Counsellor’s Note #1 – A brief guide to preparing the SAT / ACT entrance examinations

6 January 2017

We’ve received many queries this past month about preparatory courses for the SAT and ACT examinations. A first blog post then, from your University and Careers Counsellor, about how, and when, to prepare.

What are the SAT/ACT?

The SAT and ACT are standardized entrance examinations for universities in the USA. They measure your basic ability in mathematics and verbal reasoning (SAT), or in reading, English, science and mathematics (ACT), but neither tests you on a specific curriculum.

If you are planning to attend a university in the USA, then you must sit either the SAT or the ACT. Colleges accept both, so it’s up to you to choose which suits you best. Have a look at this handy comparison chart. If you’re not sure which one to take, try sitting a timed, full-length practice test online for each, and see which you like better. Free practice tests are available here:

SAT: College Readiness , Khan Academy, Princeton Review SAT (click on SAT)

ACT: Act practice tests , Princeton Review ACT

SAT Subject Tests

In addition to the standard SAT test, some universities might require that you sit certain SAT Subject Tests. MIT, for instance, requires two subject tests, one in mathematics and one in a science. Check the requirements for each college you are interested in, and plan accordingly. Learn more about the subject tests here.


SAT examinations are usually held in Geneva four times a year, in December, January, May and June, at the Collège du Léman. See here for information on test centres and dates.

ACT examinations are held five times a year in Geneva, in September, October, December, April and June, at the International School of Geneva. See here for information on test centres and dates.

We recommend that students prepare for the course in the summer and autumn of Year 12, and sit the examination by spring of Year 12 at the latest (January and/or May for the SAT, October and/or April for the ACT). Scores almost always improve on the second round, so it might be to your advantage to take the examination early enough to be able to sit it a second time. You can sit the examination again in Year 13, but we recommend you get the SAT/ACT out of the way before then, to have time to focus on the IB.

Registering for the exams

You must register for the exams at least 6 weeks before the examination date. Register for the SAT here and for the ACT here.

How to prepare

Several prep courses are available in Geneva: you can choose between in-class courses, online classes (either live or self-paced), and private tutoring. Tutors Plus offers private and group classes with a choice of intensive, weekday or weekend options.  Manhattan Review has a wide range of SAT classes (though fees are steep: plan on spending 1500 CHF for an 8-week course, 900 for the online version). Bespoke Education offers a week-end intensive ACT preparation course in March, at the Collège du Léman. Princeton Review’s self-paced online SAT course is a good, and more affordable, alternative.

You may also choose to study on your own. There is a wealth of study materials available online, and if you are disciplined and well organised, this might work well for you. The Khan Academy is a good place to start, as is getting hold of a good study book (Kaplan publishes excellent SAT and ACT prep books). Tip from a current Year 12: kick off your review with a private class or two, then keep working the practice tests.

Questions? Contact me by email at lshea[at]iil.ch, or stop by my office (NB116)

Louisa Shea, University Guidance Counsellor


Picture : Wikimedia Commons