Testing 1, 2, 3: The ACT Verses the SAT

Applying to college can seem like a daunting process. Many students (and parents) find that one of the most challenging hurdles to negotiate involves standardized tests. While the SAT Reasoning test has been the predominant college admissions test on the East Coast for many years, more and more students are opting to take the ACT, which is now accepted at virtually all colleges. Additionally, some colleges, such as Boston College and Tufts University, will accept the ACT with writing in lieu of the SAT Reasoning Test and subject tests.With this in mind, figuring out differences between the two tests can be complicated. Although both are standardized tests and both impact college admission decisions, there are several notable disparities between the tests:

*adapted from the Princeton Review site.

Take both tests for a test-drive
Although the SAT and the ACT have some similarities, most people find that one test is better-suited to their personalities and strengths-1/3 do better on SAT, 1/3 do better on ACT, 1/3 do the same on both.  Consequently, it is wise to try out both test formats in order to decide which is one is best for you.  Some schools offer the PLAN, which is often referred to as the “pre-ACT,” during the fall of students’ sophomore year. Students can also take the PSAT, which, in addition to being the preliminary SAT, also serves as a way for juniors to enter the enter National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) scholarship programs.

Try, try again
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up!  Many colleges will take the best scores for each section when determining your total score, regardless of how many times you have taken the tests. However, in order to optimize your test performance, you should prepare by using a SAT or ACT workbook from a reliable publisher or by enrolling (and actively participating) in a test prep course. Also, resist the urge to take the test too many times; many people have a limit of how well they can do on a standardized test. You do not want to waste your valuable time retaking the test over and over again.

Prep work
There are many ways to prepare for both types of tests. Options include courses with other students, private tutors, online lessons, books, flashcards, and even a free SAT prep site. Before committing to one method, be certain to explore your choices and select the one best suited to your needs.

Preparatory programs, offered by corporations such as Kaplan and Princeton Review, can be very helpful if you are willing to work. They are particularly helpful for students who understand the content but need practice and test-taking strategies. However, simply enrolling for the course will not automatically grant you a higher score. In addition to attending and participating in the prep classes, these programs require homework and reading, which help prepare you for the tests. In short, don’t sign up for a program unless you are ready to devote some time and effort to taking it seriously. Tutors can also be very helpful, especially if you need help reviewing some content areas and need one-on-one instruction time in order to master the concepts.

If a preparatory course or tutor is not for you, you can improve your score by using a workbook and vocabulary flashcards and by reading a wide variety of materials. For instance, classics like Jane Eyre and Frankenstein, newspaper articles, and magazines such as Newsweek all use vocabulary and prose similar to what is on the SAT and ACT.

Helpful links

Compass: Admissions Requirements offers an easy-to-navigate guide on what colleges require the SAT Subject tests.

The ACT website allows you to check specific colleges to see if they require the ACT writing section.

Number2.com and the College Board site offer free SAT preparation

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