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Key Things to Know About the ACT


At Tannenbaum Tutors, we’ve had great success helping students with the ACT. We’ve spent countless hours thinking about how to conquer all four sections of the test - the English, math, reading, and scientific reasoning - and have spent an equal amount of time directly working with students who have earned huge improvements on the actual test.  


The ACT is one of the ultimate examples of a standardized test that requires more than just test-taking tricks and strategies. It’s a test that rewards knowing a lot of math and grammatical rules - especially math.     

There are literally hundreds of question types that are fair game for the ACT math section, and many of these questions involve a fact or formula that can’t be logically inferred. No one is going to figure out on their own that the law of cosines, a formula for finding the side or angle of a triangle, is (side c)2 = (side a)2 + (side b)2 - 2(side a)(side b)(Cosine(angleC)) or that the sum of an arithmetic sequence is (the sum of the sequence’s first and last number)(the number of terms in the sequence/2). These are pieces of knowledge that any student aiming for a 34+ score needs to truly learn. Doing so isn’t a matter of test-taking gamesmanship; it’s a matter of memorizing academic content and, through a large amount of targeted practice, mastering how to apply it.       


Doing well on the ACT often also comes down to a student learning how to better manage their pacing on the reading and science sections. For students who don’t qualify for extra time, these sections are especially demanding in terms of pacing. For each of these sections, a student with standard time has 35 minutes to do 40 questions. In regards to the reading section, students need to carry out an approach much different from the “close reading” and analysis expected of them in their English classes at school. As far as the science section, families often come to us after their child has taken a diagnostic ACT exam at school and relate that their child felt uncomfortable on the science section, because they had run out of time. Fortunately, learning how to efficiently attack the ACT science passages is a skill that’s very learnable. Usually, after one or two sessions that include working on the science section, a student sees a marked improvement in terms of how comfortable they feel with the pacing. 

Key Things to Know About the New SAT    


For students in the United States, the new SAT was first administered in March of 2024. This test, known as the DSAT, is completely digital, and students are allowed to take it on a laptop or tablet. The digital device that they use can be their own or one that the College Board or their school has lent them. 

One of the other most notable changes relative to the old SAT is that the DSAT is an hour shorter, with a duration of only two hours and 14 minutes. Additionally, the DSAT is “adaptive”, which means that as the test goes along, the questions that they need to answer will be determined not only by how well they did on earlier questions on their exam but also by which particular questions that they got correct. Therefore, the collection of questions on the DSAT will be particular to each student.       


ACT vs New SAT: Which One Should My Child Take?

It’s important to keep in mind that the ACT and the DSAT have numerous significant similarities and numerous significant differences. In terms of similarities, both of these tests allow the use of a calculator on any math question, contain no guessing penalty, do not require a student to complete an essay, and test students on math and grammatical content that often overlaps with what’s found on the other test. As far as key differences, the ACT is non-digital and non-adaptive, students have less time per question on the ACT, the ACT is about 40 minutes longer, the reading passages are shorter on the SAT, and the questions on the ACT are easier to predict.

In terms of deciding which test your child should prepare for, the only way to truly establish whether a student should prepare for the ACT or the DSAT includes the student taking an official full-length practice test for each exam and - very importantly - taking their diagnostic tests right before they begin their test preparation, in order to make a decision based on up-to-date data. If a family comes to us in, say, the spring, wanting their child at that point to begin ACT or DSAT prep, and their child took a PSAT or pre-ACT in October, those results from the fall are not current enough to be reliable in terms of figuring out which test to focus on.            


Want your child to take an ACT and/or DSAT diagnostic test? Contact us to set up diagnostic testing at your convenience.  

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