A Parent’s Guide to the ACT and SAT

Editor’s Note: From time to time we like to invite local experts from the community to answer questions about parenting and raising kids in Huntsville and North Alabama. Today we asked Benny DePoyster at Ngenius Tutoring to help demystify the current ACT and SAT process for parents.

Student resumes, college applications, and readiness assessments – it can all be so overwhelming! The ACT and SAT process has changed a lot since we took it in high school. Here’s what parents should know in order to help their students.

What grade should kids start taking the test?

We recommend taking your first ACT or SAT at the end of your sophomore year. Taking the test at this time allows you to experience the pacing, content, and stress of an ACT or SAT in a real setting. It will also give you a decent indication of what you know and what you don’t.

I recommend students first take the test without any sort of test preparation just to see what your baseline is.

Should kids take a study class in advance? How can they prepare?

There are numerous ways to prepare:

  • Many schools have an ACT prep program.
  • There are plenty of books and study guides available at the library, bookstore, or online.
  • There are many online test prep sites. A lot of these are free!
  • There are also companies that offer Test Prep for the ACT or SAT. The benefit of using a Test Prep company is that you will be working with someone who is experienced with the most current version of the ACT and can help your student’s target your weaker areas.

I cannot stress the importance of preparation for this crucial test. Whether it’s sports, music, theater, or academics, we get better when we practice. I personally recommend at least 5 weeks of preparation. During that time, you should attempt a full practice test every week.


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Students who have worked 5 practice tests prior to taking the real ACT, typically improve by 2–5 points.

Practice Pro-Tips

  • The more often you see the ACT, the more predictable it becomes. The ACT has a lot of content that shows up on every single test.
  • You will become more comfortable with the pacing. Most students tend to spend too much time on the first part of each section and don’t have time for questions at the end.
  • After every practice test, you’ll better understand your grasp of the concepts. I recommend picking out 2 to 3 concepts to work on. By the time you finish the 5 practice tests, you will have learned 10 to 15 new skills. That could boost you score by 2 to 5 points!

The final thing practice can do is reduce test anxiety. The more comfortable you are with the material and the format of the test, the better. Knowing what you are about to face and having practiced ahead of time will take away a lot of the fear.

How do students sign up to take the ACT?

Students need to create a student account at ACT.org or collegeboard.org. You can visit either site and get a schedule of upcoming ACTs and SATs as well as enrollment deadlines. All registration is online.

What time of year is best to take the test?

We always hear the rumors that certain test dates are easier. From my experience, this is not true. The ACT and SAT do their best to create a consistent difficulty, but sometimes a test (or a particular section of the test) is just harder.


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The best time to take the test really depends upon the student’s schedule. Students are busy. Trying to find time to add test preparation to an already full schedule can be the most challenging part.

One advantage to taking the ACT in April or June is that you may purchase your answers. It costs a little extra, but you will know exactly which questions you got right – and which questions you got wrong!

Can kids take the test multiple times?

Students can take the ACT up to 12 times. There is no limit to the number of times you can take the SAT. I recommend taking the test at least 3 times – and maybe as many as 5 or 6 if necessary.

Statics from ACT.org state that 57% of students who take the test a second time will improve their score just from having a better understanding of what they will be facing.


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What tests are colleges looking at most and what’s the score range you should aim for?

SAT tends to be favored in the Northeast and West Coast. ACT is more favored pretty much everywhere else. However all colleges will accept either – a solid score is a solid score.

Each school has a different range of scores it looks for. To determine what range your school wants, you can do a web search for the information or call the admissions office and ask.

Keep in mind, most websites will tell you what the average score is. Students are being accepted with scores lower than the average as well as higher than the average. We suggest trying to get within 3 points of the average to increase your chances of getting your application considered.

Leigh and Benny DePoysterABOUT THE AUTHORS: Leigh and Benny DePoyster are co-owners of Ngenius Tutoring and Test Prep, formerly Appleton Learning Tutoring and Test Prep. Our goal for every student is to help them achieve academic excellence. We have two locations to serve our Huntsville and Madison families and outlying areas.

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