ACT Prep and Tutoring Programs
Should My Child Take the ACT?
At The Learning Consultants, we enjoy teaching the ACT. In general, we recommend that our Westchester students take the ACT test. But we have several qualifications to that advice.
We recently gave a presentation on the subject in Stamford, CT. As we noted, for many the answer is a simple “yes”. Many guidance counselors in Westchester, NY schools advise this, too.
The main reason: there is nothing to lose. If the test goes poorly, then the student simply does not need to submit the score to the school. If it goes well, then the student has an additional way to present his case for college admissions.
Also many schools accept the ACT as a substitute for either SAT I or SAT II scores. Having the ACT as a hedge for either score creates wonderful flexibility.
Moreover, many of our students have done a good amount of generalized test prep (reading, writing and grammar) that overlaps with the content on the ACT. Given the relatively minimal additional prep needed (science and more intensity on grammar), the time cost v. benefit analysis weighs toward taking the test.
Finally, for most students applying to competitive colleges, it makes sense to maximize the possibility of admission by taking the ACT and then comparing it to the SAT.
So, if you are a Westchester County student considering the ACT test, the simple answer is “Yes, take the ACT.”
Our first caution is that the student should have time to prep for the ACT test. We have encountered many students who were glibly told by their advisors to take the ACT because its the “easier” test. Bad advice. You have to prepare.
The ACT is still a tough test. We have had many students come to us after they had been crushed by the ACT. Their universal lament: “I was told it was going to be easy, so I didn’t prepare.”
We recall one student from Darien, CT who walked into the ACT test without any preparation. Her performance was dreadful — not because the material was so hard, but because she did not understand some basic elements of ACT testing, such as the fact that the ACT does not have a guessing penalty. She left over 10 questions blank in the math section alone and hurt her score.
Given that the tests are on a curve and that now there is a greater number of students from competitive Northeastern and West Coast suburbs taking the ACT, the notion that the ACT test is easier is growing increasingly flawed.
While recognizing that we are showing some Northeastern bias, we have to say that there is some truth to the notion that the ACT was easier about 10 years ago when most of the students who took the test were from the Midwest and South. We recall mentioning the ACT to a very well-educated family from Westport, CT and getting a look of puzzlement.
We are not suggesting any difference of intelligence in the people in the various regions of the United States. But there is no doubt that there is a greater competitive environment in schools in the Washington, DC, New York and Boston suburbs and Westchester County, than in places in the middle of the country.
Given that students in these locations are now taking the ACT with far greater frequency, the curve is now reflecting a higher level of competition for our Westchester students.
Our second caution is that there is an “energy” issue that must be considered. Students are busy. Many do not have time to prepare for all these tests.
For example, if a student has done very well on the SAT, then there is no compelling reason to take the ACT. Many will be advised, nonetheless, to take the ACT, too.
However, if the student does not have the time to prep adequately, then taking the ACT might simply amount to a wasted day. Also keep in mind that time spent studying for the ACT is time that could have been spent preparing for the SAT.
With that said, those that do well on the SAT, typically, also do well on the ACT. For that reason, if they have the time to prep for the ACT, they might as well go for it.
The third caution is based on anecdotal evidence from numerous writers on the subject and our own conversations with admissions officers. There is a subconscious bias in favor of the SAT among many, if not most, admissions officers, particularly at top schools.
Why? There is simply an assumption that if a student is only turning in ACT scores, then they must not have done as well on the SAT.
For those students who did very well on the ACT, the bias will likely not hinder them too much. But for those who did only reasonably well on the ACT, and only a touch better than they did on the SAT, they might be wise to consider this bias.
With all that said, many wise guidance counselors and college advisors in Westchester County will agree that the students should take the ACT — but only if they are well prepared.