SAT Tutoring and Test Prep2024-07-12T15:17:21-05:00

SAT Tutoring and Test Prep

General Academic is Houston’s SAT-prep leader. For more than 20 years, thousands of students have aced the SAT college admissions test with the help of our private tutoring and courses plus our 12 published Digital SAT practice tests.

We offer both private one-to-one tutoring and group test prep classes. Private tutoring can occur in your home or at our Rice Village Study Lounge.

Our Proven Approach to SAT Test Prep

Students start with a full-length diagnostic/practice test to evaluate their current strengths and weaknesses. The test should be as realistic as possible including timed conditions.

Upon scoring the test, our tutors and managers will evaluate the student’s position and outline a roadmap for improvement. The tutor will discuss test-taking strategies and general tips.

Concept review comprises the bulk of SAT test prep. To do well, students must have a firm grasp of the tested math and reading concepts. No amount of tips and tricks will compensate for not knowing fractions or how to identify a main idea.

As students strengthen their fundamental math and reading skills, they must still be able to apply that knowledge to the new and novel ways tested on a standardized test like the SAT. The best way to ensure this capability is to work many test-like practice questions.

The process of SAT test prep is continual, and the duration and intensity of preparation will depend on the disparity between the student’s starting place and desired outcome. Most of our students will take a minimum of 3 full-length practice tests and 2 official tests.

SAT Test Preparation Services

Digital SAT Overview

Students may take the SAT as frequently as they want and need to. Official SAT test dates vary slightly from year-to-year, but we generally recommend that students take the test up to three times throughout their Junior year of high school:

  1. Early November
  2. Mid-March
  3. Early May

Testing multiple times allows students to set goals for themselves leading up to each test date, and to then revisit those goals and adjust their study plan accordingly each time they take the test. It also allows students to become more comfortable with the testing environment.

The new digital SAT consists of 4 modules that last approximately 2 hours and 24 minutes, including one 10-minute break.

The four multiple-choice modules include:

  • 2 Reading and Writing modules (27 questions and 32 minutes each)
  • 2 Math modules (22 questions and 35 minutes each)

Your student’s performance in the first module in each category determines if the second module is easier or harder in difficulty.

The digital SAT is designed to test students on concepts that they have learned throughout their high school career. This includes:

  • Reading comprehension and analysis skills across a variety of genres
  • Grammar, mechanics, rhetoric, and style
  • Math through Algebra 2 (along with some Trigonometry)

Preparing for the digital SAT therefore does not require students to learn a significant number of new concepts; instead, students must continually review and reinforce their knowledge and skills based on their individual strengths and weaknesses, while also gaining familiarity and comfort with the test structure (including its format and timing).

For the 2 modules of Reading and Writing and the 2 modules of Math on the SAT, the student’s raw score is converted into a “Scale Score” from 200 to 800. The sum of the student’s scale score from each section results in their overall SAT score, or composite score, from 400 to 1600.

A total score of 1000 to 1100 places students in the 40th-58th percentile nationally, but many selective colleges look for students who have scored in the the top 5% (1400 or above). It is very important for students to pay attention to the median SAT scores of admitted students for the colleges they are interested in so that they can set their score goals accordingly.

​The best predictors of a student’s success on the SAT are good grades in school in core academic subjects like math, science, English, and history. ​

​Therefore the best way for a student to prepare is to ensure that they’re doing well in core subjects well before a few months before they plan to take the sat.

Next up are standard good test-taking practices:

  1. Determine target score & what it takes to achieve
  2. Know the content and format of the SAT
  3. Identify subject areas that are weak

Core academics are king. There are no amount of tips and tricks that will help students ace the SAT if they do not know how to do division or punctuate a sentence.

Digital SAT FAQs

When do students start preparing for the SAT and ACT?2024-01-18T14:05:42-06:00

General Academic recommends that rising high school juniors start preparing in the summer (June/July) in the lead up to the fall test dates (August/ November). This timeline allows the student to work around particularly stressful periods like mid-term and final exams. And it provides ample time to prepare not only for the first, fall test date but also a second or third testing in the spring of their junior year. Ultimately, the goal is to have the student finished with their testing by the May test date as a sanity check and to leave the summer period open for their college applications and essays. However, the student will still have plenty of opportunities for more testing in June, August, October (latest for early decision), and November (recommended latest for regular decision), but this would be on top of their applications and regular schoolwork in the fall of their senior year.

The most valuable resource in test preparation is time. The most difficult math topics tested on the SAT and ACT are Algebra II and some trigonometry, which most students will have already learned by the start of their junior year. Therefore, in order to avoid regretting not having started early enough, the summer before junior year is the best time to start.

With that said, “test prep burnout” is a very real phenomena. Parents should avoid cramming too much test prep into an especially tight or stressful period of time, and they should accept if students are already scoring at their peak ability.

How much time does my child need to study for the SAT or ACT?2024-04-13T17:04:52-05:00

The genuinely not-waffling answer is that every student is different. How long your child needs to spend preparing depends primarily on:

  1. What score do they want to achieve?
  2. What score do they have right now?
  3. How big is the gap between their goal and current scores?

However, the overly simplified answer is:

  • For the SAT, students can expect about a 40-point improvement for every 7 hours of quality preparation
  • For the ACT, students can expect about a 1-point improvement for every 7 hours of quality preparation

The operative word in this basic response is “quality.” Students cannot spend those 7-hours just watching videos on Khan Academy while simultaneously posting to Tik Tok. They need to be actively engaged in the material, taking practice tests, and truly learning from their mistakes.

The majority of the time spent on test prep is remediating basic math and English skills. No amount of tips, tricks, or talking-head watching will make up for not being able to actually identify the main idea of a paragraph or manipulate fractions.

Aren’t the ACT and SAT optional for college applications now?2024-02-08T11:55:44-06:00

The shorter answer is that students who have the means and time to prepare and take the ACT or SAT should absolutely do so.

Colleges like standardized tests because they’re norm-referenced and their scores are comparable across the entire US population regardless of school and curriculum. However, the uncomfortable outcome of testing is results. And historically standardized testing shows enormous performance gaps between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

It’s this measured gap between students of different backgrounds that largely propels the test-optional movement. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic led to additional challenges like simply not being able to get students in a room to test. As a result, colleges raced to go test-optional, and some university systems like the state of California even went test-blind in 2022.

While colleges are reluctant to publish their admissions data, since-redacted statistics from the pandemic and off-the-cuff remarks from admissions officers, demonstrated that students who submitted scores were often twice as likely to gain admission. The basic premise is that only students with something to hide didn’t submit scores.

But why did that happen even when it was the colleges’ policy to be “test-optional” and technically not penalize students who didn’t submit scores? There’s at least two reasons—submitting strong scores is another, positive data point, and admissions officers are still human. Would a car buyer rather choose the model that got “sufficient gas mileage” or the one that gets “50 miles per gallon” or “400 miles of range”?

Furthermore even less well-off students can reap huge rewards from submitting high test scores. For example, a low-income high school student is more able to ace the ACT or SAT than attend a rich, academically competitive school, participate in a bevy of after-school activities, and spend hundreds of hours on unpaid, volunteer work.

Click here to read more about our analysis of test-optional admissions.

Should my child take the ACT or the SAT?2024-01-18T12:48:58-06:00

Whether your child should take the SAT or the ACT is purely a matter of preference. With about 1.3 million students taking either tests every year, both are equally accepted nationwide. The SAT is more popular in Houston just because of historical preference, and Houston ISD pays for every junior to take the SAT because College Board won the contract (conversely ACT won the contract in North Carolina for example).

However in the fiercely competitive college-admissions market dominated by the SAT and ACT, the digital SAT is the newer product. It only debuted in October 2023 with the PSAT. The new SAT’s key advantages are that it’s over an hour shorter and is just 98 questions vs the ACT’s 215. Furthermore, digital SAT passages are only a few sentences versus more than 700 words for the ACT.

Nevertheless students more comfortable with paper and pencil will obviously prefer the ACT.

General Academic recommends that students start their test prep by taking both a mock ACT and digital SAT. The student’s performance and comfort on that diagnostic exam will then guide their choice of which test to ultimately prepare for the most.

What’s the difference between the digital SAT and the paper SAT?2024-01-18T12:39:56-06:00

The SAT’s publisher, College Board, announced in 2022 that the US’s most popular college admissions test would go all-digital beginning in 2023. Students taking the PSAT in October 2023 were the first ones to experience this computer-only format. The full-length SAT will be digital-only beginning with the March 9, 2024 national test date.

The new, digital SAT is much shorter at 98 questions and takes about 2-hours versus the old, paper tests’ 154 questions and 3 hours. The digital SAT can be shorter because it’s technically adaptive. While the digital SAT is still comprised of two scored sections (Reading & Writing, Mathematics), each section is composed of two modules.

All students see the first module, but the second module is either hard or easy depending on how well they scored on the first part. Students need to answer about 65% of the first module correctly to get to the harder module. Failure to make it to the harder module will cap a student’s potential score to about 550/800.

When do students take the ACT or SAT?2024-02-15T10:45:25-06:00

Most General Academic high school juniors will take the ACT or SAT two or three times to ensure they earn the score they need. There is no penalty for taking the test multiple times, and colleges only care about the highest score.

Note that most juniors will also take the PSAT in October for National Merit Scholarship qualification.

The SAT is generally offered to Houston-area students eight times a year:

  1. August
  2. October
  3. November
  4. December
  5. March
  6. April (all Houston ISD juniors in-class, automatically registered and paid)
  7. May
  8. June

Students need to register online at CollegeBoard.org at least four weeks in advance to avoid late-registration penalties and ensure availability. Most General Academic students will take the SAT in November, March, and May of their junior year.

The ACT is generally offered nationally seven times a year:

  1. September
  2. October
  3. December
  4. February
  5. April
  6. June
  7. July

Students need to reegister online at ACT.org at least five weeks in advance to avoid late-registration penalties and ensure availability. Most General Academic students will take the ACT in October, February, and April of their junior year.

Stephen Hayes leads our test preparation services. As General Academic’s co-founder, he has more than 15 years of experience shepherding thousands of Houstonians through multiple iterations of the SAT.

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