When trying to decide between the SAT and the ACT, the first place to look is the entrance requirements for your student’s desired colleges. Most colleges accept both scores, but some still want one over the other, and you don’t want to discover that valuable piece of information after your student has already prepared for and taken the other test. If the colleges don’t have a preference, your student may have one, depending on what situations make him feel more confident. Many students experience test anxiety with standardized tests. Test anxiety comes from the doubt that a student has about his capabilities based on the ideas that he has about himself. One step in overcoming anxiety is preparing well and another is acknowledging the beliefs that may affect the student during the test. Consider the following characteristics when trying to decide which test is right for your student.
(Important note… this information is based on the new SAT for 2016)
Consider the SAT if…
- Your student panics with a time limit.
Both tests have a time limit, but the ACT has less time per question than the SAT does. The questions on the ACT tend to be more straightforward, but if your student has a difficult time moving quickly through the material, then the ACT will feel like much more of a time crunch.
- Your student struggles with Geometry.
The ACT has three times the number of Geometry questions as the SAT, which requires more Geometry comprehension. The ACT also requires students to memorize the formulas, while the SAT has the formulas stated at the beginning of each section.
- Your student needs to answer every question.
The likelihood of answering every question on the SAT is greater, so fewer answers will be left blank. Unless your student is scoring 30 or higher on the ACT, he probably won’t finish all of the ACT questions.
- Your student is intimidated by science.
The ACT has a separate science section, and the SAT has science questions throughout the other portions of the test. The SAT does not have a specific science section that a student must complete at once.
Consider the ACT if…
- Your student is scared to do math without a calculator.
The SAT allows calculators for one portion of the math test, but does not allow them for another portion. The ACT allows a calculator for the entire math test. All of the questions on both the ACT and SAT are solvable without a calculator, but the calculator is a source of security for some students.
- Your student struggles with vocabulary.
The SAT has a stronger emphasis on vocabulary, and the reading passages are considered more difficult. The ACT is slightly more focused on grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. Your student will see more obscure words on the SAT.
- Your student has a solid grasp on experimental design.
The science related questions on the SAT tend to focus more on the ability to read charts and graphs. The ACT is geared more towards an understanding of how experiments are built, the scientific method, and concepts like dependent and independent variable.
- Your student loves to give an opinion.
The essay for both exams is now optional and will not affect the overall score, but many colleges still want to see the score. The ACT essay is more about arguing and supporting your opinion on a topic, while the SAT essay requires a student to analyze an author’s argument.
The best way to decide which test to take may come down to simply taking each test to see which one gives the best results. Have your student take at least one practice tests for both the ACT and the SAT. You will get a good baseline, as well as an idea of which areas will require the most preparation. Your student can also form an opinion on which test he felt most confident taking. Make sure your student continues taking practice tests throughout the preparation stage so that he can feel his most confident on test day!