Years ago when high school student’s parents were taking college entrance exams, many colleges or regions of the country had preferences for either the ACT or the SAT. This is no longer the case. In fact, virtually every college in America accepts either the ACT or the SAT exam. Furthermore, colleges DO NOT have a preference of one over the other.
With more than 8 years of coaching one-on-one and teaching classes for both the SAT and the ACT exams, I would recommend students consider the the ACT as well as the SAT for several reasons. Although there are more stringent time constraints on the ACT exam, it is overall the easier of the two exams. The SAT exam has moved closer to the ACT with its recent expansive changes; however, it still remains primarily a reasoning skills test. The SAT math and reading questions are more challenging for most students because the questions are conceptual and analytical in nature and most students have had little practice with or instruction on exams that are designed as such. Nevertheless, many students prefer and perform better on the SAT over the ACT. So, it really is a personal choice and depends on the student’s personality and skill strengths.
Although most students end up taking both, the better strategy is to pick one or the other and devote all your effort and focus to that one college entrance exam. Of course, if you do pick just one to focus on, you need to make sure you pick the one that is best for you!
If time allows, students should take a practice test under test conditions for each the SAT and the ACT ( allow about 3 hours for each exam, so this will require two- 3 hour sessions, preferably a weekend morning). You don’t have to pay the registration fee and go down to a local testing facility to do this.
ACT practice exams here:act-exam2016_2017
SAT practice exams here:sat-practice-test-6
scoring key here: sat-practice-test-number-6-scoring
Compare the scores from each test to see which score is stronger:
Conversion table for SAT to ACT scores: sat-to-act-conversion-table
If your scores are stronger for one test over the other, then choose that test to focus on.
If the scores are close, consider the following information on the two exams to help you decide which test to focus on:
- Which test format including time limits, layout, topic coverage, etc. did you like best, or dislike least?
- Consider these differences between the two tests. Which one lines up best with your personal skills and/or challenges?
- The SAT has more challenging questions on the math and reading (analytical and conceptual in nature, requiring more reasoning skills); the ACT has easier questions (straight-forward and closer to what they are used to seeing in school).
- The SAT gives more time to answer the questions; the ACT is VERY time stressed—especially the reading section.
- The English on the ACT and the Writing and Language section on the SAT are very similar. But the SAT does allows a little more time.
- The ACT has a science section; the SAT does not. However, this is not really as big a difference as it sounds. The SAT now has 2 passages in the reading section that are science based. The ACT science section has 40 questions, but only 3-5 of these questions are based on prior knowledge. The remaining 35-37 questions are based on the student’s ability to find the information presented in a chart, table, or text summary (and is therefore similar to the SAT science based reading passages, except the ACT does rely more heavily on charts and graphs for the questions).
- The essay is now optional, and given a completely separate grade on both the SAT and the ACT.
- If all else fails, then just go ahead and give both a try, but then select one or the other to focus on. Don’t divide your efforts by working on both!!
Regardless of which test you take, preparation and practice is the key to doing your best. Yes, 11-12 years of school SHOULD be enough preparation, but sadly it is NOT!! You may have played basketball or volleyball for many years, but you STILL would not go play in a major tournament without a LOT of practice and preparation! The same is true of the college entrance exams!!
Take a look at my upcoming SAT and ACT preparation class offerings (here). Since I work for myself instead of a “name brand” company, I can offer an excellent preparation course at an extremely affordable price. I would be honored to have the opportunity to help you or your student reach their personal potential on their college entrance exam!!