What I learned when I recently sat for the ACT

Yes, I occasionally take the SAT and ACT.  And yes, I get some unusual looks!  As a coach and tutor, it is important that I have the opportunity to experience the test, the environment, the social experience, and issues that can go wrong. Yes, I’m also testing myself to confirm that I can continue to achieve the 99th percentile and to observe any changes in the test.

I took my June, 2014 ACT at one of the large Westchester county high schools along with 300+ other high school juniors. My observations:

1) It’s best to arrive close to 7:45. I arrived a bit earlier and found that we had to wait in the hallway until just past 8 am before students were allowed access into their classrooms. This meant that a lot of students were nervously chatting with friends, and some were clearly psyching themselves or their friends out. Once inside the classroom, we were told that we had to wait until 8:15 am to allow for late students. So yes, another 15 minutes of sitting, but at least this was quiet time to organize and get grounded. There were two students who arrived at 8:25 in our room as we were finishing up with testing directions. I was feeling their distress and complete panic. Never arrive later than 8 am!

2) Make sure that you bring Number 2 pencils! I thought I had done this, but as I was completing my background pages, I noticed that my pencil (along with the extra two pencils) had the number “3” on it and that my bubbles appeared lighter than my neighbor’s bubbles in the name/address section. I admit to a bit of panic that my test would not be scored properly or it would be delayed. I even feared that the proctor would dismiss me for having the wrong pencil since this preparation is all over the ACT readiness material. Check your pencil numbers!

3) Classroom clocks can either be broken or be completely “off” the real time, so you better have a digital watch that you can rely on to match the proctor’s times on the board and her 10-minute and 5-minute warnings! My classroom clock was roughly 38 minutes early, and I found this to be an annoying aggravation throughout the test until our kind proctor decided to upload a digital clock on her computer monitor which she turned so that all of us could see this clock instead for the Reading, Science and Essay sections. Two years ago, I sat in a room with a broken clock and the proctor did not even comment on it.

4) If you are counting on using a stopwatch device on your inexpensive Timex or Casio digital watch, you need to modify your watch to disable the beeping sound when you set the stopwatch function. (I had just purchased an inexpensive Timex digital watch with stopwatch function for my upcoming test. I didn’t think the beeping noise was very loud or would create a problem if I set my watch as the proctor was starting us. I was wrong and was told that the beeping noise must stop immediately as I attempted to set my stopwatch! So I had to deal with no stopwatch or watch for two sections until we had a break and I reset my watch in the Girls room.) This handy explanation will help you remove the amplifier (spring) to mute your watch:http:/talk.collegeconfidential.com/act-preparation/391226-how-to-disable-beeping-on-your-digital-watch.html.

5) Keep the coffee and drinks to a minimum in the morning! I changed my morning routine to have only one cup of coffee and no fruit/kale smoothie. Instead, I had a veggie omelet (protein and light in the stomach) for breakfast. This worked well for me since we have to be able to sit without a bathroom break for almost 2-3/4 hours at the beginning of the test!

6) The English section of the test continues to add vocabulary (in context) words within a sentence to the Rhetorical Skills test questions. Note the similarity to the SAT.

7) Math, at least in this June test, had many more long word problems, even in the easier first half. I am generally fast at Math, but for this test, I timed out on two questions for which I did not have time to read and had to randomly guess. I still achieved a 34 score, so I wasn’t disappointed. When I took the test two years ago, I took a 4-5 minute bathroom break in the middle of the Math section and still finished. Is this a new trend?

8.  In the Reading section, a new paired passage with Compare/Contrast questions was added. This is consistent with what the ACT recently announced regarding its upcoming content changes starting in 2015. Expect to see more of this in the future.

9) In the Science section, I learned from one of my students that it really IS best to go straight to the Questions without even spending 15-30 seconds reading background. I found that reading the answer choices first was also more effective than going back to the passage to read for details not contained in the graphs/tables. These techniques are key to have a better likelihood of being able to finish the section without timing out.

10) Overall, the ACT test is challenging. The key is to remain focused when reading/solving and always aware of the pacing /clock.

Does your SAT/ACT tutor or teacher sit for real tests?

What are her observations?

Do you have other observations that you would like to share?

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