SAT and ACTSo you think it’s a good idea for your student to take both the SAT and the ACT.  Perhaps it is; however, it’s best to make an informed choice based on what’s best for YOUR student.

As most of my readers know, I have been conducting test prep for almost four decades. Up until 2008, very few of my students ever thought about taking the ACT, nor would it occur to me to steer them toward that exam. So why was that?

The SAT had ‘reigned supreme’ in the Northeast and West up until approximately 2008 when the more selective colleges and universities slowly began accepting both the ACT and the SAT.  Up until that point, students who lived in the Midwest and South took the ACT. The SAT was not even on their radar as the schools in those areas accepted the ACT (or the SAT.)

Why the new interest in the ACT? When the College Board changed the SAT in 2005 and ultimately made it longer than the ACT, students began looking at that test and realized that not only was it shorter, but it appeared much more straightforward and more relatable to their school work – perhaps even ‘easier’.

It was in 2012 that the ACT overtook the SAT nationally. (Truth be told, they had contracts with about 19 states that help increase that number). But as we know, bottom line numbers matter. More importantly, schools in the formerly SAT dominant areas were losing market share to the ACT. (As far as my student population was concerned, the numbers were close – still skewed slightly more toward SAT.)

So the College Board made the (financial) decision (they claim it was to make the test more curriculum based) to change the test beginning with the March, 2016 administration.

Ultimately, the new SAT is now vastly more similar to the ACT than any previous version:

  • No penalty for an incorrect answer
  • Four choices instead of five
  • The grammar sections are almost identical
  • Both test higher level math – more similar to school math
  • The reading of charts and graphs is on both tests. They are found in a separate Science section on the ACT and in the Reading and Writing/Language sections of the SAT – sprinkled through those sections

FYI: One major change to the SAT which may be the major reason it’s now enjoying an increase in test-takers is they have made the time allotment per section significantly longer relative to the ACT: Math: 45% more time; Writing/Language, 33% more time; Reading: 43% more time.


Now that you have an understanding of the history and nature of both of the exams, what are the advantages of taking both?

  1. Since the ACT and SAT are each administered 6 times a year, your teen will have more opportunities to take them. Since so many schools offer Score Choice and/or Super Score, taking the test multiple times can certainly be advantageous.
  1. Because the exams are now more similar in content and format, studying for one can help to prepare for the other. (There are still discernible differences, so it’s key to learn particular strategies and take practice tests for each exam.)
  1. Some of the more prestigious schools are experiencing a mini-surge in students submitting both their ACT and SAT scores as doing so can provide more information about that student’s academic potential and leanings. Janet Rapelye, Princeton’s dean of admissions, told the New York Timesthat submitting both tests isn’t necessary, but it can be helpful. “For us, more information is always better. If students choose one or the other, that’s fine, because both tests have value. But if they submit both, that generally gives us a little more information,” she said.  My take: It probably does not provide a significant edge.


So what are the disadvantages of taking both?

  1. It can add to student’s confusion of focus and potentially bring down both test scores! Why take the ACT if the SAT is truly that student’s better test?
  1. Taking both involves a greater investment of time. As mentioned though there are crossover similarities, it’s imperative that students invest the time to learn the particular strategies and apply them on practice exams. (Studies have shown that to experience significant improvement, students need to invest an average of 40 hours to prepare for the SAT or ACT. Clearly, more than 40 hours if both are taken!) NOTE: This will also eat into time better spent keeping school grades up as GPA is what colleges tend to look at first.
  1. In order to adequately prepare for both, an additional 4-12 hours (depending on level) needs to be added to a tutorial program to prepare for the other exam. Certainly an additional expense that proves unnecessary for most students.


So what should YOUR teen do?

  1. Find out here YOUR teen’s better test: 60 Second ACT vs. SAT Assessment. This 11 point either/or assessment makes it easy to find out which test suits your teen better.

This assessment was developed after careful study of both the SAT and ACT and tutoring hundreds of students. It is based on not only comparing the content of both exams but also on student learning style.

  1. To further validate the above score, have your teen next take the 90 Second SAT and ACT Skill Set Assessments. Students will be able to self score and actually receive SAT and ACT score correlations!
  1. Call now – 301.299.4380 – to schedule your complimentary Test Prep Strategy Session. In this valuable meeting, I will use the above – plus prior (P)SAT and/or ACT scores and GPA – to confirm your teen’s better test as well as lay out a personalized tutorial program. This program is based on your teen’s level and need as well as a potential SAT or ACT score goal.

I look forward to providing you with the clarity you need to move forward.


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