If you’re like any other overwhelmed pre-collegiette, you’ve probably heard a lot of things about standardized tests. You have been conditioned to believe the SATs hold your ticket to a successful life. You’ve heard that the SATs are the ultimate way to determine how prepared you are for college. However, did you ever think that some of these fabled SAT horrors are actually not true? We’ve laid out a list of common things you’ve probably heard about the SAT, and why they’re not right.
Myth #1: It’s harder than the ACT
The ACT and SAT essentially are the same level of difficulty. The thing is, they both test different sets of skills. The SAT is an aptitude exam that tests you on your reasoning and logical skills. The ACT emphasizes how well you’ve retained knowledge from school. We talked to Judi Robinovitz, a college counselor and educational planner (who has also contributed to SAT preparation materials and has taken the SAT more times than you ever will in your life), about the role the SAT plays in your academic career.
“The ACT is a ‘speeded’ test. [There is an] average of twenty more seconds on the new SAT.” Robinovitz adds, “The new SAT math section has closer to two-thirds of algebra with less geometry and trig. The ACT is the easier test for you if you like geometry.”
Consider the English section of the ACT. It tests you on how well you can reorder phrases and use punctuation, which are skills you’ve learned in school. The SAT, on the other hand, involves figuring out what a vocabulary word means based on the context it’s used in. It requires more logical thinking than knowing where to place commas and semicolons. On the SAT, you’re not expected to know the definitions of the vocabulary words. As for the ACT, you are expected to have learned the rules of punctuation and grammar in school.
A lot of people feel more comfortable with the ACT because it tests them on skills they have learned in class. Jordan Chaffiotte, a junior at Philadelphia University, concurs. “They’re different types of tests, so some people do better on one than the other, and others find that their scores more or less even out.”
So is the ACT actually easier than the SAT? It actually just depends on the person.
Myth #2: It’s an accurate indicator of how well you will do in college
If you’ve ever gotten back an SAT score just to tell yourself that you’re not ready for the challenges college has to offer, you’re lying to yourself.
Comparing a good standardized test score with success in college is similar to comparing a “like” on Facebook to a surprise birthday party your friends throw for you.
College is completely different world from the bounds of the bubbles you’re shading on your exam. There is more to college than just exams and homework. College is also about managing your time, developing interpersonal skills, learning how to cope during times of stress, and finding a balance between work and play. These attributes are important but don’t show up anywhere in your SAT scores. Don’t underestimate time management and interpersonal skills—not everyone has them, and they are what really gets you through college!
The SAT can play a part in your success in college admissions. However, “academic record is by fat the most important factor,” says Robinovitz. Thrive on your schoolwork, take challenging courses and work hard on improving your high school GPA.
Myth #3: College admissions officers will judge you for taking it more than once
Generally, your college application involves sending your highest SAT subscores for each individual section (this is called “superscoring” by colleges). So if you rocked the math section last June but totally bombed it in October, don’t stress about it! Send both scores and colleges will take your higher math marks from your June SAT.
There’s nothing wrong with taking the test more than once. Robinovitz recommends taking the first time taking the exam to be your “baseline.” If you think that you could do better than your baseline, brush up on your skills before the next test day.
“Some colleges now demand to see all test scores,” says Michelle Podbelsek, a counselor with College Counseling Associates. “A student really shouldn’t take the SAT or ACT more than three times...Some colleges may average the scores if the student took it many, many times. It’s best to use mock tests for practice rather than the real one.” Better crack open the books!
Myth #4: Any SAT prep book will work
The SAT is a reasoning test. It’s challenging because you are being tested on how well you can interpret a piece of information--not if you happen to know a particular fact. “Some SAT questions are meant to trick you,” says Podbelsek. For example, you probably won’t know a lot of the words in the vocabulary section, so you’re expected to figure out its meaning through context and reasoning. It’s doable, but time-intensive. You can memorize all the vocabulary words you want, but memorization doesn’t necessarily give you contextual interpretation skills. The writers of the test know you won’t know the definition of every word you’ll be tested on! The SATs are designed for you to be able to reason out a solution, not recite facts.
The best practice you can do involves the reading and problem-solving skills you apply everyday. Practice interpretation and reasoning. Don’t study hard facts. (That is, don’t go out of your way to memorize the definitions of abject, abscond and incongruous.)
Robinovitz recommends resources such as Khan Academy, which allows you to work through a full-length SAT practice test. “Make sure you make use of new tests,” she adds. She also suggests using prep books in which writers have a list of test-taking strategies that work, rather than books that only have practice problems.
Myth #5: Your PSAT score will affect your college applications
Many consider the PSAT to be a mini version of the SAT. Just like the SAT can’t indicate how well you do in college, the PSAT can’t indicate how well you will do on the SAT. The format may be similar, but they are still essentially two different exams. Think about it: if you take the PSAT in October, but take the SAT in February, you have done a lot of growth over those few months that will often lead you to higher test scores!
The PSAT has been a source of pressure for a lot of collegiettes, with the possibilities of National Merit scholarships settling like a fog over the stresses of paying for school. National Merit, while it’s helpful to recipients, won’t affect your admission to college. “The PSAT has zero impact on college applications,” says Robinovitz. She adds that it’s a good way to learn about the type of test taker you are. “You can learn what your academic weaknesses are” so you can work on improving those weak points before you take the SAT.
Nonetheless, getting into your dream college isn’t just about SAT subscores; it’s also about your performance in high school classes and how much you want to go to that college!
Myth #6: The writing section isn’t important
The writing section of the SAT is probably the most fluid part of the exam. It’s the only part of the SAT where you can express your ideas and show the test graders your writing abilities. When you’re sending SAT scores to colleges, your score on the writing section is a general indicator of whether you can convey your ideas in writing.
The SAT recently went through a big renovation in which the essay portion is now optional. Even though it’s not required anymore, you still may have to take the writing portion. While the writing section doesn’t matter as a college application booster, some colleges actually require it to be a part of your application. Keep an eye out for what your college shortlist’s application requirements are; many of them may want you to take the writing portion!
All in all, remember that your SAT scores don’t define the type of student you’ll be in college. You could have perfect scores and still have trouble with school. You could have average scores and still graduate college with a great GPA. Success in college is all about work ethic; not about the numbers you made on some exam a few years before. And when you’re looking for a real job beyond college, who’s going to care about your SAT scores, anyway?