Student Reading: Fogless California?

While this sounds like a great thing (no more June Gloom! San Francisco will no longer be the coldest winter in the summer!), it’s likely… not. The effects are felt most severely up north, or wherever there are crops, which means our produce prices will likely increase significantly in the coming years.

California Without Fog?, by John Metcalfe in Mother Jones


ACT or SAT? How to Decide.

The most commonly asked question I receive if “Which test should my child take, the SAT or the ACT?”


I’ve heard lots of advice on this question, and almost all of it starts with taking both a practice SAT and a practice ACT first. The advice often moves on to suggest that you should look at the Concordance tables and determine which, if either, your child did best on.


While I do agree taking a practice SAT and a practice ACT each is a great way to start, I disagree from there on how to choose. I think, unless there is a glaring difference (e.g. a 1600 on the SAT and a 32 on the ACT), the choice should be made on only one thing: student preference. And here’s why:

A student will take the test more seriously if they have ownership over which test they’ll be preparing for. Nobody likes these tests. Or, I should say, very few students like these tests. If we’re going to have them prepare for the test too, I don’t believe it’s best for us to push them into a test they really don’t like. Furthermore, letting your child feel ownership over the preparation is a great way to start test prep on the right foot. But the best benefit of all? Students learn better when they feel better. So I’ve seen students start out with a better score on one, and end up overcoming that difference (and then some) through the test prep for the simple reason that they like the test more, just because they don’t mind the work so much. There’s nothing harder than tutoring a student who doesn’t want to learn.

I will also say: most students I’ve seen prefer the ACT. A select handful seem to prefer the SAT. I can’t exactly be sure what the distinction is, but I have a suspicion it has to do with how playful the student is with their thought processes. If a student wants to do as little as possible to move their score higher? The ACT is the best bet 9 times out of 10. If a student wants to really improve their cognitive ability, and maybe even has a bit of an intellectual ego to them, they’ll likely prefer the SAT. Now, please don’t hold me to this, as I’ve got a relatively small sample size to go on, but I usually can predict which test a student will prefer with just a description of the student’s studying habits and academic profile. I think the SAT is harder to prepare for and takes longer as well, but the gains are often more significant, so it also can depend on how much time the student is willing to devote to preparation.

Any other questions? Feel free to ask or leave a comment!




Practice Tests: The when, the why, and the how many?

Many of my students’ parents have been asking about practice tests lately. Questions such as:

  1. When should I take them?
  2. Should I take them?
  3. How do I know if it’s a real test or not?
  4. How many should I take?

Questions 1 & 2: When and why should I take practice tests?

Let’s start by talking about the tests’ merits, as well as where the benefit might fall short.

Practice tests can be an extremely useful tool if used under the right circumstances. The right time to take a practice test is definitely when you are just starting out with test prep, if you are definitely starting with the ACT. The PSAT acts as a strong replacement, but the ACT’s PLAN is often administered during your child’s freshman year and therefore falls a bit short in terms of preparation and assessment.

If, however, you are unsure of which test would be best for your child, taking a practice test of each (the SAT and the ACT) in sittings close together with each other (at least a day, but preferably no more than a week) will serve you well. We can talk about how to decide between each test in my post next week.

Another useful time to take practice ACTs or SATs would be several weeks before the real test, as a bit of a dry run. This will only be useful if your son or daughter is interested in taking it. If he or she is completely uninterested, it will not be a very good use of anyone’s time. And unfortunately, making a student sit for it won’t just magically make them interested in the test. Use your best judgment when determining if your child will take the practice test seriously or if they will be so frustrated that they won’t.

Question 3: How do I know if it’s a real test or not? 

Ask! The person administering the test will be able to tell you if it’s real as well as what the code or date was from the original administered test. Does it have to be “real?” No. But it should be for the inherent practice benefits that a real practice test would administer. FYI: there are free tests released by both the SAT and ACT each year.

Question 4: How many should I take? 

The short answer: not many. Take 1-2 for diagnosis purposes, and take 1-2 before the real thing. If students have been taking their prep plans seriously, sitting for a full test won’t accomplish too much for them. What it will accomplish: a display of endurance. Students will know exactly what it takes for test day to sit and take a test for 3+ or 4+ hours. However, I believe not much of a score gain is accomplished by taking multiple practice tests if the prep is done properly before then, so multiple practice tests can serve more as a nuisance (and in some cases, a CYA) than as a benefit.

Parting Thoughts

In the end, it remains up to you as the parent or student to decide what is right for you. Often this can be determined best with a conversation with your tutor, as they will likely also have a read on where your student is with preparation.  For those of you with any additional questions, please reach out to me at dana@moprep.com.