What is on the ACT?  

What is on the SAT? 

What is a good score on the ACT?  

What is a good score on the SAT?

My child does very well in school but struggles with standardized tests.  Why?



What is on the ACT?

3 hrs 40min with essay


  • 75 questions, 45 minutes
  • This section primarily tests grammar and rhetorical skills. 


  • 60 questions, 60 minutes (calculator active)
  • Questions draw from Pre-Algebra, Algebra I and II, geometry, and trigonometry.


  • 40 questions (over 4 passages), 35 minutes
  • Passage-based reading comprehension


  • 40 questions, 35 minutes
  • Passages-based questions test ability to interpret and analyze charts and graphs and problem solve.


  • 40 minutes (optional)


Each of the four above sections is scored on a 1-36 scale.  Those are averaged to create a composite score.  The essay is scored separately.

What is on the SAT? 

3hrs 50min, with essay

Evidence-Based Reading:

  • 52 questions (over 5 passages), 65 minutes
  • Passage-based reading comprehension

Writing and Language:

  • 44 questions, 35 minutes
  • This section tests grammar, sentence structure, and style

Math, section 1:

  • 20 questions, 25 minutes (calculator inactive)
  • This section tests problem solving, algebra, and advanced topics.  Students see 15 multiple choice problems and 5 "grid-in" problems.

Math, section 2:

  • 38 questions, 55 minutes (calculator active)
  • This section tests problem solving, algebra, and advanced topics with a calculator.  Students see 30 multiple choice problems and 8 "grid-in" problems.


  • 50 minutes (optional)


Reading and Writing and Language are scored together out of 800 and the two math sections are scored together out of 800 for a total score of 400-1600.  The essay is scored separately.


What is a good score on the ACT?

Good is relative here since college test requirements vary tremendously.  A better question is what score do you need to be competitive for your top choice schools?  Look at schools your child is interested in and find the average test scores of matriculating students to give you an idea of what s/he needs to be a competitive applicant.  Keep in mind that higher test scores can also help a student’s eligibility for some merit-based scholarships.

Looking at North Carolina Schools?  Here is some additional information:

Duke University, class of 2019:
25%-75% percentile (middle 50%):
  SAT Critical Reading: 690-790
  SAT Math: 730-800
  ACT Composite: 32-35

UNC Chapel Hill, class of 2020:
25th-75th percentile (middle 50%):
  SAT Critical Reading 600-700
  SAT Math 610-720
  ACT Composite 28-30

Elon University, class of 2020:
  SAT range: 1120-1270
  ACT range: 25-29

Appalachian State, class of 2020:

25th-75th percentile (middle 50%):
  SAT Reading and Math 1120-1290
  ACT Composite 22-28

Standardized tests, by nature, are different than those tests administered in a high school classroom. Generally, school subject tests are designed to test for content mastery, usually through questions that allow for individual thought and partial credit.  In contrast, standardized test questions generally have only one correct answer and offer no partial credit and aspects of the test are purposefully designed to be difficult to finish in the allotted time.  As a result, success on standardized tests requires the development of test-specific skills that go beyond content mastery.  Additionally, although there are many similarities between the SAT and ACT, strategies for these tests are not wholly interchangeable; thus each test deserves dedicated, test-specific prep.

What does test prep entail?  

Is it just a bunch of tips and tricks?

Success on standardized tests requires both content competency AND a comprehensive, test-specific strategy.  A student with excellent math content will likely do very well on the math section of the ACT or SAT, but will also likely not reach his/her full score potential because s/he doesn’t fully understand how the test works and how to avoid common traps that the test writers build into each test section.  A student who has a solid test strategy but lacks significant content mastery will encounter similar problems.  Quality test prep is customized for the specific strengths and weaknesses of the student, and it marries content review and test-specific strategy for all subject areas.

Prep time varies greatly depending upon the specific needs and goals of each student.  Generally speaking, the greater the score improvement needed, the more prep that is needed.  Ideally a student will being thinking about prep after his/her sophomore year in high school.  Prep during the summer for early fall tests (September for ACT and October for SAT) can help ease a student’s workload during the regular school semesters.  Similarly, prep during a school semester with a lighter workload can help the student focus more fully on the prep which in turn yields better test results.  If a student can be finished testing by the beginning of his/her senior year, this will allow more time for the college application process itself and help the student narrow down his/her list of schools.

When should we start prepping?

How much prep do I need?