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ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Should You Take?

May 1

ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Should You Take?
 

When it comes to applying for college, nothing makes a student more squeamish than the thought of spending half a day taking tests that will help decide the next four years of their lives. But before the day-of jitters, the weeks of studying, and the months of nervousness can commence, your teen needs to make a decision: which test to take?

It used to be that ACT scores were primarily used by Midwestern schools, and SAT scores were primarily used by East Coast schools. But nowadays, most schools will consider scores from either test on an application. So how do you choose?

It’s important to note that the material your child studies for one test certainly overlaps with the material she would need to study for the other, so if she has the time and money, it may be worthwhile for your teen to take both tests and use the better scores. If that’s not an option, have her try this:

  1. Figure out which test is required by the colleges you are applying to. If you’re applying to similar colleges in the same general region, you may discover that they all require or accept scores from the same test.
  2. If you have a choice, pick the test that you’ll probably do better on. Since the tests are somewhat different, some people find they perform better on one test over the other. Read on to learn how to determine which test will help you put your best foot forward.

The Rundown

Here are a few points to consider when deciding between the ACT and SAT:

ACT

  • Clearer questions than the SAT. Most find the ACT questions easier to read on a first glance.
  • Includes a science section. It doesn’t require a lot of technical science knowledge, but if the very thought of science makes you nervous, keep this in mind.
  • Includes trigonometry questions. The questions are basic, but you should have a general understanding of the field.
  • Emphasis on punctuation and grammar. Make sure you know all the rules about commas, as well as subject/verb agreement, and more.
  • Difficulty remains constant throughout the test.
  • No penalty for wrong answers. This means you can take a guess if you’re unsure, and it won’t count against your score if you get it wrong.
  • Composite scoring. The ACT score is one number that shows how you did overall. So if you do well on most sections and poorly on one section, your overall score may still be relatively high.

SAT

  • More complicated questions than the ACT. The SAT questions may require re-reading to comprehend, but extra time is given per question as compared to the ACT.
  • No science section.
  • No trigonometry questions.
  • Emphasis on vocabulary and grammar. You can improve your score by studying recommended vocabulary words, but you should also understand subject/verb agreement and other grammar rules.
  • Questions get more difficult as you take the test. If you tend to lose focus the longer you concentrate, you may find the increase in difficulty extra strenuous.
  • Wrong answers lower your score. This means you shouldn’t guess unless you can eliminate one or more answers.
  • Individual scores for each section. Colleges consider your scores on a stand-alone basis, rather than as a composite of all your scores.

If you’re still not sure which test is right for your teen, try the Princeton Review’s book, ACT or SAT? Your child can read practice questions and take an assessment that may help identify which test is better for her.

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