and better suited for left-brained people who can easily handle math and science. The SAT is slightly more relaxed and better suited toward readers and writers with strong vocabularies, with moderate amounts of moderately difficult math interspersed. No science. If you son is good at science, I would reccomend the ACT. If not, it's not a dealbreaker. Neither math nor science are my strong points, but I scored a 30 my first time taking the ACT. However, as a student similar to your son, I had expected higher. In my opinion, it would probably be beneficial to just take both tests. You don't have to report scores, and at least you'll be able to gauge which is a more accurate representation of your son's skills. Also, I used the Princeton ACT guide book, studied it for about a month before my first ACT prep test, and I have to say that it helped tremendously. Very easy to read, no painful at all, and definately prepared me on what to expect. I don't necessarily feel that a prep class is needed to score well on a test. Finally, the essays are comparable on both the SAT and ACT, however the SAT's is more creative, while the ACT's is more formulaic, and thus scored more stringently. Furthermore, the ACT essay occurs at the end of the test, which might pose a problem if your son gets burned out easily or does not work well under pressure. I liked the SAT essay section better because it is at the beginning, before your brain has turned to scrambled mush. :)
  • statlantastatlanta Posts: 732Registered User Member
    I get confused when people say they are bad test-takers; either you know the information or you don't. Unless your child has a mental/behavioral disorder, then he should score high if he knows the material and has superior analytical skills. It seems as though you are rather uninformed of test format, content, etc. which is surprising because of the involvement with your child.
  • SuchannSuchann Posts: 29Registered User New Member
    Thanks to both AMZ1AMZ and CollegeChica for your advice and detailed experience with both exams. They were very, very helpful.

    To Statlanta, I am not uninformed of the test formats at all. As you can see from the comments above, each test tends to favor one learning style versus the other, and factors other than knowledge will impact how well a student scores. For instance, how do you "know" information on the SAT reading portion? It's a test of comprehension, analysis, and critical thinking, not pure knowledge. Some students experience emotional stress more easily than others (e.g., risk aversion will impact test taking strategy). Obviously, my son has a perfect GPA in a rigorous AP/IB program, so he can successfully score high on school or IB exams. But the stakes are much higher on the SAT/ACT, so nerves impact testing success.
  • cjgonecjgone Posts: 1,520- Senior Member
    I get confused when people say they are bad test-takers; either you know the information or you don't. Unless your child has a mental/behavioral disorder, then he should score high if he knows the material and has superior analytical skills. It seems as though you are rather uninformed of test format, content, etc. which is surprising because of the involvement with your child.
    Hardly true, some people as myself panic and can't think straight when testing from nervousness. "Bad test-taking" is used as an excuse more often than not though.


    The ACT has more time pressures but it doesn't have purposefully trick questions. I consider myself a really bad test taker, and I did better on the ACT than I did on the SAT.
  • mtv22mtv22 Posts: 293Registered User Junior Member
    How do you know all of this about your son? Are you one of those parents who has to control every detail of your child's life?
  • SuchannSuchann Posts: 29Registered User New Member
    Most of the information is obvious - he doesn't hide his grades from me. Do you hide your grades/scores from your parents?
  • RowlandCloudRowlandCloud Posts: 79Registered User Junior Member
    " How do you know all of this about your son? Are you one of those parents who has to control every detail of your child's life? "

    The parent only knows th GPA, the class, and how he did on the SAT;so, what makes you think that the parent is a control freak?
  • statlantastatlanta Posts: 732Registered User Member
    @Suchann

    You state that the SAT is a "test of comprehension, analysis, and critical thinking." Maybe your child is lacking in some of these areas. I am not trying to criticize your child, I am just trying to interpret what you are saying. I am curious as to where you conceive the idea that your child is risk-averse. If he is an AP/IB student as you say, doesn't he feel nervous before final exams/AP tests? What techniques does he use to prepare for those? Obviously, there is more pressure when taking the SAT/ACT, but this can't be the first time he's felt this way if he's in these rigorous classes. Everyone experiences nervousness on the ACT/SAT, whether you are an AP student or at the bottom of your class. No one takes those tests without a sense of anxiety. What I would recommend is have your son and set him up in the exact test situation. Put him at a desk, set a timer, give him his test materials, and leave the room. Then analyze the results. See what areas he needs help with. In my opinion, the best way to prepare for these tests is to take practice tests and learn from your mistakes.
    Last, performing well under pressure is part of what these tests evaluate. In your professional career, there are going to be moments when you need to make a critical decision or perform a task in a certain time. Colleges want to see that not only can students answer a question or a solve a problem correctly, but they want to see it done efficiently. This shows problem-solving ability and strong critical thinking and analysis skills, which is exactly what you stated these tests were.
  • SuchannSuchann Posts: 29Registered User New Member
    @ statlanta

    I really appreciate your suggestions. He did exactly what you suggested last summer . . . took 10 practice tests (mostly in reading and writing since his math was much higher during practice). Then we analyzed his mistakes so that he understood. But when the big PSAT day came . . . much worse. What I mean about risk-averse is that his scores were lower on the actual test because he was afraid to answer questions he wasn't sure about because of the 1/4 point deduction versus zero points for a blank. His scores were a result of several omitted questions.

    I'm thinking that the ACT might be a better test because the questions are more straightforward and don't require as much interpretation, even though he'll have to work faster. What do you think?
  • Rfish117Rfish117 Posts: 6Registered User New Member
    Really? Get your son to start asking in the forums himself. Schools (at least top schools) want to see a child that doesn't have to depend on his parent to write a forum post. Get him to write it and grow up, or stop babying him. He will never get accepted if his application conveys dependence. And even if he does get in, he will not survive. Rethink your parenting- maybe his skills that he clearly lacks will improve. But let him improve himself.
  • siliconvalleymomsiliconvalleymom Posts: 3,711Registered User Senior Member
    It seems like the easy answer is to take both tests and see what happens.
  • zephyr15zephyr15 Posts: 2,283Registered User Senior Member
    @suchann

    With both my daughters, I had them prepare for the SAT's (review courses, etc.). They then signed up for the SAT, and the ACT that's usually given a few weeks later. The only prep for the ACT that either did was to take a few practice tests.

    Some people do better on one test, some better on the other. As it turned out, my kids scores were consisent with each other.

    The advantage, if one had come out materially better, that's the only test we'd have sent to colleges. (it should appeal to your risk-averse son, there's no real downside to taking the second test). Also, with two consistent standardized tests (both high) we decided that there was no real purpose in taking the SAT a second or third time, which the daughters were happy with.

    The only thing I'd have done differently, is probably had each of them take an hour or two of tutoring on the ACT science section. Both daughters did comparably less well on this than expected and the material that ACT tests here can be easily prepped for.

    As to test course -- I think some of the Computer courses, with diagnostics, etc. may be almost as good as a course. It really depends on how much time your son is willing to put into it -- to teach himself. We did a course (private company in our community, not a big name). From what you've said, your son may need more help in test-taking strategy than in knowledge (i.e., when to skip a question. I believe if you can eliminate one answer, it's worth guessing). My guess is that a human being would get this to sink in better than a book.
  • NewAccountNewAccount Posts: 1,882Registered User Senior Member
    On the ACT, you don't lose points for getting a question wrong. This will work to your son's advantage.
  • statlantastatlanta Posts: 732Registered User Member
    In this case, have him figure out the math involved and how many he can answer wrong/leave blank (approximate) and let him go from there. Otherwise, roll with the ACT because, like NewAccount said, there's no penalty for wrong answers, so it's in his best interest to answer all questions.
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