College Pete

ACT or SAT? The Choice is Yours!

ACT or SAT?  The Choice is Yours!

Back in the day, taking the standardized  ‘college entrance exam’  was tough, but deciding which standardized test to take was not.  That was mainly a matter of geography. If you lived on either Coast, you were taking the SAT, period.  In the Midwest, you might take the ACT.

Fast forward to today and  I probably get asked about which test to take as much as any other question.  Here’s the short answer:

Take either, or both!

Now the longer version:

First, you need to know that today both tests are widely and equally accepted by even the most selective schools.  Case in point:  Marlyn McGrath-Lewis, director of admissions at Harvard College said this about the ACT v SAT conundrum. “Either is fine with us, and we don’t have a feeling that either favors students with any particular profile.”

That’s from Harvard, which quite frankly sets the standard.  As you can see, colleges truly don’t prefer one test over the other.  They do prefer, however,  that you do well on whichever test you do submit, so much so, that most Admissions offices have software that will automatically ‘superscore’ your results for you (hint:  you don’t need to pay the College Board for this service).

Second, the tests do have distinct flavors and unique construction, style and content.  Broadly speaking, the ACT is shorter, more big picture in nature and tests concepts more closely tied to your high school coursework (including a science component).  The SAT is considered more of a reasoning assessment with longer, more involved questions and a heavier emphasis on vocabulary than it’s fraternal twin and competitor.  Both offer writing sections, but the ACT writing is ‘optional’ (which means ‘mandatory’ in my book).

And finally, Since the test choice truly is yours, you want to take the one that best suits your academic skills and test-taking style.  Here are a few tips that can help you figure out which test is right for you.

1. Take the full-length predictive tests (the PSAT and PLAN) sophomore year and extrapolate scores you’re likely to get on the SAT and ACT. The practice tests cover much the same material as their respective cousins.

2. Take a free diagnostic which you can do on our CoolTestPrep site.

3. Take these diagnostic tests in as realistic conditions as possible, with no distractions, timing yourself.

4. While your score is an obvious benchmark, you should also think about how you felt when taking each test. Did you understand the format? Did one experience cause more stress than the other?

Regardless of which test you decide to take, the most important thing is that you maximize your scores.  After your coursework, your test scores are the next most important part of your application.  Performing well not only opens doors to more competitive (and more generous) schools, it also can return thousands in the form of merit-based scholarships.  At a minimum, buy a recent book (no more than a year old) to practice.  Better still, enroll in a quality test preparation course… one that is delivered by an actual expert.  We know some great test prep folks throughout South Florida depending on your locale, and we love making referrals!

One very affordable alternative is our on-demand video courses for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT tests.  Our courses offer the benefit of full-length practice tests under real test conditions, 1000’s of expert lessons, a personalized study schedule and guaranteed results, at a fraction of the cost of more pricey big box options.   To learn more or to get a free demo, visit

Best of luck to all who are taking the October 1st SAT.  Be sure to study!

– Peter

P.S. It’s not as bad as you think.   Yes, standardized tests can be intimidating.  But you can rest assured that no college makes admissions decisions based solely on test scores and some don’t require them at all (Click Here for a list).  Nonetheless, the best way to cut through the hype is to make sure that your child studies hard.  Investing in a reputable test prep program, class or tutor will not only improve your child’s scores; it will save your sanity.

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