Making the mark with SAT’s and ACT’s


The popularity of the SAT and ACT across the country. Map by Olivia Goldstein

The stress is sinking in for college bound students, panicking to make a good impression on promising colleges. This includes earning high marks on the SAT and ACT tests.

The SAT test challenges math, reading and writing abilities and a required essay; whereas, the ACT tests the same subjects in addition to science, with an optional essay. Both are college admission tests. The SATs give a penalty for wrong answers, while the ACT has no penalty for faulty answers and only counts correct ones. One is a test of aptitude while the other is a test of content knowledge, making the choice of which test one takes based on liking and personal choice.

Senior Carissa Gregory, as well as many other students is beginning to feel the strain of standardized tests.

“I haven’t done anything [to prepare] because it’s so stressful. I get too stressed out thinking about it,” Gregory said.

To help students, many prep courses are offered for students with a variety of prices.

For 20 years, Dr. Martha Gagnon has been teaching prep courses to help students on the tests.

“The idea is to give students tips that are easiest to apply, that don’t consume their whole day because students are busy with other things and do not need to be completely focused on SAT’s  and ACT’s for months on end studying for these tests,” Dr. Martha Gagnon said.

She advises students to start preparing their freshman year. It’s never too early to start practicing for tests that will help you in the future.  Reading books for pleasure will help improve your reading comprehension skills, grammar, expands vocabulary and confidence. Some students do perfectly fine studying by themselves while others tend to gravitate towards prep courses and personal tutoring.

“Colleges want to see good scores because it is the common yardstick,” Gagnon said.

The PSAT is offered to sophomores for free in FCPS schools. Freshmen and Juniors can sign up to take the PSAT for $14.00.

“The PSAT is the only way to qualify for National Merit Scholar recognition, and it is only considered when taken as a junior,” guidance counselor Paula Larson said.

The NMS offers scholarships to students who have received high scores on the PSAT test as a junior. Students taking advantage of this opportunity get both the chance to prepare for the actual test and the chance to win money to be put towards their college education.

The PSAT also gives students extra practice for the actual SAT and second time students can improve their scores and learn from their mistakes. Filling out the practice booklet before the PSAT is a good way for students to prepare themselves.

When it comes to deciding which test to take, the SAT, or the ACT, it’s all about preference. Both tests are equally important because many colleges will accept either.

“It’s a good idea to experiment with them and get a sample test at least, to find out which test you seem to like better,” Gagnon said.

In FCPS, seniors are continuing to score above both the state and national averages on the SAT. According to College Board, FCPS seniors scored an average of 1538, exceeding Maryland’s average score by 55 points and the nationwide score by 40 points.

“Tests are important, but it’s not the biggest thing in the entire world. The most important parts are the grades you are getting and the kind of subjects you are taking in school and your consistent level of performance,” Gagnon said.