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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

What is ACT test prep?

The ACT is a college entrance exam taken by students (typically in their junior year of high school) to determine admission eligibility and merit-based scholarship eligibility. The test may be taken as many times as desired and is not limited to high school juniors. Originally the acronym stood for American College Testing, but now ACT is the stand-alone name. ACT prep is a way for students to strategically prepare for test-taking. ACT prep helps students improve scores, practice taking the test, learn test-taking strategies, and improve material comprehension. Students can get help with ACT prep tutors in one-on-one sessions, via group tutoring lessons, in online self-study programs, or online with a tutor in video calls. The ACT test covers:

  • English
  • Science understanding and reasoning
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Writing essay (optional)

How do you study for the SAT?

Your SAT prep strategy can mean the difference between a great score and a mediocre score, as well as the difference between being accepted to or rejected by your school of choice. The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is a college entrance exam that measures a student’s knowledge and understanding of what they have learned up to this point in school and what they need to succeed in college. In addition to arming students with the knowledge they need to excel in the math, reading and writing components of the test, SAT prep can help improve scores by teaching students crucial strategies for taking the test itself. Professional SAT prep tutors can work with students one-on-one or in group sessions. Typically, tutors recommend that students who are comfortable and caught up with their regular schooling begin SAT prep at least three months before the test. If you’re targeting an elite school, six months before the test is a good time to begin. Students who are behind in school are advised to start early to ensure they’re caught up and feeling confident in all the relevant subjects. Suggestions for long-term SAT prep include taking challenging high school courses, completing all homework assignments, preparing for class tests and quizzes, and participating in class by asking and answering questions. There are free SAT prep training tools online; for those who’d like a one-on-one tutor to take them to the next level, the national average rate is $70 per hour.

How do I prepare for the GMAT?

If you’re thinking of enrolling in graduate school to earn your MBA, it’s time to start thinking about preparing for the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Working with a GMAT tutor is for many people a wise investment to help you strengthen the academic areas you may be weak in and improving your overall test score. A GMAT prep tutor should teach you not only the kind of information you need to know for the test, but the best test-taking strategies. The GMAT tests you on four categories: quantitative, verbal, integrated reasoning, and an analytical writing assessment. Cramming is probably not going to give you good results for this standardized test; give yourself between two and six months to prepare, focusing on your most challenging areas first. Successful GMAT prep means planning ahead and studying thoroughly. Those students who reported studying under 75 hours were more likely to score 400 or lower on the test, while students who studied 121 hours or more were more likely to score 700 or higher on the test. Hiring a GMAT prep tutor can range in price from under $50 to over $200 per hour.

How do you prepare for the ACT?

The ACT is a universally accepted college readiness exam. There are multiple ways to prepare for the exam. One-on-one ACT prep tutoring is one of the most effective ways for students to ready themselves for the test. A tutor who specializes in ACT prep will coach the student on the type of material they can expect while also working specifically with topics that are more challenging for that particular student. Group tutoring sessions are a more cost-effective way to reap the benefits of an ACT prep instructor; a suggestion is to gather a group of four friends or classmates to share the cost. Professional tutors often recommend that test prep begin approximately three months prior to the exam. Cramming — unfortunately — doesn’t provide the same score results as consistent study, test-related homework, and practice exams do. Weekly two-hour learning sessions are what many pro tutors suggest for their college exam prep students. For top test-taking performance, tutors usually provide work throughout the week and the weekly session is used to cement knowledge and address weak areas. Math is a hard topic for most students, so plan accordingly.

How long does it take to prepare for the GMAT?

Pros recommend planning to spend two to six months for GMAT prep. The test itself is only 3.5 hours long, but your score will have a major effect on what schools grant you admission. If you’d like to be considered for one of the top-tier schools, it’s recommended to score at least a 700. Your goals for your MBA can help drive your GMAT prep. GMAT tutors will guide your study plan and help analyze your strengths and weaknesses. GMAT tutors also offer professional guidance and insights on strategic GMAT test-taking. Avail yourself of free GMAT prep software that provides sample test questions for you to practice. The creators of the GMAT recommend creating a structured study plan detailing when you will study each day and what topics you will study during each session. Take into account what style of learning works best for you (solo study, one-on-one tutoring, group tutoring, study groups, prep courses) and proceed accordingly. The test is made up of these four categories, each with an allotted time:

  • Analytical writing assessment: 1 topic, 30 minutes.
  • Integrated reasoning: 12 questions, 30 minutes.
  • Quantitative: 37 questions, 75 minutes.
  • Verbal: 41 questions: 75 minutes.

Is the ACT online?

The ACT college entrance exam is not offered for students to take remotely online. The testing takes place at designated testing centers and follows very specific rules put in place to prevent cheating. Since 2013, some schools that are part of statewide or district-wide administration of the ACT have an online version of the test that students can take within the testing center on a scheduled testing day. In fall 2017, an online computer adaptive version of the ACT became available for international students to test from afar. There are ACT prep tests available online for a fee and also free of charge. For ACT prep, it’s advisable to practice taking the test with the format you will be formally tested in. Most testing centers still provide the pencil-and-paper format, so remember to bring sharpened No. 2 pencils with healthy erasers. For those students who are unable to take the ACT at a designated testing location because they live too far away or have a religious conflict with the date, a request for arranged testing is available. If the request is approved, at no additional charge (beyond the test-taking fee), a proctor will oversee test-taking at the student’s location. Registration to take the ACT is typically done online.

What is in the SAT test?

As your child is preparing for the SAT, it’s helpful to know the specifics of the test. The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is made up of three main categories and one optional essay. Students have a total of three hours to take the test, with an additional 50 minutes for the optional essay. In total, there are 154 questions. During SAT prep, it’s helpful to take timed practice exams to understand how you’ll do during the actual test. Here is a brief overview of each of the four categories:

  • Reading: 65 minutes with 52 questions. The Reading test measures command of evidence, words in context, analysis in history and social studies, and analysis in science.
  • Writing and Language: 35 minutes with 44 questions. The Writing and Language test covers the same topics as Reading, as well as expression of ideas and standard English conventions.
  • Math: 80 minutes with 58 questions. The Math test looks at the student’s understanding of algebra, problem-solving and data analysis, and advanced math in the context of fluency, conceptual understanding, and applications.
  • Essay (optional): 50 minutes with 1 essay. The essay will demonstrate the student’s competency with writing, analysis and reading.

What is on the ACT?

The ACT is made up of a variety of multi-choice questions under four main subject areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. There is also the option for a written essay. For ACT prep, it’s important to study each subject. Each subject area is broken down into multiple parts to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the student’s understanding of the material. ACT prep provides an opportunity to prepare for the subject matter in each area.

ACT English:

  • Production of writing: 29 percent-32 percent of English score. These questions focus on topic development and organization, unity, and cohesion.
  • Knowledge of language: 13 percent-19 percent of English score. This section examines the student’s use of vocabulary and effective language use.
  • Conventions of standard English: 51 percent-56 percent of English score. These questions address sentence structure and formation, punctuation and grammar, and recognition of grammatical errors and how to improve.

 

ACT Math:

  • Preparing for higher math: 57 percent-60 percent of mathematics score. These questions cover number and quantity, algebra, functions, geometry, and statistics and probability.
  • Integrating essential skills: 40 percent-43 percent of mathematics score. These questions address comprehension of math learned prior to and after 8th grade.
  • Modeling: less than 25 percent of mathematics score. These questions examine how students use modeling skills in all math topics.

 

ACT Reading:

  • Key ideas and details: 55 percent-60 percent of reading score. The questions test students’ ability to summarize information, draw conclusions, and grasp central themes.
  • Craft and structure: 25-30 percent of reading score. These questions examine students’ ability to understand an author’s word choice and meaning and analyze various points of view.
  • Integration of knowledge and ideas: 13-18 percent of reading score. These questions examine students’ ability to understand facts and opinions and make connections between texts that share similar themes.

 

ACT Science:

  • Interpretation of data: 45–55 percent of science score. Students will need to analyze and manipulate scientific data presented in various formats.
  • Scientific investigation: 20–30 percent of science score. These questions will test students’ understanding of experimental tools, procedures and design.
  • Evaluation of models, inferences, and experimental results: 25–35 percent of science score.

 

ACT Writing:

  • This is a 40-minute written essay that examines students’ competence with ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use and conventions.

When should you start preparing for the SAT?

It’s never too early to start preparing for college entrance exams, but professional tutors recommend a baseline of at least three months before the test. The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is the gold standard for college admissions, and SAT prep is important for doing well. Your child’s SAT scores will have a major effect on which colleges send acceptance letters. Professional tutors can work with your kids to coach them on how to take the SAT, as well as studying the actual academic content. Doing well on the SAT is as much about knowing the right test-taking strategies as about having a firm grasp of the subject matter.

To understand your student’s readiness for the SAT, they can take the pre-SAT (PSAT) starting in their sophomore year. SAT prep can be structured around the student’s PSAT scores, so tutors can address any challenges and weak subject areas. If your child has their sights set on an Ivy League or elite school, SAT prep with a tutor or study program should start at least six months before the test. Vocabulary is a key element of the student’s SAT preparation and success. The national average rate for SAT prep tutoring is $70 per hour.

How long does the ACT take?

Total time for the ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes. If students elect to do the optional writing section, the ACT will be 3 hours and 35 minutes. The ACT college entrance exam has multiple sections. The students receive a set amount of time for each section, within which they complete as much of that category as possible before they must stop. For each timed section, there is a five-minute warning before time is up. There is a 10-minute break between the math and reading sections. When tutors coach students in ACT prep, they can provide timed runs to simulate the experience of taking the different subject matter tests. As part of ACT prep, it’s important to take the entire exam at least once as a practice run. Here is a breakdown of timing and number of questions for each section.

  • ACT English test: 45 minutes for 75 questions that test students’ understanding of standard English rules, production of writing, and vocabulary.
  • ACT mathematics test: 60 minutes for 60 questions that test students’ understanding of math skills up to the start of senior year of high school.  
  • Ten-minute break.
  • ACT reading test: 35 minutes for 40 questions that measure students’ reading comprehension.
  • ACT science test: 35 minutes for 40 questions that measure students’ understanding and problem-solving skills in the realm of natural sciences.
  • ACT writing test: 40-minute written essay that will measure students' writing skills.

 

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