SAT and Act are different exams that require different areas of study. Taking both will certainly be an advantage but it will depend on what kind of student you are. The real question is do I need to?
It’s better to take more than one test to increase your chances of success but you must consider the prep time. Here’s some tips to help you decide.
1. Which test are you more likely to do well in
2. More tests = greater chance to do well
3. Research your school
4. Practice, practice
5. What is test optional?
All teens are different. I have a son and daughter and they are like chalk and cheese when it comes to school. To suggest to both to take both tests I know I would get very different answers. To take both tests is of course allowed but we must consider the practicality of this. Here’s what I suggest.
Which Test are you more likely to do well in
Before we start discussing which one is better for us, we will look briefly at each.
The SAT is by all accounts the test taken by more students. In 2019 approximately 2.2m took the SAT compared to 1.8m for the ACT. The SAT is less Science / math based. It does have both these types of questions but the ACT has more specific sections on them. The SAT has science questions but the ACT has a complete science section. The SAT is much less time constrained, considerably more time is allowed in the math section, about 30 seconds per question more.
They are both multiple choice papers but the ACT gives 5 options compared to the SAT giving 4. In results terms, if you are guessing a question, you have a 25% chance of being correct in the SAT whereas only a 20% chance in the ACT.
Although they are both split into four sections, the math ACT section is 25% of the overall score but in the SAT it accounts for half of your overall score, making the results very different outcomes.
If your math is not strong then you should maybe consider the ACT. They are quite similar tests but subtly very different.
More Tests = Greater chance to do well
This makes sense right. The more you do the tests the greater the chance you will have to do well. Although both tests are somewhat similar they do appeal differently to different students.
As I say the ACT is quite time restricted, it focusses on the ability to locate information quickly, has a complete science section and more in depth math.
The SAT has more intricate question language and the need for explanation within questions.
However if you decide to sit both the prep for each will benefit the other. There is of course more prep involved. You will have to allocate more time to study if sitting both.
Research your school
The other benefit by sitting both is you will have more test days available. They are each offered seven times in the year, and on different dates, doubling your chance off a good score.
The results of your score can also show potential admissions officers your will to succeed. By sitting both you show ambition and perseverance. It could be the difference between you and another candidate who only chose to sit one.
Don’t overload yourself though by concentrating too much on both. There are other things to consider like your GPA, your college application and the essays that go along with that. If you are also involved in sport or other activities you don’t want to spread yourself too thin and end up not doing well in a particular area.
By this I mean your current high school and also your prospective colleges. Different high schools have preferences for either the SAT or ACT. It’s always worth checking which way your high school leans. About half of US high schools make it mandatory to take a test.
How do you work this to your advantage? If your school for example is an SAT preferred school then class time will be focused on preparing and studying for that test.
As a school they may also offer additional pre-testing, that may be free or at a reduced price. There is always the option to sit the alternative or indeed both.
Depending on where in the country you are based will also have an implication for which test you MUST do. 11 States insist that you sit the ACT, while 10 states have chosen the SAT route. Where this is the case, full emphasis will be put on the chosen test but that does not rule out you completing the other test on your own.
Your selected colleges on your application will accept either SAT or ACT. When colleges are asked about preference it is widely stated that there is no preference. However, applicants admitted to competitive or selective colleges are more likely to have put forward SAT scores over ACT. This could be seen as bias or just coincidence.
It could be down to the test that’s more popular in their state and they are applying to an in state college.
Because it is ultimately your choice it sometimes becomes a bit of a panic question. If I pick SAT over ACT, am I doing myself out of a place at a potential school, so I should just do both. The best advice is you shouldn’t be putting stress on yourself over your tests. If you feel you can handle both tests then by all means sit both but remember that no school is requiring you to do both.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The PSAT and PreACT are formal tests that are offered once a year. They are of course a good indicator as to how you will perform but that’s not stopping you from sitting other preparation exams.
There are study aids available online (at Amazon) - SAT Test Guides, The Official ACT Prep Guide.
These are great if you are studying on your own and are disciplined enough to work through them.
You can do SAT / ACT classes, either online with a class or one to one with an expert tutor. One to one is best as you can focus on your weak points that you may have. However, the cost of one to one is going to be more.
The more practice tests you do the better you become but also it allows you to see where extra work is needed. Don’t just focus on the tests though. Try and do things a little differently to make it less mundane. Pick a novel you wouldn’t ordinarily read. Vocabulary is a way of increasing your knowledge base.
Repeated exposure to any subject matter is going to increase your knowledge base.
What is test-optional?
The last point to consider is test optional. Test optional is when certain schools allow some or all of their applicants to decide if they wish to put forward their SAT / ACT scores.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t submit anything. If your GPA meets the minimum requirement you then don’t have to submit a SAT /ACT score. This does not apply to all applicants so check the schools policy first. If you are hoping to qualify for Scholarship of Financial Aid you may be obliged to submit scores even if the schools policy is test optional.
Not all colleges are test optional. Many colleges moved to the test optional policy due to the COVID-19 pandemic and may not continue with this into the future. It has been only a temporary measure for many. Unless you are in your senior year you should definitely be preparing for your SAT / ACT.
Colleges that have adopted a test optional policy have not slackened their admissions policies in any way. In fact test optional could be seen as a harder admissions process. How good are your writing skills? What extra classes have you taken? Are you going to be an asset to the school? Taking all of this into consideration maybe it would be more prudent to sit the SAT or ACT. Given the choice of test optional 80% of college applicants decided to submit their scores anyway.
Taking one or both tests is completely up to you, but be prepared is the best policy.
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Tara Cunningham is a Mum and Graphic Designer. My children's education has always been very important to me. I feel that if you are willing to put in the time they will appreciate the effort.
I hope that you find our thoughts and ideas useful and interesting.