Testing Tips and Strategies

Should I take the SAT or ACT? 150 150 Brad Bailey

Should I take the SAT or ACT?

It is no secret that admission to colleges all over the country is becoming fiercely competitive. As standardized test scores are an integral part of college applications, a strong SAT or ACT score is the key to unlocking your future. But which test should you take? As an SAT and ACT test prep teacher of five years and the founder of Bailey Test Prep, parents and students frequently ask me whether they should take the SAT or ACT. The simple answer is both.

The SAT and ACT are both college admission exams, and while most colleges will accept both exams interchangeably, these exams are quite different. The key to success is to take both exams early, and specialize in the one that best suits you.

The SAT consists of three different subjects: Reading, Math, and Writing. Students will take 10 separate sections (3 scored reading, 3 scored math, 2 scored writing, 1 essay, and 1 experimental section). Most sections are 25 minutes but some sections are shorter. The ACT consists of a 45-minute English section, 60-minute math section, 35-minute reading section, 35-minute science section, and 30-minute essay. Each exam takes roughly four hours to complete.

There are a few obvious key differences between the two tests. First, the ACT tests science (or, more accurately, scientific reasoning and data analysis). Second, the ACT tests a slightly higher level of math than the SAT (the ACT will include some basic trigonometry usually taught in pre-calculus, whereas the SAT does not test math beyond Algebra 2). Finally, the SAT will directly test vocabulary in their sentence completion questions, while the ACT will test vocabulary indirectly with in-passage context clues.

Nevertheless, the main difference between the SAT and ACT is the manner in which they test their material. The SAT was originally an aptitude test (SAT used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test”). Aptitude tests are designed to test one’s ability to learn. The ACT is more of an achievement test, which is designed to test what one has already learned. While this may seem like a minor semantic difference, it has a major impact on the strategies a student should use when taking each exam. For example, SAT questions are sometimes more like IQ puzzles, requiring the student to use what he or she has learned and apply it in new and different ways, whereas ACT questions are typically more straightforward knowledge recall but will require the student to perform quickly as time is usually more of a limiting factor. Having a strategic plan on how to approach these different styles of questions within the allotted times is what will set you apart from the rest.

While both exams serve essentially the same purpose, many students tend to do better on one exam. The best way to find out which exam you are better at is to take both. I recommend that students prepare for and take both exams early (ideally in the spring of their sophomore year or fall of their junior year). This way, students can compare their scores and experiences and decide which exam they should “specialize” in. Whichever exam they decide, they should take that exam a minimum of three times before applying to college in order to take advantage of “superscoring” (colleges will combine your highest scores for each section from all the different dates you took the exam).

As you prepare for these crucial exams, I wish you the very best of luck! For more information on the SAT and ACT, or to sign up for SAT and ACT prep classes, visit our store

7 Simple Steps to a Successful Essay 150 150 Brad Bailey

7 Simple Steps to a Successful Essay

The essay is a vital component to your college application. Here are seven tips to help you write the perfect essay.

1.) Be Prepared

Remember that time when you stayed up late to finish a homework assignment hours before it was due? (If you’re anything like me, that question only requires your short-term memory). Well, no matter how well you argue that you “work best under pressure”, the college application essay is different – just consider the fact that application essays are released several months ahead of the deadlines. If you want to write a successful essay, you must start early! Take the time to look over all the essay prompts, thoroughly brainstorm what you want to write about, and write several drafts. The entire essay process takes a lot of time, so be sure to start well in advance.

2.) Be Unique

Your essay should uniquely add to your application, not reiterate what the rest of your application already says. For example, suppose you have to write an essay about a significant accomplishment in your life, do not write about getting straight A’s your junior year, as that will already appear on your transcript. Do not write about the time you won first place at the regional math competition, as that should already appear in your resume. Do not write about making the tennis team if you plan to write about that in another short essay or have your tennis coach write you a letter of recommendation. Use your essay to explain something significant about you that does not appear in the rest of your application.

3.) Be Interesting

Just about the only thing worse than reading a boring college application essay is reading 34,302 of them (that’s the number of applicants Harvard had last fall). The chances are high that your admissions dean will be reading your essay after he or she has already read hundreds, if not thousands of others on the exact same topic. Make sure that you can stand out to your reader by writing an essay that is both interesting and memorable. Consider using creative metaphors, unexpected twists, or even tasteful humor to captivate your reader and draw him or her into your essay.

4.) Be Descriptive

Being descriptive does not mean using a gargantuan overabundance of flowery, ornamental adjectives and adverbs that you unmistakably generated in painstakingly obvious fashion from the ever useful and practical yet overused, hackneyed, and sometimes altogether unintelligible “synonyms” tool in Microsoft Word (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m referring to). Rather, being descriptive means using words to depict a vivid picture of whatever you are writing about. Your descriptions should allow the reader to gain a deeper understanding of your specific subject as if he or she were there, sensing and experiencing it in person. Choose your adjectives and adverbs purposefully, and not just to add words or to show off your (or Microsoft’s) impressive vocabulary.

5.) Be Concise

You have a limited number of words to describe yourself fully. Don’t waste precious space with unnecessary words or irrelevant commentary.

6.) Be Correct

It is critical that your essay be well written and error free. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes will be noticed by your reader and could severely detract from an otherwise strong application. Ask your parents, teachers, friends, and others to read, edit, and critically analyze your essay. Make sure you are prepared to write and re-write several drafts before you submit your final essay.

7.) Be Yourself

Don’t forget that the whole purpose of this essay is for the college admissions deans to learn something about you as a person. Your essay is effectively the college’s window into the person you are at your very core – something that isn’t expressed in transcripts or test scores. For example, if you choose to write about an activity, make sure you focus on how it changed you rather than simply stating what you did or accomplished. If you choose to write about an event, describe the event briefly and use the rest of the essay to explain why that event had a profound impact on your life. If you write about someone who has inspired you, don’t spend more time describing their life than yours. Finally, be honest and accurate and don’t simply write what you think college admissions deans want to hear. Not only can the admissions deans spot the difference, but also the colleges that are the best fits for you will ultimately accept you based on the person you really are.

*For additional tips or for help brainstorming and editing your college application essay visit our store for 1-on-1 sessions.

From the Founder and CEO 150 150 Brad Bailey

From the Founder and CEO

Hello, and welcome to Bailey Test Prep. My name is Brad Bailey. Back in 2008 I started Bailey Test Prep with the intention of teaching students a different, and more effective way to approach and master standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Since 2008, I have worked with thousands of students from all over the world and have been witness to life-changing score increases.

These proven score increases don’t occur by magic, however. It took me thousands of hours to develop the one-of-a-kind SAT and ACT curriculum that we use at Bailey Test Prep. If you think of the exam like a game… we are simply getting you ready to play. Ready to beat the competition! To be able to win at any game, you have to build your skills and have the best possible strategies. That’s where we come in. We have developed the strategies that will allow you to maximize your score on the SAT and ACT!

The real secret to our success is cemented in an original curriculum that teaches students to think about test taking from the opposite perspective, that is, from the perspective of the people who actually make the exam. Basically, if you know what strategies the test-writers use when they create the exam, how they calculate the wrong answer choices, and the specific language they have to use when writing correct answers, you can use all this knowledge hugely to your advantage when it comes to actually taking the exam.

It all started back in 2005. As a senior in high school, I was the president of the Mu Alpha Theta math club. And if that doesn’t sound nerdy enough, consider the fact that we would wake up around 5:30am on Saturday mornings to travel across the state of Florida to take math tests for fun. Yeah, I know, I was super cool. So on one particular Saturday, my high school hosted a competition for students all around the state and I was given the honor of writing a test for this competition.

When I first agreed to write a test, I was supplied with a packet of aid materials like tests from previous competitions to use as guides, a curriculum of math concepts to test, and a desired curve which was a one page piece of paper saying something like 5% of students should score between this score and that score points, 8% between this score and that score, etc. To be honest, I had no idea what to do. How in the world should I know how many points students would score on this test that I hadn’t even written yet. So without any experience on writing a test to fit a predetermined curve, I sought help from many different established test-writers. With a few insightful interviews and some deep research, I was able to learn a ton about how to make a multiple choice test fit a curve.

For example, while writing my test, I discovered that the biggest challenge to test writing was not writing questions, but rather writing wrong answer choices. When you write a math question, there is automatically one right answer based on the question itself. The test-writer is then tasked with writing four wrong answers…these wrong answers are not just randomly generated numbers. In order to fit a curve, test writers have to come up with wrong answer choices that will fool even very intelligent students. This is no easy feat and takes a lot of thought and strategy.

Midway through the writing process, I was keenly aware of strategies I was using to generate wrong answer choices and thought to myself, “Gosh, I sure hope the students taking my test don’t know what I’m doing to write wrong answers, otherwise this test would be too easy for them.” Then a mental light bulb went on. If knowing the strategies I used to write my test could dramatically improve the scores of my test takers, would the same be true for takers of other standardized tests? I nerdily went through countless previous ACT and SAT exams and found that the answer was definitely yes!

That was the foundation for the Bailey Test Prep curriculum. Many of the strategies you will learn in our courses are based off the concept of putting yourself in the shoes of the test-maker and using this knowledge to answer questions more effectively. Sometimes these strategies even allow you to guess accurately on questions for which you either do not know the answer or are running out of time.

These unique strategies are why many Bailey Test Prep students have seen some astronomical score improvements.

I remember one student in particular who earned a truly unbelievable score increase. In respect of her privacy, we will call her Jane. Jane had just received her February ACT scores when she called me for help. Although she was a talented athlete, with a composite score of 17, she wasn’t sure if she would be accepted to any four-year university. I tutored Jane rigorously for two months, and in April, Jane retook the ACT. The first teary-eyed call I received from Jane was when she got her scores back and jumped from a 17 in February to a 29 in April! The second teary-eyed call came about a week later when the ACT organization accused Jane of cheating on her April exam and threatened to cancel the score. Of course, they had no evidence of cheating other than the fact that they claimed a 12 point jump in two months was an impossible feat, even with, and I quote, “intensive test preparation”. Sobbing, Jane swore that she did not cheat on the exam and just used the guessing strategies I taught her for questions she didn’t know the answer to. During an appeal process, I wrote a letter explaining how the unique curriculum we use at Bailey Test Prep could lead to unusually high increases because we teach students not only how to effectively answer questions they are familiar with, but also how to make strategic and accurate guesses on questions they do not know how to solve. While a 12 point jump is certainly unlikely, with the unique techniques and strategies Jane learned (and you will soon learn too), such a jump is not impossible. And by the way, thanks to our curriculum, Jane is now on scholarship at a top, selective university.

If this all sounds too good to be true, it might be. I should stress that this course is not some magical solution to instantly raise your scores. Two things that nearly all of our radical success stories share in common are hard work and commitment. In addition to paying close attention in class and completing assigned homework, we strongly recommend that you spend time practicing the strategies you learn in the course by periodically taking practice tests on your own time. With enough dedication, we are confident that we can help you raise your scores, get more college acceptances, and perhaps even get thousands of dollars in scholarship money. So thanks for choosing Bailey Test Prep. We look forward to seeing you in class!


Brad Bailey

Founder, CEO

Bailey Test Prep