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FAQs about Test Prep, the SAT, and ACT

 In ACT, Articles, SAT, Test Prep

Have questions about test prep? You’re not alone! We’ve compiled a list of some of the most common questions we receive from our families and students.


Questions about which test to take and the differences between the two are among the most common.

Which test should my student take?

In terms of which test students should take, we generally recommend that students try a full-length practice test of each to see which they like better. Many of our students score around the same on both practice tests, so it is usually a matter of preference. However, if there is a significant score difference, then we typically recommend going with the stronger score. A great place to start is by taking one of our free proctored practice tests that we offer at our offices every weekend.

Do colleges prefer ACT or SAT?

In terms of which test colleges value more, the reality is that all colleges accept both tests. Historically, the ACT was more popular in the Midwest and the SAT was more popular in the Northeast, but those divisions have faded. As of 2016, more students in the U.S. took the ACT than the SAT; however, we still recommend that students take whichever test they are more comfortable with.

For a detailed description of the differences between the SAT and ACT, refer to our chart Comparison of the SAT and the ACT.

Timing/Frequency for Test Preparation

How many times should students take the SAT or ACT?

For most students, we recommend taking their chosen test two to three times. Of course, there are always exceptions to this, but most students are not “one and done”. Regardless of how prepared a student is, the first time taking the test can be nerve wracking. This is why we typically recommend taking the test at least twice. However, we have found that students generally hit their peak after three times, so two to three times is usually enough for most students.

How many tutoring sessions does my student need?

Each program that we have is unique. How many sessions one student needs depends on a lot of factors like starting scores, score goals, availability and schedule, and budget – all of which we factor into our customized test prep plan for each individual student. However, we generally recommend that students start preparing three to four months before their desired test date, and our average program is generally around fifteen sessions. However, there are many exceptions to this, so we recommend talking with one of our Program Directors to figure out a test prep plan with the right amount of sessions for your student.


How important is the SAT/ACT essay? If I like my SAT/ACT Essay score, can I take it without the essay next time?

Something important to keep in mind before getting into the nitty-gritty with the SAT and ACT essays is that neither of them impact a student’s overall composite score – the essay is a standalone section on both tests.

While neither the SAT nor the ACT essay are required sections, we typically recommend that students take the essay every time they take the test. There are still some select colleges that require the essay. While the number is slowly dwindling, we don’t want any of our students to have a worst nightmare moment where they suddenly realize that one of the colleges they want to apply to requires the essay and they haven’t taken it. Should students skip the essay if they’ve already gotten a good score on it in a prior sitting? The short answer is no. First, if you plan to utilize Score Choice, in which you only submit scores from your best test day, you will need to make sure you have an essay from each time you sit for the test. Second, different schools have different policies about including an essay score when super scoring. Some schools simply want to see a writing sample, while others will only consider the other sections if they are accompanied by an essay. Short of calling every single college to find out their policy, the safest thing to do is always take the essay when you sit for the exam.


What is the average score increase?

Everyone’s circumstances are unique and there are many factors that go into a score increase including the starting score, the amount of time spent preparing, and how engaged students are in their test prep homework. Understandably, students who have less time to prepare are less likely to see as significant of a score increase. Our Program Directors work with each family to customize a test prep plan and set a score goal for the student. A typical test prep cycle starts the summer before junior year and consists of three to four months preparing, including regular practice tests, and putting in the time with all of the homework. With this type of preparation, students can achieve their score goal.

What is a “good” score?

What constitutes a good score is different for every individual student. A good score is one that helps a student get into whichever school he or she wants to go to. It is important to keep in mind that the SAT and ACT are both just tests, and colleges weigh factors like students’ grades and the difficulty of their course loads more heavily than their test scores.

As always, Summit is here to help! We love talking with families and answering questions, so please don’t hesitate to contact us or give us a call.

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