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 was the admissions exam of choice in the Northeast and West. Then somewhere around 2008, the more selective colleges and universities began to slowly accept 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 even though schools in those areas accepted both 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 helped to boost 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 – in fact, still skewed slightly more toward SAT.)

So the College Board made the (financial) decision – they state 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 iteration:

  • 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. 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 some history and context regrading the SAT and ACT, let’s discuss the advantages of taking both: 

  • The ACT and SAT are each administered 6 times a year. Since so many schools offer Score Choice and/or Super Score, students have twice as many opportunities to take an admissions test rather than limiting themselves to only one exam.
  • 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.)
  • 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 Times that 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.

Let’s look at the disadvantages of taking both tests:

  • It can contribute to a student’s ability to take into account the discernible differences and potentially bring down both test scores. Why take the ACT if the SAT is truly that student’s better test?
  • 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.
  • 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. Confirm 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 approach and student learning style.
  • To further validate the above score, we recommend your teen next take the 90 Second SATand ACT Skill Set Assessments. Students will be able to self score and actually receive SAT and ACT score correlations.
  • 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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