Tutor profile: Kyle W.
Why does the SAT offer longer time limits per section? Are there simply more questions, or are the questions more challenging? Why do many students choose the SAT’s longer windows of time over the ACT’s fast-paced approach?
The SAT and ACT intentionally challenge students in different ways. Specifically, where the ACT tests quick and efficient reasoning conducted over a relatively short time span, the SAT caters to those students who can detect the shifting of an analysis by a single word or phrase, and therefore allows them a slightly longer window of time to do so. This is especially true in the Reading and Writing & Language sections. It is often the case in these sections that two, three, or even all of the four multiple choice answers of a given question hold some merit, leaving test-takers struggling to find the precise reasoning to indicate which answer is the most correct. The longer timespan accommodates these students’ ability to successfully filter out tempting but misleading answers and think not just critically but thoroughly. Ultimately, this approach proves effective for students who may not perform as well under more intense time restrictions but who are nevertheless every bit as intelligent as those who elect to take the ACT.
It is sometimes the case, and dishearteningly so, that English students find the analyses of literary works provided by their teachers to be subjective and arbitrary, and thus have difficulty dedicating time and effort to studying them. Why should these students expend their thinly stretched energy memorizing the ways in which others have interpreted literary works in the past?
The beauty of literature is that it is an art form like any other, one which aims to take what lives in the mind of one person and transfer it effectively, if imperfectly, to another. For this reason, students should not be taught merely to memorize how prior scholars have interpreted Tennyson, Hemingway, Shakespeare, etc., but instead to follow their example in thinking analytically about content that is, at day's end, as subjective as a painting or a symphony. Where creators have gone on record as intending specific elements of their work, it’s prudent for students to place such elements in that context. But when students feel they couldn't disagree more regarding the success of the creator in achieving these intentions, they should be emphatically encouraged to form their own opinions and either disagree or offer alternative insight as strongly as they can justify. To teach anything less is to turn a student’s mind off from the inherent truth that their subjective experience of a work is as valuable and worthwhile as the most learned interpreters who’ve come before them, so long as they are willing to put in the work to understand why those previous interpretations exist in the first place.
Which elements of the ACT are distinct from those of the SAT and how can students be best prepared for these differences on the day of the exam?
There are several key differences between the ACT and SAT of which students should be well aware prior to exam day. The first and most immediate is the difference in time limits per individual section. While the SAT's questions engage more critical thinking at a slower pace, those taking the ACT must work calmly, quickly, and efficiently in a relatively short time span to achieve their best results. For this reason, pacing oneself is a key strategy to conquering the ACT. For example, getting stuck on a question near the beginning of a given section may detract from the student’s time as the end approaches, whereas moving on from the question and returning to it after all others are answered may result in a better score. A second crucial difference is that the ACT features a science reasoning section that is absent on the SAT. While the SAT’s mathematics section may require interpreting data from graphs, tables, charts, etc. to answer related questions, the ACT dedicates a specific section to the ability of students to reason through scientific data, despite possibly being unfamiliar with the subject matter. For example, a portion of the exam may feature questions regarding data related to the luminosity and chemical makeup of distant astronomical objects. While the student may not have taken an astronomy class or possess extensive knowledge on the topic, their ability to work calmly through the given information, interpret the data, eliminate unnecessary variables, and generally think critically can help them answer all questions correctly in a timely manner.
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