Unlocking Your Digital SAT Success: Get an Early Start Now!

Getting an early start has always been important when preparing for standardized tests. Since Academic Approach was founded in 2001, our data has shown that students who begin regularly working with us 6-9 months ahead of their test dates have the greatest score growth. In a year of change to the SAT, planning ahead for the 2023-2024 school year will be more important than ever. Families should start figuring out a test preparation plan now. Why so early? College Board begins rolling out its new version of the PSAT this fall, and the SAT in Spring 2024. These new test forms will be both digital and adaptive and replace the existing paper-and-pencil forms. While the overall skills that are tested—mathematics, grammar, and reading comprehension—remain the same, the testing experience for students will be very different. Students and families need to take these changes into account. Students graduating in 2025 or 2026 will not be able to choose the format of their PSAT and will be given the digital version of the PSAT in the fall. However, students who plan ahead can still have a choice when it comes to the format of the SAT. Students who had planned to take the SAT during the 2023-2024 school year will want to carefully consider the testing date they sign up for because it will determine which version of the SAT they receive. See more on this strategy below. What are the differences between the existing and new SATs? The biggest changes to the SAT include: Digital administration Multistage adaptive testing model Combination of Reading and Writing into a single subject Passages are shortened and have a single accompanying question Calculators used throughout the Math test For more detailed information on the changes to the SAT, call us at (773) 985-3551. What do these changes to the SAT mean for students? In short, students who plan to take the digital SAT must prepare differently. Academic Approach has released new curriculum specifically designed for the digital SAT and we can prepare your child for the PSAT and SAT digital exams. Students who wish to take the paper-and-pencil SAT will need to sign up for a Fall 2023 testing date, which will require earlier and perhaps more frequent tutoring sessions than originally planned. Students involved in fall extracurriculars or sports may especially want to consider beginning a tutoring program this spring or summer when they have more availability. What are the advantages of taking the digital SAT? The biggest advantage of the digital SAT is that it is shorter. Instead of 3 hours, the digital SAT is 2 hours and 14 minutes. Additionally, there are overall fewer questions and more time allotted per question. Students who struggle with the No-Calculator section on the current SAT may appreciate that calculators are allowed on the entire digital SAT. Students who struggle with reading comprehension, particularly of long, complex texts, may appreciate the shortened Reading and Writing passages and the fact that only one question accompanies each passage, [...]

By |2023-03-10T16:27:26+00:00March 10, 2023|Digital SAT, SAT|0 Comments

Major Changes Coming to the SAT

Today, College Board announced major changes to the content and construct of the SAT suite of assessments. These changes do NOT impact current high school graduating classes of 2023 and 2024, but they WILL impact the class of 2025 (current freshmen) by spring of 2024. Here’s what you need to know:  The SAT Will Become Adaptive The SAT will become adaptive, like NWEA’s current MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) test or two sections of the GRE, that is, each answer determines future questions the student sees. Each test section (Reading, Writing, and Math) will be divided into two parts called modules. Students will answer a set of questions in the first module before moving on to the second module; the second module depends on the student’s performance on the first module. Students can preview the application used for the exam here. The application includes the ability for students to flag any questions they want to come back to later, as well as access to an on-screen graphing calculator and a countdown clock. Accommodations will still be available for the digital format. The SAT Will Become Digital The SAT is moving to a 100% digital format. The test will be taken on a laptop or tablet, and students will be able to use their own device or a device from their school. College Board has also committed to providing test day devices to students without access on their own. The test is not an at-home test; it will still be given at school and national test centers. Should there be connectivity or device issues, the test will pause and restart when the student can get back online (automatically saving their work). The College Board is fully transitioning to digital tests, so the pencil and paper version will no longer be available once the digital version is being administered. That means, starting in spring 2024, all students will take the digital version both on national test dates and as part of SAT School Day. Digital tests are more secure, allowing each student to receive a unique test form. The Timeline for Revision The new digital SAT will be administered internationally starting in March 2023, but not in the United States until a year later in Spring 2024. This means that students in the high school class of 2025 (current freshmen) will be the first to take the digital SAT in spring of their junior year. The PSAT 8/9,  and PSAT NMSQT will be administered starting in fall 2023, so the class of 2025 will have exposure to that test if they take the PSAT NMSQT in fall of their junior year. The Content & Structure College Board is highlighting that the content will still largely be the same as it is now and will continue to assess reading, writing, and math skills. However, there are some key changes to the content: The test will be one hour shorter, moving to two hours from its current three-hour administration. The reading section is undergoing [...]

By |2022-01-25T22:50:33+00:00January 25, 2022|News, SAT|0 Comments

Standardized Tests Can Promote Rigor

Well before the current outbreak of COVID-19, skeptics questioned the value of standardized testing as a college admissions requirement. Some argue this pandemic, however, will be the final nail in the testing coffin. As this outlet has pointed out, the majority of colleges are now test optional or test blind, and headlines proclaim “the beginning of the end” for standardized tests or (put more simply) “Kill the SAT.” There is another side to this story, however, that should not be left out: standardized tests can  -- when used constructively and administered safely  -- drive higher standards in education and more rigorous, targeted instruction for students in essential college readiness skills. Too often, standardized tests are created as a single moment in students' lives: they take the test, they receive a score and they move on. Instead, we have found that college entrance exams can be used as powerful learning opportunities to help students master academic skills. These skills help students succeed both on and beyond the tests  -- in high school, in college and in their careers. The conversation about college readiness and quality of instruction should include a careful and intentional review of student performance on standardized tests. Indeed, we believe that standardized tests can be a valuable tool for educators to better prepare students for college-level work. With continued remote learning anticipated well into the 2020-21 school year, we predict a continued amplification effect to extended summer learning loss. The increased time out of the physical classroom has led to research predicting increased losses in foundational skills for students returning this fall, a phenomenon now commonly called the “COVID slide.” Current research predicts students may retain only 50 percent of the gains they made in math during the 2019-20 school year, which was abruptly cut short as the nation went into lockdown. In such a unique year, the value of standardized testing to assess year-over-year trends in student gains and losses may be a more valuable instrument to educators than ever. In its May research and policy brief, ACT shared its student performance estimates based on historical data and predicted the impact of remote learning on ACT performance. The table below summarizes the research on typical per-month gains for students in school versus out of school. Source: ACT Research & Policy Brief What does it add up to? Typically, an ACT composite score increases by 1.96 points over a school year and decreases by 0.43 points over the summer -- a net gain of 1.53 points per year. By shifting two months of classroom instruction to typical summer losses (to reflect inconsistent approaches to remote learning in the spring), students would instead see a net gain of only 0.82 points per year. This seemingly small decrease in ACT scores can in fact indicate a large effect on overall student achievement and college readiness, admissions and scholarship eligibility across districts and states. With months of remote learning ahead, the deficit may grow. Beyond just serving as a measure of current achievement, high-quality tests create gravitational pull toward [...]

By |2021-09-10T15:20:37+00:00August 20, 2020|ACT, SAT|Comments Off on Standardized Tests Can Promote Rigor

State Testing Waivers & Helping Students Prepare

Dear Academic Approach Families: Some important updates today that will likely push standardized testing windows further out in terms of time and further encourage the delivery of these tests online. State Testing Waivers Since the White House announced that the Federal Department of Education will not enforce state mandated testing School Year 2019-2020, State Boards of Education across the country are seeking to waive state accountability criteria. This will likely mean many schools will not provide federal or district funded end-of-year tests, including the scheduled SAT or ACT provided as part of the school day testing program in spring 2020. It seems likely that schools will offer additional school day test options later this spring or in the fall, and students will also have the option to test on national Saturday test dates once they resume. Currently, the next scheduled national test dates are June 13th for the ACT and June 6th for the SAT. Helping Schools and Students Prepare Though much is up in the air for our current juniors in terms of the college admissions timeline, there is plenty of time ahead to ensure they are prepared both for college admissions and college-level coursework. With many students lacking a federally, state, or district-funded college admissions test this school year, they are likely looking for alternative testing dates prior to fall admissions. Students can test well into fall of their senior year and still use that score for consideration in college applications. For regular decision admission, most colleges will accept scores from as late as the December test. The Future is Online With ACT's already planned expansion of online testing at school-based test sites in September 2020 and College Board's move to offer secure AP tests in-home in spring 2020, it's also possible the testing agencies may offer more flexible options to students throughout this summer and fall. We'll keep you informed of changes as they are announced. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-03-24T11:12:00+00:00March 24, 2020|ACT, Letter, SAT|Comments Off on State Testing Waivers & Helping Students Prepare

The Move to Online Testing

The Necessary Move to Online Testing With schools moving to remote learning in the last few weeks, more and more education activities previously thought to only be effectively delivered in-person have moved online. On Friday, College Board announced the first-ever at-home administration of the AP exams. Critics have questioned the validity of these new exams, though students overwhelmingly wanted the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the material they’d spent the year learning. With the limitations put in place by necessary social distancing and stay-at-home measures, these at-home tests likely provide the best possible option in the next few months. Accelerating an Already Growing Trend The online AP exams won’t be the first online tests College Board or ACT have offered—they’ve provided online (though not remote) administrations of the SAT and ACT for the last several years. The test organizations have increasingly used this option in the last decade to increase security for international testers as well as provide another testing option for district and state-funded mandatory, school-day tests. ACT recently announced the first online testing option for national test date testers, signing up individually on Saturdays, as an option (at available testing sites). The move raises some big questions: Who benefits from online testing options? Are the scores comparable to pencil and paper testing? How can students prepare? Who has Access? Taking the ACT and SAT won’t typically be the first-time students will encounter technology in an educational setting. Indeed, the use of ed tech has increased significantly in recent years, as devices and high-quality tools have become available in more and more schools. Ultimately, students with increased familiarity and comfort working through computer-based assessments benefit from the online testing option. Access to those tools in schools is not distributed equally. Predictably, higher-income students have more access to educational technology tools and devices in their schools. New Schools’ recent survey found that while about 8 in 10 students have access to either devices on shared classroom carts or in classroom libraries (and around a third of students also have 1-to-1 devices available in their schools), there was variability in student groups. Students from low-income households, black students, students attending urban school districts, and students in the south were the least likely to report having their own device to use in a school setting. The decreased familiarity and experience for high-need students raises questions of equity in using online testing in a high-stakes setting like college entrance exams. The remote, at-home testing option may exacerbate issues of access and equity. Around 10% of Americans don’t use the internet at all, with higher quantities in low-income and rural areas. College Board is working to offer options to those students for AP tests, though the extent and success of those options is not yet clear. Does Test Format Matter? After considering equity and access, it’s worth digging into the validity of these online exams. The AP tests this year will take a very different format than they have in the past (only 45 [...]

By |2020-03-23T16:33:19+00:00March 23, 2020|Academic Approach, ACT, SAT|Comments Off on The Move to Online Testing

ACT or SAT: Which Test Is Right for You?

At Academic Approach, we work with families and schools across Chicagoland to support students from all backgrounds to grow scores, skills, and confidence both on and beyond standardized tests. An important part of this work involves a choice: to ACT or SAT — which test should I take? The ACT or SAT can make Hamlets of us all, leaving us wondering what to do, what path to take. Either test is accepted by every college and university, so it’s really a matter of the right fit between the student and test. To help students decide, here is some direction on which test can be a better fit. Reading Comprehension: Marathoner or Sprinter? When reading, some students are more like marathoners — deliberate, calculating, cautious in decision making. Others prefer a sprinter’s approach — reading and reacting quickly. The SAT features passages with greater text complexity, but students are granted 43 percent more time per question for thoughtful analysis over 65 minutes. If students prefer the extra time to arrive at decisions, then the SAT is for them. However, if students prefer to glean meaning quickly and make decisions on a quick 35-minute sprint, then the ACT is the better choice. Mathematical Reasoning: Elbow Grease or Calculator Work? While SAT and ACT math cover similar material, the SAT assesses demanding algebraic problem-solving and dense word problems. The ACT focuses more on geometry formulae. The ACT also allows use of a calculator throughout while the SAT does not allow calculator use for 20 math questions and has 13 student-produced-response questions with no multiple-choice answers. In short, if students enjoy grinding out answers with a little elbow grease — multi-step algebra problems without help from the calculator — then the SAT is the better option. If students benefit more from memory of key formulae and calculator use in arriving at answers, the ACT is the preferred path to math. Science Reasoning: A Full Serving or an Appetizer? While the SAT and the ACT both assess science reasoning through data presentations, the ACT features a standalone science section. On the ACT, science is always the fourth section, while on the SAT, 35 science-related questions are spread across reading, grammar, and math. So, if students are fond of science, and enjoy a full serving, then the ACT is the right choice. If students prefer some science appetizers, small servings throughout the test, then they have an appetite for SAT science. English Grammar: Apples to Apples The dilemma — to ACT or SAT? — is simplified when it comes to English grammar, which is assessed largely the same way on both tests. Both assess usage and mechanics skills (e.g., sentence construction, punctuation) and rhetorical skills (e.g., essay composition principles). There is no avoiding a healthy and necessary assessment of your student’s college-readiness proofreading and copy-editing skills! Resolving the Drama If you are still racked with indecision, let us help you decide which is better for your student through our complimentary testing and analysis. Try them both and [...]

By |2019-10-02T09:41:11+00:00October 2, 2019|ACT, SAT|Comments Off on ACT or SAT: Which Test Is Right for You?

The PSAT/NMSQT: Its Purpose & Benefits

The following is a repost of an essay written by our founder, Matthew Pietrafetta, for the blog last year. As the 2018 PSAT/NMSQT is just around the corner, we hope this is a helpful reminder of what the test is and the benefits of a good score. The PSAT/NMSQT is upon us! This College Board exam for 10th and 11th graders isn’t just a preliminary version of the exam they will take to qualify for college entrance. The PSAT is a big deal, not just a pre-big-deal – aiming for a strong PSAT score helps students (and their parents) do three critical things: predict, qualify, and learn.   Predicting performance with the PSAT Since its 2016 revision, the PSAT/NMSQT has become a better-than-ever predictor of the SAT. In almost every way, the PSAT looks, reads, and feels like a full-length SAT, covering nearly identical content in almost the same amount of time. Because of this, a strong PSAT score helps predict a strong SAT score. Evidence-based Reading & Writing PSAT’s Reading is almost identical to SAT’s, except PSAT Reading is five questions fewer and five minutes shorter.   PSAT’s Writing & Language is the same as SAT’s. Mathematics PSAT’s no-calculator section is three questions fewer than SATs but offers the same amount of time. PSAT’s calculator section features seven questions fewer in ten fewer minutes. PSAT Essay The SAT optional essay is NOT offered at all on the PSAT. The table below offers a side-by-side comparison of the structure and content of the two exams.   In short, the PSAT is only 15 questions fewer and 15 minutes shorter than the SAT (not counting the essay of course). Good News for Students The close comparison of the PSAT and SAT is good news for students. From both a content and experience standpoint, taking the PSAT prepares students for both the material covered on the full-length SAT as well as the experience of sitting for a lengthy and rigorous standardized test. A strong PSAT score predicts similar performance on the SAT. As a predictor, the PSAT can help students year over year. Because the new PSAT system offers testing from 8th grade to 11th grade if a school district offers that testing, a student can have a transparent view of where he or she is tracking towards 11th grade. Qualifying for scholarships with the PSAT A strong PSAT score can also help students earn recognition, and sometimes scholarship dollars, as either a commended scholar or a national merit scholar.   Each state has two cut-off thresholds (one for commended scholars, one for national merit) to qualify for these designations, which are determined by the fall of senior year. Many colleges offer scholarships associated with these honors, though PSAT scores are not typically provided to colleges as part of the application. See additional details in the table below. Learning to improve with the PSAT The most important function of the PSAT is to help students learn. So what’s the best way to [...]

By |2022-02-04T15:41:13+00:00October 9, 2018|One-on-One Tutoring, PSAT, SAT, Special|0 Comments

The History of Academic Approach

In the Beginning The Academic Approach story begins with its founder, Matthew Pietrafetta, as a PhD candidate and instructor at Columbia University in New York City. While simultaneously teaching core curriculum classes to Columbia freshmen and tutoring high school students for the SAT and ACT, Matthew took note of significant challenges that were facing these transitional students. Primary among them were disparities in test scores, college readiness, and student opportunities, as well as a chasm between test preparation and institutional education. Soon, Matthew began to look for ways to turn those challenges into opportunities for student growth and education innovation and quickly became passionate about the idea of revolutionizing test preparation. Matthew sought an alternative to traditional test prep, which for years was maligned for teaching to the test and using generic test-taking strategies for a nonexistent “average student.” The idea for Academic Approach was born in a method of test preparation based on academic skill development and customized for students at a wide range of achievement levels. Founding Principles The company itself was founded in 2001 using three principles as its bedrock: Tests are standardized. Students are not.™ There is no average student. While some may look similar on paper, students vary greatly in learning styles, personalities, and many other dimensions. Academic Approach would tailor its programs specifically to the individual student, eschewing the one-size-fits-all traditional approach. Skills-based Test Preparation.™ Strategy, tips and tricks, gaming: these are not the ways to build lasting skills and knowledge. Academic Approach would bring rigorous college readiness and enduring academic value to test preparation, enabling student growth in high school, on test day, and throughout college. Teaching Beyond the Test.™ By challenging the “teaching to the test” stereotype and working with other educators and institutions to improve academic progress holistically, Academic Approach would live out its mission to teach beyond the test. School Programs Transforming test preparation into a personalized, academically enriching form of teaching is undoubtedly beneficial and will always be at the core of Academic Approach’s mission. However, to truly maximize the company’s impact and address the larger issues of barriers to education and college access, Matthew pushed the company to find ways to reach students in underperforming schools and underserved communities. Academic Approach began to develop school program services to support students from these communities and their school leaders in raising student achievement. Directors from Academic Approach work intimately with school partners to develop readiness solutions that meet the school’s and students’ needs. In addition, Academic Approach offers scholarships, discounts to faculty children, and other discounted programs to bring high-quality instruction to a greater diversity of students. More than 50 urban schools have already partnered with Academic Approach to improve student achievement and outcomes. What’s Next Academic Approach’s one-on-one tutoring and school program services make a real difference for students who strive to maximize their academic performance and compete in the college admissions process. The educators and students served—and their remarkable growth and achievement — make Academic Approach a true [...]

The SAT & ACT Essays: Sometimes a Requirement, Always an Opportunity

"Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it."  At Academic Approach, we get asked all the time, “is the essay optional?” The answer is yes, but also no. Technically, the essay on both the ACT and SAT is optional – you can elect to take either test with or without the essay. In terms of scoring, the essay is always a stand-alone score, so it will not impact the composite or overall score of the test.    If that's the case, why then should you elect to take the essay? The answer to that question really depends on the colleges and universities a student is applying to. While you can take the ACT or SAT without the essay, some schools require the essay. It's important that you take the essay each time you take an official test in case you want to apply to one of these schools. The last thing you want to do is retake the test after you have already achieved your goal score simply because you need the essay.    If you know that you will only be applying to schools that do not require the essay, you can choose not to take the essay. That is assuming, however, that you will have selected all of your schools at the time of your first test. Unless you can guarantee that you will not add any other schools to your list – and who really can months before they even start their application – our advice is that it's better to have the essay and not need it than need it and not have it.   I's worth noting that there is a growing movement among colleges to drop the essay as a requirement for admission, but this is not a pervasive practice yet.   What are the essays like?   ACT   The ACT essay gives students 40 minutes to read a prompt, outline, and write an expository essay. The prompt will provide three points of view for students to evaluate and interpret. After asking students to synthesize those ideas, they are asked to form an opinion of their own.  While writing an essay in 40 minutes may sound daunting, it's important to remember that graders will be taking those constraints into account. Students are not expected to produce a perfectly written piece, but rather, a piece that is clear and coherent.    SAT   Similar to the ACT essay, the SAT asks students to construct a persuasive essay in 50 minutes.  The purpose of the essay, however, is to analyze how an author structures a given text, taking note of their arguments and style.  A learning opportunity  The learning opportunity these essays present is valuable. Most students do not take a targeted essay composition course in high school; instead, they pick up essay writing strategies teacher by teacher. Taking students through a focused curriculum on persuasive writing strategies for crafting a thesis, an introduction, a counter argument, and a conclusion often answers a host of questions they've had about their own academic writing and gives them more tools for success on and beyond the test.   Many students wonder what they will get out of preparing for the essay. Aside from the obvious benefit of an improved score, the real value is the ability to practice adapting to different types of writing prompts. Throughout high school and college (not [...]

By |2018-08-07T19:26:41+00:00August 7, 2018|ACT, Essay, One-on-One Tutoring, SAT, Special, Test Prep|2 Comments

Should I Retake the SAT or ACT?

After students and families anxiously log in to their ACT and College Board accounts on score release day, the first question many will ask is whether they should retest. Of course, there are always students who are exceedingly happy with their score, and they should celebrate by putting the ACT and SAT behind them. Others know nearly immediately that they’re unhappy with their scores and will certainly be retaking them. But what about those in the middle? How do you know if you should be happy with your score and not trying for more? To help inform your decision making, let’s explore several scenarios. The student who “takes it cold” A good number of students—in all likelihood a majority—will take an official ACT or SAT without any preparation. They may scroll through a website to learn the structure of the test or page through a guide one afternoon at a nearby bookstore. For these students, test day is an almost entirely novel experience. The timing of the test often proves more difficult in proctored conditions. Students typically experience fatigue and exhaustion especially on the Reading and Science sections at the end of the test. Sometimes too, students have adverse reactions to the pressure of test day and make silly mistakes—incomplete questions, mis-bubbling, and mental mistakes. In most cases, these students should consider testing again. One or more of the aforementioned factors likely influenced them on test day, and consequently, the results may not reflect students’ full aptitude. Scores instead reflect the particular nuances on that particular test day in that particular testing environment—nuances that otherwise may not be accounted for. While some argue that this may be a more realistic snapshot of a student’s aptitude, the intricacies and content of the test prove otherwise. For example, grammar—a topic rarely covered in high school English—is covered extensively on both the ACT and SAT. Without at least some instruction, scores likely reflect a lack of content exposure rather than a lack of aptitude. In order to gain the most from retesting after taking one cold, students should pursue a study plan to help them focus on areas of need and aim for optimal growth in areas of strength. Whether through self-study, a classroom setting, or one-on-one tutoring, students will produce scores that more accurately reflect their abilities after preparation. Without additional study, students may repeat their initial experience only subject to chance differences in the testing experience. A prepared student’s first test Before taking an official ACT or SAT, many students will spend weeks or months preparing. Through self-study, classroom instruction, or one-on-one tutoring, they learn the structure and content of the test. They master time management and find methods for approaching the various sections. The process ideally also involves a combination of homework and practice tests to keep students engaged with material and standardized testing leading up to test day. Prepared students like these should expect scores that are consistent with their practice to this point—particularly their performance on any full-length [...]

By |2018-06-20T15:50:00+00:00June 20, 2018|ACT, One-on-One Tutoring, SAT, Special, Test Prep|0 Comments
Go to Top