This
year Michigan is switching from the ACT to the Redesigned SAT for the free
college entrance exam offered in schools. I’m not bragging when I say I can do
every problem on the ACT. The students I tutor work through sample tests and
ask for help on the problems that stymie them. Even so, I had to prepare and
review to complete the math sections of the New SAT.
To
prevent surprises on Test Day, this post discusses some general differences
between the math sections of the ACT and the Redesigned SAT. For a complete
list of the topics tested on the SAT, see a test preparation manual. Some older
editions are still floating around, so get one that says “Redesigned SAT” or
“New SAT.” Practice tests can also be found online.
The
SAT allows students more time for each problem. On the ACT, students have 1
minute/problem. On the SAT, students get 1.25 minutes/problem on the No-Calculator
section and 1.45 minutes/problem on the Calculator section.
The
math section is divided into calculator and no-calculator sections. The no-calculator section includes 20 questions. The calculator section has 38 questions.
A
Ti83 or Ti84 calculator is necessary to complete the calculator section. (For
the ACT, a simpler calculator such as one from the Ti30 series is sufficient.)
Students should know how to use their graphing calculators to: enter scatter
plot points in lists and graph these points, fit regressions of curves and
lines, enter equations, find zeros of polynomials, enter exponents (both
fractional and negative), take roots, calculate trig functions and other standard
mathematical functions.
The
SAT tends to have more multi-step math problems.
Math
tends to be more advanced on the SAT. The ACT covers Algebra I and Geometry
with four trig problems. The SAT focuses on Algebra II. For example, on the ACT
students must recognize that y = x^{2} + 5 is the equation of a
parabola, while on the SAT, students must understand how to transform functions.
A review of factoring polynomials and solving quadratic equations will not go
amiss. The SAT includes fewer geometry problems, although some proofs are
required. Students should review the criteria for proving congruence of
triangles. Familiarity with SOHCAHTOA (a mnemonic for the trig functions that
is taught in geometry) will see students through half of the trig problems on
the ACT. For the SAT, students should also be familiar with the unit circle and
the difference between degrees and radians.
Some
math questions on the SAT are not multiple choice, but instead require that the
student enter a numerical answer. This approach makes guessing impossible. Before
Test Day, students should read this information on how to grid in numerical
answers.
The
calculation of some problems requires the solution to the previous problem. If
the student gets the first question wrong, it is improbable that the second
question can be answered correctly. Most educators agreed that double jeopardy
questions are poor testing technique. I hope future iterations of the test
remove this type of question.
Some
questions require that the student find two separate values and add them, even
if this sum has no mathematical or physical meaning. For example, after finding
the Cartesian Coordinate (x,y), the student may be asked for x + y, or after
calculating time and distance, the question may ask for the sum of time and
distance.
There
are numerous “trick questions.” The student should read the problem and
underline what the question is asking. After the calculation is complete, the
student should double check what the question asked. For example the student
has calculated profit, and the question asks for percent change.
I
highly recommend students work practice tests before Test Day. Numerous tests
can be found online. Here is a link to the College Board sample tests.
In
future blog posts, I’ll write about the other sections of the
Redesigned SAT. Each post will include links to the others.
Reading and Writing & Language