Greetings Students and Famiies – Welcome to 2021!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first few blogs in my 4-part series on all things related to testing for your college applications

My series covers :

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TESTING??All families have many questions about testing

  • What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT?
  • What’s required for college applications?
  • What does “Test Optional” mean exactly?
  • When should a student prepare and test? How many times can you take the SAT/ACT?
  • When and how to send scores? What’s Score Choice and Super Score testing all about?
  • What Scholarships are related to my test scores? Is there a minimum score for state plans such as the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship?
  • Under what circumstances should we focus on subject tests and AP/IB/AICE exams over SAT/ACT scores in our college application?
  • How does early college planning increase chances of college acceptance by integrating the high school curriculum with the timing and required admissions exams such as SAT subject tests?

Which format: ACT OR SAT?

All colleges will accept either test format. Students are encouraged to explore both exams and take a practice test at home under test conditions. If you’re working with a test preparation service/tutor, you should expect an assessment of testing formats with customized test preparation based on YOUR STUDENT’s needs.

*** If your student finds the ACT acceptable, I prefer the ACT simply for a logistical reason. SAT dates in May and June should be reserved for SATII Subject tests. These subject exams are required at many of the more competitive colleges and the best time to take these is immediately following AP exams/end of the school year. Also, SATII subject tests can be submitted in lieu of SATI scores at test-flexible institutions.
SATII subject test content- outside of mathematics and foreign language may be difficult to retain over the summer- history becomes history – so please aim for May/June for those exams- a great choice for Humanities and Business school students.


The College Board’s SAT is comprised of two sections:

1) Mathematics and

2) Reading & Writing. 

There is also an optional essay section that is required by some colleges. As sophomores and juniors are just starting the research that will eventually lead to a finalized college list of best “fit” universities, you don’t yet know if the essay will be a required element of your college application to a particular university. SO….I strongly recommend taking the essay section with each sitting of the exam.

The multiple-choice section of the exam format is three-hours long. There are scheduled rest-breaks between each section.
Reading & WritingThe complete SAT exam format is described here in the College Board’s Summary of testing requirements and in their detailed 210 Page PDF. I’ll boil it down for you!

The “Reading and Writing” section –also known as the “Language” section –contains 52 questions leaving you with 75 seconds to answer each reading question. In addition to interpretation of written passages, the SAT reading section includes interpretation of graphs or charts.

The passages include a variety of real-world situations that test-takers are expected to analyze and address the actual content. Students should expect that there will be at least one “founding document”—certainly something that would be encountered in classes covering a range of classical and contemporary historical documents or speeches (Abraham Lincoln, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Dr. King). The science section is designed to capture “culturally relevant” content. A recent title “The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City.”

Many of my students comment (complain) that there isn’t enough time and students contemplate whether it might be more effective to read less closely and aim to “speed read”. The short answer- is absolutely not!

This is one area that the SAT differs from the ACT—with 75 seconds per reading question on the SAT and roughly 52 seconds per question on the ACT, speed reading in either format is dangerous. Even with more time per question, most experts agree that SAT passages are more challenging than those of the ACT.

Analysis of the “founding documents” indicates that SAT questions are typically less contemporary often including historical documents much earlier in time.
In contrast to the Reading section, the Writing section includes non-fiction content- including narratives of actual events or information about a specific topic. Passages are provided and students are tested about grammar, vocabulary and language errors. The student “edits” the passages to convey the level of understanding of language.The best preparation for this section of the exam comes from regular reading.


……For fun and to increase your depth as a person. If your reading level as a senior is at the same level as it was when you began high school- you let yourself down and missed an opportunity.

As a college advisor with thirty years of experience as a Professor, I continue to encourage students throughout middle and high school to read read and read—beyond assigned work. Exploring the logical flow, sentence structure, and choice of vocabulary across a wide range of published fiction and non-fiction work, even including popular periodicals –can develop the ease of language that is being tested in this section of the exam. 
Reading is also part of the process of discovery and allows young adults to engage more effectively and thing outside-the-box with confidence in a variety of professional, academic and personal settings.

And for student’s– if you tell me or a parent — I cannot find a book I like – well, you just haven’t bothered to look. (Recheck my summer reading list for awesome recommendations)
The SAT’s Writing section aims to measure student’s abilities in:1) English conventions,2) analysis in history and science,3) expression of ideas,4) words in context, and5) command of evidence.These are the fundamental concepts essential to preparing written pieces that convey a clear point effectively.

The Math section of the SAT is also designed to reflect test-takers ability to process “real world” problems. There are three main sections. The first section, “Algebra”, includes questions on linear equations and inequalities. The second section on “problem solving and data analysis” measures a student’s understanding of proportional relationships and ratio. The final piece of the math section presents the concepts that must be mastered for a student to “advance to higher level courses.”
This is why it’s essential that your SAT/ACT tutor coordinate your testing schedule with your college counselor. Clearly, taking the SAT too early in high school can create a situation where the math curriculum simply hasn’t yet covered the concepts a student will have encountered and mastered. For this reason, I urge students to wait until Algebra II has been completed and mastered.

Best wishes for an absolutely meaningful and enriching 2020-21 and

a Happy & HEALTHY New Year!


Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D. Educational & College Admissions Consultant

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