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Competitive exams for getting into College

In the last post I focussed more on formats of exams to get admission to high schools and it was clear that we need to focus both on Math and English equally if not more on English. English constitutes a major chunk of the entrance exams in the high school. Is it the same for college exams? Let’s find out.

Preparation for getting into college does not start from the day you enter the 12th grade. It starts way before that before you even enter your high school. You need to understand the basics and small concepts that would be useful in these exams later on.

Primarily there are two entrance exams to get into undergraduate college across the US


SAT is administered by College Board and was first started back in 1926.

It was first called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, then the Scholastic Assessment Test, but now SAT does not stand for anything, hence is an empty acronym.

SAT consists of three major sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing.

  • The reading section includes reading passages and sentence completions.
  • The writing section includes a short essay and multiple-choice questions on identifying errors and improving grammar and usage.
  • The math section includes questions on arithmetic operations, algebra, geometry, statistics and probability.

Here is the format of the exam taken from College Board

If we look at the pattern 2/3rd sections are of ELA

Out of 171 questions, 117 questions are from ELA section that is 68%

Yet, the students spend most time learning Math and most of the online learning is Math and very few companies focus on English.

Let’s look at some more information

SAT Average scores for the past year

What we observe here is that the students on an average are getting more scores in Math than Writing and Reading. Most probably because they practice a lot of Math online and at practice centres but very little ELA practice.

Another piece of data from Wikipedia here shows mean scores of Reading and Math sections over the last 40 years

What the trend shows is something amazing. Till 1989 the average score of Reading was always higher than Math.

This started changing in 1990; the same period when the internet started becoming predominant and the Math practice online was becoming popular.

The gap started widening till the extent that it was almost 17 points last year- the maximum in the history of the past 86 years !!!

This brings me to a very logical conclusion. We are doing all to make sure our students excel in Math and we are succeeding but at what cost. English is suffering and unless we teach and make our students practice more of ELA, this gap will widen.

Now let’s have a look at the ACT testing.

The ACT an abbreviation of American College Testing; a standardized test for high school is produced by ACT, Inc

45% of graduating high school students across the US took ACT last year.

The ACT (No Writing) consists of four multiple-choice tests: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. The ACT plus Writing includes the four multiple-choice tests and a Writing Test.

The format of the test is shown in the table below. This is taken from ACT website

English and Reading – ELA section is 50% of the test and Math 25%

The number of questions and time devoted to ELA section is more than Math.


The chart below summarizes each section and the average test score based on graduating high school seniors in 2009

Again, the average scores here show that students are more prepared for Math than English. In fact the College Readiness Benchmark has a difference of 4 in favour of Math.

Clearly this data also solidifies my evidence that our students are far more prepared for Math than English.

Our competitive exams demand more English – Reading and Writing skills. These sections have more weightage and more time and questions allotted to it, still we spend most of our time practising Math which has lesser weightage just because a plethora of companies around us offer that.

We still are producing more Math videos and Math practice and doing nothing to improve the ELA.

I am certainly not against Math, in fact I am a computer engineer and have done Math all my life. I am just trying to point out that students need to be smart enough to understand what the competitive exams are demanding – More English than Math and hence prepare accordingly.

We as adults also need to dig deeper and analyze the students’ needs and start thinking of teaching them English and Language Arts and making them practice it more and more.



    Hardik Parikh is the Co-founder of PracTutor. PracTutor is a personalized fun way to master Common Core Math and English. All kids – whether they need intervention, accelerated learning or career and college readiness – can achieve their goals within PracTutor.