SAT or ACT: Which Test Should You Take?
The SAT and the ACT are long, difficult and often frustrating exams. While neither is very good at predicting success in college, most schools consider the tests when making decisions about admission. Scores on the PSAT taken in tenth grade are good indicators of SAT scores. Many high schools also offer full practice SATs and ACTs. Comparing these preliminary scores with the average test scores recommended for admission to a college of choice, a student can determine how much work needs to be done in preparation. The twelve weeks prior to taking the exam is the most important for intense practice, but a longer period may be necessary. We recommend taking the SAT to count for the first time in December of junior year. Most students take the SAT twice, the second time being either March of junior year or October of senior year as juniors tend to be busy with SAT subject tests and AP exams in May and June. While the difficulty of the SAT varies from month to month, there is no month when it is guaranteed to be easier and variations in difficulty are corrected for with a curve. The best time for a student to take the SAT or ACT to count is when that student is ready. Almost all colleges will take the highest section scores from different testing sessions when computing the overall score for both the SAT and the ACT.
Most colleges will accept either the SAT or the ACT. Having taken the PSAT in tenth grade, most students are familiar with the format of the SAT. Some students, however, have a strong preference for the ACT. The questions on the ACT are more straightforward but the answers are just as tricky. Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a science section that tests the student’s ability to interpret graphs and tables. There are no sentence completion (vocabulary) questions on the ACT. All of the English grammar questions on the ACT are embedded in reading passages; most of the writing multiple choice grammar questions on the SAT are not in passages. Some of the math on the ACT is at a higher level than on the SAT. There is no guessing penalty for the ACT. Both the SAT and the ACT have a written essay. The best way to determine which exam is preferred is to take practice tests for both. Some students take both the SAT and the ACT to count and then report the test with the higher scores. No matter which test you choose, it’s very important to complete practice tests right up until taking the test. Surprisingly, scores start to go down after a week or two without practice.