SAT/ACT

                              
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Our Expertise

Northwest Educational Services has worked hard to prepare for the new SAT and the revised ACT. Our three test prep coaches have all taken the time to master these two exams and we each work with students preparing them for these exams several times per week. We know the content deeply and teach it efficiently. We also emphasize strategy, coaching students on the most effective techniques.

Furthermore, we specialize in coaching students how to learn. So, in addition to being experts on the SAT and the ACT, we are also experts on the neuroscience of learning and successful student psychology. We offer advice on everything from how to practice consistently to how to maximize brain health on the day of the exam.

Testimonials

I just wanted to say thank you for all your help preparing for the SAT. My new score was over 200 points higher than last time! I’m really happy with it and couldn’t have done it without your help.

Thanks so much,

Lily

I got my SAT score back and I did really well! I am very proud of my score and I know I couldn’t have done it without you so thank you again.

Best wishes,

Elaine

SAT or ACT?

Students often wonder whether they should take the SAT or the ACT. Our answer is simple:  Take both.

The two exams are very similar, but they have enough differences that most students will score higher on one than the other. Which exam will prove better for any given student is very difficult to predict. The best way to find out is to simply take both. Students might then choose to retake just one of the exams and focus their preparation accordingly.

The largest differences between the two tests are:

  • A portion of the SAT math is no-calculator.
  • The ACT includes a science section.
  • The essay is very different on the two exams.

Timing and Retakes

Ideally, a student will take both exams during the spring of Junior year. After getting scores back, the student can then decide whether or not to retake the exams. Depending on the school being applied to, these exams can be taken through the winter of Senior year. Most schools will want results by December of Senior year.

Many students discover that they are stronger with the ACT than the SAT, or vice-versa, so they decide to just focus on their stronger exam for the retake. For example, a student who scored 1300 on the SAT and 24 on the ACT will probably choose to focus on the SAT for a retake because a 1300 corresponds to a higher percentile than a 24.

The summer between Junior and Senior year is an excellent time to prep for a retake of either exam. We recommend one-on-one coaching here at Northwest Educational Services, normally done once or twice per week, supplemented by regular home practice.

We recommend signing up early for any test you’re taking, well before the deadline. If you wait until the last minute, you might wind up driving to Olympia at 6am the morning of your exam. We’ve created a quick reference with the test dates and registration deadlines for the ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests: SAT ACT CALENDAR 2016-17 (pdf)

The New SAT

For full information and registration, please visit the College Board’s website.

Section-By-Section Breakdown

  • English:
    • This section tests grammar, punctuation, contextual clarity, and style using reading passages.
    • It also includes charts and graphs that students will be expected to understand.
  • Math:
    • There are two math sections: a shorter, no-calculator section and a longer, calculator-allowed section.
    • The majority is multiple choice, but each section ends with student-produced responses.
    • The content covers Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.
    • Some geometry formulas are provided.
  • Reading:
    • This section consists of five readings with comprehension questions.
    • It includes two-part questions that ask students to match answer choices with evidence from the the passage.
    • One of the readings will be a set of two passages that includes compare/contrast questions.
    • Some readings include charts and graphs that students will be expected to interpret.
    • The subject-matter of the five readings will be varied, and the section will include both literary and informational passages from a range of time periods.
  • Essay:
    • The SAT essay has changed in a major way from previous years.
    • It is now a rhetorical analysis essay that asks students to analyze the persuasiveness of a piece of writing.
    • Success involves careful reading, detailed annotation, and outlining an organized analysis that both quotes and paraphrases the passage.
    • It is a challenging task to accomplish in 50 minutes, and no student should walk into the exam without having practiced annotating several prompts and developing a strategy.
    • The essay is optional, but we highly recommend signing up for it.
    • An example of a prompt can be viewed here.

Which Book To Get

There are several publishers offering SAT prep books. We prefer the official College Board book:

The Revised ACT

For full information and registration, please visit the official ACT website.

Section-By-Section Breakdown

  • English:
    • This section tests grammar, punctuation, contextual clarity, and style using reading passages.
    • There are no charts and graphs.
  • Math:
    • There is one math section with 60 questions, all multiple choice.
    • Calculator are allowed throughout.
    • The content covers Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and a bit of Pre-Calculus.
    • No formulas are provided.
  • Reading:
    • This section consists of four readings with comprehension questions.
    • One of the readings will be a set of two passages that includes compare/contrast questions.
    • There are no charts and graphs.
    • The subject-matter of the four readings will be prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science, and they will be drawn from a range of time periods.
  • Science:
    • This section is a test of science reading, not science knowledge.
    • Students will be expected to comprehend a series of descriptions that are usually accompanied by diagrams, charts, and graphs.
  • Essay:
    • The ACT essay has changed in a major way from previous years.
    • It now addresses a major political, scientific, or philosophical topic, and offers three perspectives on the topic.
    • Students are asked to simultaneously analyze the given perspectives while offering their own opinions, defending their ideas with logic and evidence, and connecting their point of view to the three that are provided.
    • It is a large task to accomplish in 40 minutes, and no student should walk into the exam without having practiced outlining several prompts and developing a strategy.
    • Our students have not suffered the frustration described here.
    • The essay is optional, but we highly recommend signing up for it.
    • An example of a prompt can be viewed and downloaded here.

Which Book To Get

We recommend the official ACT Prep Guide:

How We Do Standardized Test Prep:

At Northwest Educational Services, nearly all of our test prep is one-to-one coaching. Occasionally, we offer test prep to small groups upon request. This works best when the students are at approximately the same level of ability and engagement.

There are three main areas we work with students on: content, strategies, and practice.

Content

Both the ACT and SAT test students on academic content, such as grammar, vocabulary, arithmetic and algebra. As much as we’d like to, we cannot teach three years’ worth of math content in a handful of test prep sessions and have it stick. That said, we do our best to fill in the gaps in students’ knowledge whenever we find them, and we provide lots of resources for students to independently address content gaps when they are away from the office.  

Strategies

We teach students how to use the knowledge they have effectively. This is the primary focus of our test prep. We begin by coaching the basic, essential strategies that every test-taker ought to know, and we build from there, adding complexity and depth to the techniques as appropriate, based on the individual student and the time provided for practice prior to the exam date.

Practice

To remember the content we teach and to become proficient at the strategies we coach, students should engage in regular, small doses of practice at home. We advise 5-25 minutes per day, every day. This method taps into the power of spaced repetition, which greatly improves retention and skills.

Full-Length Practice Exams

We encourage students to take at least one full-length practice exam as part of their preparation.

We offer in-office practice tests, in a private room, timed like a standard exam. These are typically done on a Saturday morning or a weekday morning during the summer. There is no charge for the test, and you can take it home and grade it yourself, or we will grade it for you and charge one session’s fee ($65)* for the time it takes to grade it. Either way, we will follow up with students on the results and help them make a plan for continued growth.

SAT Subject Tests

Some students choose to take one or more of the SAT Subject Tests, also known as the SAT II’s. These are content-specific exams that cover 20 subjects in five categories: Mathematics, Science, History, English, and Foreign Languages. To learn more, please visit the College Board’s SAT Subject Test page.

The College Board offers a prep book for all of the SAT Subject Tests, a book for Mathematics Levels 1 & 2, and a book for U.S. and World History.