5 Pro Tips for the ACT When You’ve Already Taken the SAT

difference between ACT and SAT

Wondering about the difference between ACT and SAT? If both are part of your admission requirements for your schools of choice, you can make the most of your prep time by knowing a few simple pointers. Learn more in this guest post by Merrick, NY tutor Justin L...


So by now you’ve taken your SAT, received your score, and just received an email from the college admissions office about your ACT. Until now, you may have never even considered the test. A few of your friends may have taken the test and mentioned something about science or an essay, but that’s about it. With test day drawing near, you’re going to need to know what to do differently on the ACT. Follow these five easy pointers and you’ll be ready in no time.

What’s the Difference Between the ACT and SAT?

Just about everything that was on the SAT will be on the ACT. You will still have a minute per question, but this time you are going to want to put an answer down for each one. Treat it as if it’s a normal test at school. Regarding the math that will be on the test, if you took the time to prepare for the SAT math, you are at a pretty good starting point. Every trick that you picked up to prepare for the SAT can be used on the ACT (just make sure you don’t leave any blanks.) However, there will be a few new topics that you are going to have to be ready to face. There are four trigonometry questions, two questions on logarithms, and two questions on matrices (more than one matrix). This is only eight new questions. If you really get stuck on one of these, try not to fret. There are 60 math questions on the ACT. There’s no reason to get stressed out over only two of them.

In With the New

If you can handle SOHCAHTOA, graph and identify the traits of a sine wave on a graph, and work with basic trig proofs, you will be well-equipped for those four trigonometry questions. The logarithm questions are pretty much the same ones that you do in your normal math class. Go back to your notes from school to get an idea of what you will be in for. The matrix questions will be the only real curveballs. You might not have really learned that topic in school, but that’s okay. These questions tend to be straightforward. If you can perform those three operations, you will do fine — if you’re nervous, though, it may be worth your time to work with a tutor to help you review the material.

Conversions Come First

The ACT geometry questions tend to involve figures with lengths given in different units of measurements. One object may be given in inches and the other may be given in feet. Best practice is to convert everything upfront. Make everything into inches and then work through the question. The math will be easier to digest and you will be more likely to come up with the correct answer.

No Formulas

The SAT gave you a handy reference table right at the beginning of each math section. As great as that was, the ACT isn’t going to be so forgiving. That’s one big difference between ACT and SAT tests. At the beginning of your 60-minute, 60-question math section, you are NOT going to be provided with any of those helpful hints. So take the time to get to know your formulas. Take a sheet of paper, go back to one of your SAT books, and write down all of those formulas. Save the paper! Add anything else you may need to memorize to that paper. Take five minutes, twice a day, to review that piece of paper. Memorize it. Learn it. Love it. You will need to know those things for the test.


My students always ask me if the ACT is easier or harder than the SAT. In all honesty, the answer really depends on the student, but I always feel that the ACT’s “easy” questions are a lot easier and the “hard” questions are a lot harder. These hard questions tend to involve functions and conic sections. These questions tend to be more straightforward, but require more advanced, algebraic calculations. Make sure you get some practice in on evaluating functions, function composition, parabolas, and word problems involving functions. A local math tutor (and myself, of course) can easily get you some practice and help as these topics are usually included (and should be included) in your algebra 2/trig class.

JustinLJustin L. teaches ACT math, PSAT, SAT, and test prep in Merrick, NY.  He received his Bachelor of Science in Math and Masters of Arts in Math Education at Adelphi University. Justin has more than six years of experience working with students privately, in classrooms, as well as store-front tutoring companies. Learn more about Justin here!



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3 Tricks for SAT Math Problems with Student-Produced Responses

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Even if you’ve reviewed the SAT math tips in Merrick, NY tutor Justin L.‘s previous article, the SAT math problems that require a student-produced response can cause a whole new level of anxiety. Read on to learn a few helpful tricks…


It’s very rare to see something on the SAT break a student’s stride and morale worse than the Student-Produced Response (SPR) questions. Everything about them goes outside what you’ve expected on the test. They are not multiple choice, the answers aren’t there, there’s no way to check if you’ve done it right, and they always seem harder. But if you can keep three simple things in mind, you can overcome this stigma and approach these SAT math problems as if they were any other question.

Question Order

There’s only one section of your test that will have these and the SPR questions will always begin at question nine. This is important because the difficulty of this section is structured as if it’s two mini-sections. All the multiple choice math problems will go from easy to hard, and then it resets and the SPR questions go from easy to hard again. A lot of students will just go from start to end, which isn’t really the best approach. Think about it: you get to questions seven and eight of the multiple choice and they tend to be pretty tough. These questions take a lot of the time and effort that could be spent on other questions. People tend to get burnt out with these two and rush through the SPRs, and make countless careless mistakes.

I’ve always been a firm believer of focusing on the easy questions first. The best thing to do would be to do the first three (or so) multiple choice, and then jump right into the SPRs. You’ll notice that questions one and two tend to be just as easy as nine and 10. At the same time, questions seven and eight will be just as difficult as the final two SPRs of the section. So pick out all the easy ones first. Don’t get stuck at the end of the multiple choice questions when you have easier questions waiting for you.

Incorrect Answers

For every multiple choice question that you get wrong, the SAT folks will take a quarter of a point that you’ve already earned away from you. This doesn’t apply with the SPRs. If you get one of these incorrect, your points aren’t touched like with the multiple choice questions. If you get it right, then you earn the point. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do them, this means you should do them! Even if you guess one of these questions wrong, you don’t get any points deducted.

I’m not saying to dedicate 25 minutes, but don’t leave them blank, EVER. If the question is too tough, then take an educated guess. If the question wants a number between one and 10, guess a number. You don’t have to work out a question you can’t answer, but at least fill something in — you have nothing to lose

Know the Scantron

You have to fill the bubbles in. This may seem silly to even point out, but I’ve seen students write correct answers in the boxes on the scantron without filling in the corresponding bubble. The College Board isn’t going to have someone sift through tests to check for this, so make sure to fill in the bubbles if you want the points.

There’s no negative scantron bubble. All of your answers will be positive or zero. If you came up with a negative answer, something went wrong. Also, remember that fractions are your friend. Don’t waste time and convert all of your answers into decimals, just grid in the answer that you came up with. The test will score 11/5 the same as 2.4. If you have a repeating decimal, play it safe and just enter the fraction. Gridding in .3 for an answer of 1/3 will be graded as incorrect. If your calculator shows you the repeating decimal (.33333333333333) just hit Math, Enter, Enter on your graphing calculator for the fraction to grid in.

Keep these three easy tips in mind and these SAT math problems will be just as easy or just as hard as any other question. Do the easy ones first. Don’t leave any of them blank. Know what you can and can’t grid in.

JustinLJustin L. teaches ACT math, PSAT, SAT, and test prep in Merrick, NY.  He received his Bachelor of Science in Math and Masters of Arts in Math Education at Adelphi University. Justin has more than six years of experience working with students privately, in classrooms, as well as store-front tutoring companies. Learn more about Justin here!



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5 SAT Math Tips for the Numerically Challenged


Nervous about the math portion of the SAT? Grab an SAT math practice test, sit down, and review these helpful tips from Merrick, NY tutor Justin L...


After you’ve taken a SAT math practice test or two, most students can admit that the actual “math” on the SAT really isn’t that tough — it’s figuring out what they actually have to do.

Sure, there may be a few shaky topics here and there or something that your teacher hasn’t gone over too much, but for the most part it’s not the actual calculations that frustrate most people. The real challenge comes from digging through the question to figure out what it is they actually want you to do. So to help you through this, I’m going to share some pro tips and get you heading in the right direction.

1) Underline

Underline important information: what X is, what Y is, or anything else that may seem important. Even if you’re not sure, the act of sitting there with your pencil and looking for these things as you read will help you retain the information. I know it sounds silly and way too easy, but if you make a visual trigger for your eye to jump to, you will be able to spot the important info quicker.

When dealing with word problems that are presented as daunting paragraphs, check out the last line or two first. The College Board tends to hide your actual goal at the end of a question. Underline it! Do that first and then read the question. You will have a better understanding of what to do if you know that you have to solve for X (or whatever they may want) at the very beginning.

2) Skip Multiple Choice Questions

Don’t do the questions you can’t get right. Yes, skip them. I’m not going to explain the scoring right now, but if you skip the hard questions, topics that you usually can’t do, and/or the last two multiple choice questions, you will end up better on time, less stressed out, and your score will jump. Try not to skip the first five multiple choice questions and never skip a student-produced response ever! The part twos where you actually come up with the answer and grid in the number do not penalize you if you get them wrong the way multiple choice questions do. Even if you have no clue, just grid in an educated guess.

3) Draw

The geometry questions can be very vague and many students aren’t sure where to start. So always draw a picture and label everything that you can. Most of the time, that’s the hardest part. Once you get everything labeled, just fill in all your blanks. Fill in every angle and side you can, jot down area and perimeter if you can, and then go back to the question. Once you get all the info illustrated and (neatly) labeled, go back to the question. Your handy-dandy diagram will have everything you need to get the answer.

4) Plug In Numbers

If your question is all variables, and those same variables are in your answers, just plug in numbers. Technically, any number will work. Just be smart about it. Use nice, easy, happy little numbers like 2, 5, or -3. Stay away from big ugly numbers like 19 and stay away from multiples of the same number.  If you have to select three numbers to plug in and your first choice is 5, don’t use 10, 15, or 20 as your other numbers. Write down in your test book what you’re plugging in. You will forget. Trust me. Jot down what number you are using for each letter, plug them into the question, get a real answer, then take your numbers that you picked and plug them into the multiple choice answers. One of the multiple choice answers will match what you did.

Let me give you an example. Tom works h hours at p dollars an hour. So let’s say this guy works 4 hours (h=4) and gets $10/hr (p=10.) It looks like Tom is going to bring home $40 for the day. Take your 4 and 10. Plug them into all of your multiple choice answers and see what comes out to your answer of 40. One of the answers would be p x h and that would be it. If you have a match then you have a correct answer.

5) Don’t Freak Out

Take a deep breath and relax. The formulas are there for you. There really isn’t that much you need to memorize; make yourself a one-page study guide of things to remember and you will be fine. Skip the hard questions. Make sure you use a pencil. Make sure your phone is off. If you made the effort to prepare, did a few SAT practice tests, do well in school, read for fun, and maybe play a little chess you will succeed. Don’t freak out.


Justin L. teaches ACT math, PSAT, SAT, and test prep in Merrick, NY.  He received his Bachelor of Science in Math and Masters of Arts in Math Education at Adelphi University. Justin has more than six years of experience working with students privately, in classrooms, as well as store-front tutoring companies. Learn more about Justin here!



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Your SAT Study Plan for the Summer

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It might be summer, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to slack off if you’re gearing up for applying for college this Fall! Here are some tips for staying sharp this summer from online tutor Natalie S

It is finally summer! The school year is over, and suddenly you have tons of free time to kick back and hang out. Consider taking just a small portion of that time each day and allotting it to an SAT study plan. It may not initially sound like an appealing way to spend your summer, however, just a few hours each week will make a huge difference when you’re prepping to take the SAT in the fall.

Check out a few of our simple tricks and tips below for adding an SAT study plan to your summer, and you will be on your way to acing the test!

  • Incorporate test prep into your daily routine. Set aside an hour or two every day at the same time to work on your SAT study plan. Pretend that it’s a mandatory class that has a specific start and end time, and make a commitment to show up. This will help you hold yourself accountable for summer time studying.
  • Review vocabulary words every day. Make flashcards of common words found on the SAT, and go over them once a day for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes a day doesn’t feel like a lot of study time, but after reviewing them everyday for three months, you will begin to learn how to use a plethora of new words. Start with a small stack, and then add to it as you learn more and more.
  • Read! You have more free time over the summer, so try to tackle one or two books of literary merit. These books will challenge your brain and keep it sharp during your time off from school. Even better, you can use texts of literary merit as “evidence” in the essay portion of the SAT. Pick a couple of classic books that you’ve never read before and check them out!
  • Consider taking an SAT prep course or even better, working one-on-one with an SAT prep tutor. Ask your tutor to give you a recommendation for their favorite test prep books and begin to work with those in your review sessions. There are many comprehensive guides available that demonstrate and offer explanations on how to do well on the exam. These books explain how the test is structured, how to strategically get the best score, and how to use shortcuts for answering certain problems, and they also offer tips on how to read and interpret the questions.
  • Schedule your SAT. Believe it or not, by scheduling your SAT for the fall, you’ll be helping yourself prepare for the exam. Suddenly, you’ll have a test date that you’re preparing for. You’ll have a deadline – a goal – and this will help motivate you to work toward that goal.

It’s important to stay sharp and work hard during the summer months, so when it comes time to take the SAT, you are confident, prepared, and ready to ace the exam. Instead of cramming and panicking for the upcoming test, you’ll simply review the material you’ve already studied.
Enjoy your summer, and remember how beneficial it is to set aside just a small amount of time to prepare for a test that has a huge impact on your educational future.

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors online in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!


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The Revised SAT: What High School Students Need to Know

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High school students can say “goodbye” to the SAT – the old version that is. Starting in March 2016, The College Board will introduce a redesigned SAT for students gearing up for college.

So what do you need to know? The biggest difference to note is the essay portion at the end of the test. This will be an optional, timed, 50-minute essay depending on whether or not the school you are applying to requires it completed. The essay will focus on the assessment of your skills in developing a cogent and clear written analysis of a provided source text.

The SAT redesign will also test you on your ability to analyze source texts, and understand and make effective use of evidence in reading and writing.

So, what will your SAT prep consist of for the new format? Here are 8 key changes to expect:

  • Relevant Words in Context

The redesigned SAT will focus on relevant words, the meanings of which depend on how they’re used. You’ll be asked to interpret the meaning of words based on the context of the passage in which they appear. Put down the flashcards and pick up a book instead! No need to spend hours memorizing vocabulary words that you somehow manage to forget immediately after taking the test. Preparing for this section of the new SAT will require you to demonstrate the ability to interpret the meaning of the word based on how the word is used in your reading.

  • Command of Evidence

When you get to the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Essay sections of the new SAT, you’ll be asked to demonstrate your ability to interpret, synthesize, and use evidence found in a wide range of sources. These include informational graphics and multi-paragraph passages excerpted from literature and literary nonfiction; texts in the humanities, science, history, and social studies; and career-related sources. Rather than answering a test question with your opinion written in a clear and precise manner, you’ll need to use direct quotes from the material you’re being tested on while providing examples that further support your response.

  • Essay Analyzing a Source

The focus of the Essay section on the redesigned SAT will be very different from the essay on the current SAT. For this section, you’ll read a passage and explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience. You’ll also analyze the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and stylistic and persuasive elements – a task that more closely mirrors college writing assignments. To understand how to analyze a source you’ll need to understand what it means to critique a piece of work. An author can write a short story that you enjoy, but the SAT will focus on asking you questions like, “What tools did the author use to make their point?” and  “How did the author format the story so that you would enjoy it?”

  • Focus on Math that Matters Most

The exam will focus in depth on three essential areas of math: Problem Solving and Data Analysis, the Heart of Algebra, and Passport to Advanced Math. Problem Solving and Data Analysis is about being quantitatively literate. It includes using ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning to solve problems in science, social science, and career contexts.  One of the best ways to study for the new math questions you’ll run into on the new SAT is by getting yourself comfortable working with linear equations.

  • Problems Grounded in Real-World Contexts

In the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, questions will include literature and literary nonfiction references, but also feature charts, graphs, and passages like the ones you are likely to encounter in science, social science, and other majors and careers. You will be asked to do more than correct errors; you’ll edit and revise texts from the humanities, history, social science, and career contexts. The Math section will feature multi-step applications to solve problems in science, social science, career scenarios, and other real-life contexts.  Your SAT prep should include functions and statistics exercises to help you excel in this area.  You’ll need to demonstrate the ability to analyze a situation, determine the essential elements required to solve the problem, represent the problem mathematically, and carry out a solution.

  • Analysis in Science and in History/Social Studies

You’ll also encounter challenging texts and informational graphics that pertain to issues and topics like those in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and the Math section. Questions in this section will ask you to read and comprehend texts, revise texts to be consistent with data presented in graphics, synthesize information presented through texts and graphics, and solve problems based in science and social science. To prep for this, get familiar with charts and graphs. Spending time reviewing the different types of graphs and how to interpret them will be extremely beneficial for you during your SAT prep.

  • Founding Documents and Great Global Conversation

The U.S. founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers, have helped inspire a conversation that continues to this day about the nature of civic life. This section of the redesigned SAT will require you to comprehend some of the most fundamental laws, codes, and premises that make up the foundation of the United States by enriching your studies with reading material from many of our country’s most treasured documents.

  • No Penalty for Wrong Answers

That’s right! The redesigned SAT will remove the penalty for wrong answers. You will earn points for the questions you answer correctly. This way, you can feel comfortable giving the best answer you have to every problem, even if you’re not 100% sure about it. If you find yourself completely stumped on a question, then narrow down your answers by eliminating those that you know to be incorrect – don’t just bubble in C! Then, go with your gut and choose the answer you feel is the correct one.

It’s never too early to get a head start on your SAT prep.  Working with a private tutor to start preparing for the redesigned SAT is a great way to get comfortable with the new test. You can also check out the College Board website for information on the redesigned SAT and a list of sample questions. Good luck!

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Boost your Score with Expert SAT Tips

SAT prepAre you stressing about the SATs? Although your score on this test is important, remember that a less-than-perfect score is not the end of the world. Plus, there are many resources available to help prepare you to do your very best.

Study these SAT tips from the Princeton Review, a leader in the test-prep field, to better understand how knowing the SAT format can help improve your score…

Know the order of difficulty.
SAT questions can be divided into three levels of difficulty: easy, medium and hard. The questions in the first third of each section are easy, those in the second third are medium and those in the last third are hard. (The only exception is the Reading Comprehension passages, which do not follow this order.)

Every question on the SAT is worth an equal amount. So spend your time making sure you get the easy and medium questions correct and tackle the hard questions if time remains. Rushing through the test to get to the hardest questions will only drag your score down.

Don’t be Joe.
Joe Bloggs is your average student. He gets the average score, 500, on each section. He gets all of the easy questions correct; he gets some of the medium questions correct; he gets all of the hard questions wrong.

Why is this important to you? Because our friend Joe is predictable. He gets all of the easy questions right because the choices that look correct are correct. He gets all of the hard questions wrong because the choices that look correct are wrong. If you know what Joe will do, you can make better decisions!

If you’re working on an easy question, the answer that seems right probably is. If you’re working on a hard question, the answer that seems right is always wrong. Use this strategy to help you eliminate choices for difficult questions.

Continue reading the SAT tips article here.

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