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Do You Need Extra Time On The SAT?

 

My son has special needs. What should we do about him taking the SAT? What accommodations can or should he have?

The answer depends in part on the type of special needs your son has. Learning disabilities range in levels and severity, so accommodations are based on the needs of the individual student.

Your first step is to work with your Case Manager or Special Education/Exceptional Education Department at your high school.  College Board, who oversees administration of the SAT and all accommodations, is going to ask for a formal request with documentation from your school.

Begin this process early because at peak times it can take 6-10 weeks to process a request.

The first thing the College Board looks at is: Does this child receive some type of modification to their regular testing at school? Students who do not have any accommodations or modifications at school should not expect to receive any on the SAT.  But just because your child has testing adjustments at school does not mean he will qualify for modified testing on the SAT.

College Board’s next question is: What accommodations can or should he have? Again, this really depends.  The most common modifications I saw as a school counselor was extended time.

Some people think: Oh, wow. That’s going to be great and he could really use some extra time.  Maybe I should try to get my child qualified for extra time. Keep in mind, extra time can be a curse rather than a blessing.  The SAT is a 4-hour long exam. Some students who are receiving 50% extra time have taken a 4-hour exam and made it a 6-hour exam plus additional time for breaks. A lot of my students with attention and focus issues have a really hard time sitting there for 4 hours; 6 hours is impossible. The extra time hurts their ability to perform on the test.

I’ve seen a variety of modifications and can’t suggest what your son should have without understanding his learning issues. I had a student with severe arthritis who couldn’t bubble in her own answers because it was such a physical strain. I’ve had other students who have had individual testing. While they may be allowed extended time they’re also in an individual setting where it becomes a little more of a self-paced extended time exam.  Other students need large print tests.  Your son’s accommodations will be based on his needs.

Keep in mind the SAT is intended to be a challenging test and accommodations should help put him on a level playing field with other test takers.  They are not intended to improve his score or give him an advantage.

My best advice is to start the process early. Talk with your Special Education Coordinator or your Exceptional Education Department at school to find out what type of modifications might be most appropriate and most helpful. Get approved by College Board before his junior year in case there are any problems that require additional documentation or explanation.

If you have questions, you can contact College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office directly.  I have always found them to be very knowledgeable and helpful.

Finally, I have found many special needs students score better on the ACT, so encourage your son to take both tests.  And your college search should focus on schools where your son will thrive academically.  There are many colleges and universities with programs designed to help students with special needs.

 

 


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Is the ACT easier than the SAT?

 

Which test is easier the SAT or ACT?

The best way to find out is to take both.  If you don’t have scores from both tests to compare, here are my top 5 factors for deciding between the SAT and ACT.

1. Shorter test or shorter sections?

With the additional writing section, the ACT consists of 3 hours and 25 minutes of tested material; the SAT is longer at 3 hours of 55 minutes.  Both are long tests.  Some prefer the ACT format with longer, but fewer sections.  The ACT has one section each of English, Math, Reading, and Science and you never need to guess what section is next.  However, fewer sections means longer periods of time to focus on each portion.  Many students find it challenging to focus on ACT math for the full 60 minutes and prefer the SAT format of multiple math sections, each no longer than 25 minutes.

 

2. Trig questions or trickier questions?

Test content is similar, yet different in all sections of the SAT and ACT.  Math is one part where your comfort with content may lead you to favor one test over the other.  The SAT does not test any math concepts beyond Algebra II; the ACT includes 4-5 trigonometry questions.  On the other hand, many test takers have describes the SAT math questions as “tricky” and feel the ACT questions are more like what is taught in school.  Both tests have easier, medium, and very hard questions, so you have to decide which format is better for you.

 

3.  Superscore or single score?

The SAT provides three different scores – Reading, Math, and Writing.  Many colleges and universities will “Superscore” your SAT results by picking the best scores from different test dates, allowing you to retest and focus on only one subject if needed.  The ACT averages your scores in the four tested sections to produce a composite score.  While there has been some discussion of superscoring the ACT, most colleges don’t.  If you have exceptionally high results on one or more sections, but average numbers on others, you may want your scores seen on their own rather than averaged.

 

4. Vocabulary or charts & graphs?

I’m simplifying things a little here, but the content on both tests requires different preparation.  SAT Reading is so vocabulary intensive that I unfailingly recommend students study vocabulary flashcards to enhance their knowledge of college-bound words.  The ACT tests students on knowledge of vocabulary, but not to the same degree.

The content challenge on the ACT is the science section. Don’t get excited.  It has nothing to do with science.  This section tests students’ abilities to analyze and interpret charts and graphs.  With 40 passage-based questions in 35 minutes, many students struggle to complete enough questions.

 

5.  Leaving questions blank or strategically guessing?

Scoring procedures on the SAT penalize students a fourth a point for wrong answers, making it strategically advantageous to leave questions blank if your desired score in a section is 650 or below.  The ACT is more like classroom tests where only correct answers count and there is no penalty for incorrect responses. Both scoring methods provide you with opportunities to increase, or decrease, your score based on knowledge of the systems and how to use each process to your advantage.

Deciding which test is best for you can be complicated.  There are more factors that could influence your decision than I’ve outlined here.  Writing the essay first or last?  Grammar passages or errors in single sentences?  Remembering standard math formulas and special triangles or having them provided for the math sections?

The SAT and ACT are like Coke and Pepsi.  They are competing brands in the same market.  Some consumers will prefer one to the other, but for many they are about the same.  Again, I encourage you to take both tests before you pick a favorite.  Know which test plays to your academic and test taking strengths and don’t hesitate to take one or both multiple times.

 

 


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Questions About the SAT

Students working in classroom

Year after year high school students and their families struggle with the SAT.  When is the best time to take the SAT?  How many times should a student take the test?  How will colleges view multiple attempts at the SAT? What is a good score? What exactly is tested on the current test?  Should students have learned all the test content in school?  What can students do to improve their scores?  Will prep books or classes actually help?  How important are SAT scores in the bigger picture of college admission?  The questions go on and on.

If you are concerned about the SAT, you are likely a high school student preparing for college admission or the parent of a student who is. You’ve gotten suggestions from friends, neighbors, teachers, counselors, and sometimes strangers. You know there are important steps you can take to improve your admission options; you know there are ways to improve your SAT scores. There are piles of book dealing with SAT preparation and an equally high pile of college admissions books and articles. But where should you begin?

Sometime having too much information can be a problem. A lot of test prep books take the “bigger is better” approach and try to cover every possible topic from fifth grade long division and how to tell Greek from Latin roots to subordinating conjunctions and nonlinear differential equations. It is enough to make anyone’s head spin.

With all the arguments for and against the SAT, the pressure on students to perform, and the overwhelming amount of conflicting information, it is enough to make those facing the SAT throw their hands in the air and yell in frustration, “Who cares about the SAT?”

There is hope!  For the month of April I am going to devote multiple blog posts to answering common questions about the SAT.  You can also check out my four free video lessons – part of my online SAT Mastermind program at SATSuccessCoach.com

Help me out — what questions would you like me to answer?  Post suggestions and questions below.

SAT Essay: Know Your Reality TV to Ace the SAT?

Who knew hour after hour of “Jersey Shore,” “The Bachelor,” “American Idol,” or “Survivor” could actually help you on the SAT essay!  Last Saturday’s SAT (March 2011) essay prompt asked whether people benefit or are harmed by so-called reality entertainment and has created considerable controversy.

Some are outraged that the College Board would ask a question seemingly biased against students who don’t waste their time on such base forms of media.  Why offer a prompt that panders to those who watch reality tv?  Others feel the topic is fair game for all test takers.  The College Board has responded by saying everything a student needed was included in the question.

I graded SAT essays when the writing section was added to the SAT in 2005, and I’ve spent years helping students prepare for the SAT.  I think the March 2011 topic was perfectly reasonable for the SAT.  Essays are scored half on what and half on how a student writes.

Growing up, I didn’t have a television at home.  This didn’t mean I wasn’t aware of the popular shows or issues in the media. A student doesn’t need to watch any television in order to form and articulate arguments on the merits of “reality” tv.

Take a look at what students saw on the test, and share your thoughts.  Here’s the exact writing prompt from the College Board:

Prompt:

Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?

Assignment: Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

What do you think? 

Is this a fair question?  Would you be able to formulate an essay on this topic?