ACT Versus New SAT: Which Should I Choose?


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Photo courtesy of Vixit/Shutterstock.com

We are frequently asked by our students whether they should take the ACT, the SAT or both. In light of the launch of the revamped SAT this past spring, we offer the following comparison of the two exams, which can help guide students toward the one that is right for them.

Testing Time — Overall

The required portions of the new SAT constitute a significantly shorter test than the old version — three hours on the dot versus three hours and 45 minutes. For students electing to take the optional SAT writing section, your total testing time will be bumped to 3 hours and 50 minutes, a touch longer than the previous test. The ACT, without optional writing, remains a two-hour-and-55-minute exam. With writing, it will take you three hours and 35 minutes.

In short, the tests are now pretty much — give or take a few inconsequential minutes — the same length.

Time Per Question

The ACT offers longer sections and shorter time intervals, so speed and time management are important to scoring high. Test-takers must complete 215 questions or one question every 49 seconds to finish the exam.

The new SAT is just 154 questions in length, translating to 1 minute and 10 seconds per question. However, the revamped test’s questions are quite reading-intensive, even on the math section, meaning that the extra time is less a case of charity and more one of necessity.

To Calculate or Not to Calculate …

Both tests require a strong grasp of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. However, the ACT also includes more advanced math concepts, such as trigonometry, logarithms and imaginary numbers. If you haven’t aced your advanced math courses in high school, the SAT math section may present as the more friendly option.

On the other side, if your calculation skills are weak, the SAT may present as more of a challenge. While the longer math section (38 questions) allows you to use a calculator, there is a shorter section (20 questions) where no calculator is permitted. It’s important to note that the calculation skills required are not particularly advanced. The SAT has shifted its focus toward data analysis skills over pure mathematics.

Writing

Obviously, the SAT dropping its mandatory writing section is a big change. Both tests are now on equal footing in that regard. The content of each writing test is also quite similar, sporting a primary focus on grammatical mastery and writing skills. The SAT asks students to evaluate an already-composed written work for structure, presentation of logical arguments and usage of evidence. The ACT revised its writing section as well, which now asks students to analyze three perspectives on a given issue (i.e. the value of the arts in public education).

Most schools do not require submission of an ACT or SAT writing score. A few selective institutions such as Yale University, all schools in the University of California system, Duke University, Claremont McKenna College, and Emory University require the writing section on either test. Submission of a writing score is recommended at quite a few institutions of the highly-selective variety, including Amherst College, Colby College, and Georgia Tech as well as some moderately selective schools like the University of Delaware, the University of Kentucky and Simmons College in Boston.

Reading/English

Remember, the ACT has a reading and English section. The English section focuses more on the mechanics of writing (grammar, syntax, rhetorical devices) and the reading section covers comprehension. Reading comprehension is essential to success on either standardized test. However, the SAT’s questions are more context-dependent and require a more complex problem-solving process than the ACT’s reading questions — hence the additional time allotted per question.

The College Board has scaled back the SAT’s heavy dose of highly obscure vocabulary words (consider lighting a candle for words like propinquity, lachrymose, and blowsy), making it more comparable to the ACT reading section. The passages presented on the SAT derive from sources you might find in an average high school classroom such as historical documents or a fictional piece by Nathanial Hawthorne. The ACT relies more on contemporary sources and are more like what you would encounter in today’s newspaper.

Science?

Don’t let the science label scare you away. The ACT Science section assesses graph/chart/research study interpretation and reading comprehension, rather than any specific content knowledge of biology, chemistry or physics. That being said, students who like science are usually less distracted by mentions of metamorphic rocks or RNA than science-avoidant students. Again, you don’t need to be a scientific scholar to excel on this test, but it’s worth taking multiple practice tests in order to get accustomed to wading through the jargon so you can focus on what the question is really assessing.

More Similar Than Different

Make no mistake, the College Board was clearly reacting to the ACT’s exploding popularity with their March 2016 overhaul. The SAT eliminated its penalty for guessing, dropped mandatory writing and shelved obscure vocabulary words — all in an effort to be more competitive in the big-money industry of standardized testing.

As a result, the differences between the two tests are now more subtle and deciding which one to take involves a modified understanding of each, which hopefully you now possess. If you remain unsure which test is most tailored to your skillset, we recommend taking a sample ACT and SAT under timed-conditions to see which one plays more to your strengths.

 

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Please visit our website — collegetransitions.com — for additional information and be sure to order a copy of our new book, The Enlightened College Applicant, to learn more about the college admissions process.

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College Transitions

Expert advice for finding the right fit


About This Blog

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Learn more at collegetransitions.com

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August 2019

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Slither your way up to Walnut Creek Wetland Park to celebrate snakes with us. Learn about snake habitat, the differences between venomous and nonvenomous snakes, and meet some of our friendly snake...

Cost: $5 per family

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

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Make a tree with your best friends' names. Ages 2-6 with caregiver. Register online. Choose course #125008.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

Where:
Bond Park Community Center
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Website »

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Ages 11-17 make spicy foods inspired by the South. Register online. Choose course #124744.

Cost: $44/resident, $57/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Website »

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All great inventions start out as merely ideas and some even happen by accident. Hear invention stories, including the story of Oliver Evans, who invented the automated milling system used at Yates...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Peek into buckets of pond water to see the critters living in our pond. Who are they and what do they turn into? Enjoy a story and hands-on activities. Meet at the Cypress Shelter. For ages 1-6...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

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Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
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Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

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Enjoy storytime with Amy Godfrey. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Locopops Dessert Cafe
2618 Hillsborough St.
Durham, NC  27705
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Website »

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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

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Bring your budding naturalist to the park to learn about our scaly reptile friends, snakes! A craft, engaging activity or story and a guided greenway walk (weather permitting) through the wetland...

Cost: $2 per child

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Did you know that most of the world’s data is stored in something called a database? This includes your school grades, Yelp’s list of local pizza shops and music downloads on your...

Cost: Free: registration required

Where:
, NC  27560


Website »

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Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
Website »

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Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

More information

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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

This program is designed to move at a toddler’s pace: Run. Stop. Pick dandelions. Run. Climb on a rock. Find an interesting leaf! Join others for an easy-paced hike around the greenway...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. Choose course #124908.

Cost: Free

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

More information

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August 16th is National Tell a Joke Day. Come to the Finley Center anytime during the day to share some jokes with the park community. A large board will be set up in the Exhibit Hall where...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

More information

Take a hike after dark and enjoy the sounds of the night along the American Tobacco Trail! We’ll let the light of an almost full moon guide us as we walk to the Beaver Creek bridge and back...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

See the blockbuster movie at Booth Amphitheatre. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $5 for ages 13 and older. Free for ages 12 and younger.

Where:
Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

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Shop for local handmade arts and crafts from local vendors. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

August 16th is National Tell a Joke Day. Come to the Finley Center anytime during the day to share some jokes with the park community. A large board will be set up in the Exhibit Hall where...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

The Carolina Homeschool Conference 2019 welcomes all homeschoolers for a day of education, inspiration and connection. There will be six workshops, a keynote address and a Q&A panel featuring...

Cost: $32 before July 1, $40 after July 1

Where:
Hope Community Church
2080 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Homeschool Conference, LLC
Contact Name: Laina Yeisley
Website »

More information

Be the person in your neighborhood that can identify ALL the trees! Join an NC Forest Service Ranger for family-friendly tree ID that will teach you how to recognize common trees in our area...and...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Kindergarten students entering the traditional school calendar practice a lunch line, get moving at recess, hop on a school bus and more.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tour fee: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16),...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. Choose course #124955.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Come learn all about how red wiggler worms can recycle your leftover food into soil. One lucky family will win a new worm bin (minus the worms). Resources for where to purchase or order worms will...

Cost: $5 per family

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn more about pollinators during this family friendly event. Sample and buy local honey and honey-based products.

Cost: Free

Where:
State Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tour fee: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16),...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Take the family to enjoy a Touch-A-Truck event and food trucks at 6 p.m. before the movie begins at 8 p.m. 

Cost: Free

Where:
The Big Field at Dorothea Dix Park
101 Blair Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
Website »

More information

Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

More information

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