ACT or SAT: What test should my child take?

Looking for information about the NEW SAT vs. ACT? Read this!

Chocolate or vanilla birthday cake? Public school or private school? ACT or SAT? These are all tough decisions you have to make as a parent, and we’re here to make that last one easier. With the near universal acceptance of both SAT and ACT scores by colleges, much ado has been made about choosing the optimal test. There are notable stylistic differences between the tests, and random chance means that every student will score slightly better on one of the tests. Nevertheless, we haven’t seen most students score substantially differently on the SAT vs. the ACT. The most important thing for your family to do is to commit your most precious resource (time!) to one test rather than switching back and forth. For most students, that’s going to mean leaning toward the SAT.

The SAT and ACT are both standardized tests used by college admissions offices to help make admissions decisions. In terms of content, both tests cover much of the same ground (though the ACT does seem to have more content). The major difference is the style of each test. The SAT is considered more of a “puzzle” test. Knowing how to take the test can go a long way toward making up for holes in content knowledge.

Students tend to feel that the ACT is more straightforward than the SAT, but that they are under more time pressure, and if they don’t know the answer, it’s tough to reason it out.

Due to a historical quirk of how the tests were developed, the ACT is usually taken by students in the midwest, and the SAT is much more popular on the coasts.

Here’s a graphical comparison of the two tests that might help you with your decision making process.

Even though there are differences in the tests, we have not seen most students score dramatically differently on one test versus another, and we haven’t found a reliable way to predict if your student is one of the exceptions without taking a full length version of each test. Unfortunately our “Which test will your student score better on?” crystal ball isn’t ready yet, so unless your student really enjoys taking standardized tests, we recommend choosing one, and then focusing preparation on that test. Because they are so different in style, prepping for one of them will prevent any confusion over test taking strategies.

When choosing which test to take, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which test is more popular in your area?
  • Has your student already taken one? How did it go?
  • Does your child have the appropriate amount of time to prep for the test they want to take?

If you answered “yes” to that last question, then sign up for a free consultation. It’s our way around the whole lack of a crystal ball issue that allows us to create a clearer picture of what test prep should look like for your child.

With the SAT shifting its focus to a format that is more akin to the ACT in its new rollout slated for 2016, this debate may no longer matter. Find out more about the NEW SAT.

By the way, chocolate cake is our favorite.

2 thoughts on “ACT or SAT: What test should my child take?

  1. Will most colleges accept either test score? We live in Pennsylvania – are both tests offered everywhere, or could only the SAT be offered here?

    1. Gina, most colleges should accept either score, but the best bet is to check their admissions requirements just to verify. Both tests are offered nationwide. You can check the College Board and ACT websites for testing locations in your area. Let me know if there is anything else we can help you with.

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