Should your student take the ACT® test or the SAT® test? The answer may be “both.” Slight differences in the tests – and they might not be what you think – may allow your child to leverage his or her strengths, take both and use the highest score to make an impression in college admissions.
So what should your child do? And how do you make that decision? Let’s take a close look at what the ACT® test and SAT® test have in common, what makes them different, and how those differences could affect your child’s test prep decisions.
What do the ACT® test and SAT® test have in common?
The ACT® and SAT® tests were both designed to provide a standardized measure of critical thinking and problem-solving. In theory, a standardized admissions test puts private, public, and homeschooling backgrounds on the same playing field. Of course, in reality, the school environment, as well as other personal, social, and systemic factors, can play into a student’s ability to be prepared for such a test. But the ACT® and SAT® tests both exist to test for college readiness.
The ACT® and SAT® tests both use objective, close-ended questions as well as open-ended questions to provide a rounded sense of a student’s ability to think critically and demonstrate mastery of high school-level learning. Both tests are designed to require soft skills as well: good guessing, time management, and the ability to perform under pressure. And do you remember when only the ACT® test didn’t penalize for guessing? The new SAT® test now works this way too. You can think of it this way: both tests function so that deducing and trying, even if it means making mistakes, is rewarded. Your child’s ACT® and SAT® test prep should align with this principle.
The SAT® test that big brother or sister took is not the same test your current high schooler will face. It looks more like the ACT® test than ever before.
What makes each test different?
Here are four aspects of each test that might make a difference to your child.
The ACT® test has a much faster pace.
A good test prep experience is going to train your child to perform under pressure. However, the faster pace of the ACT® means that your child will be mentally exhausted by its end. They’ll face an additional challenge to keep their heads in the game for the home stretch.
The ACT® test has a separate science section.
The science section of the ACT® test requires technical reading and interpretation of graphs and charts. Even the math on an SAT® test is more heavily rhetoric-based. If your child is more a “word person,” the ACT® test may pose an extra challenge here. If he or she wants to take the test, it may require extra prep for the science portion.
The SAT® test has more reading involved.
If reading and comprehension are not your child’s strongest suits, the SAT® test may pose the greater challenge. Questions are often framed as word problems and require very careful reading to not get tripped up on tricky wording.
The SAT® test has a non-calculator section.
Any good test prep worth its salt trains your child to solve problems both with and without a calculator, with a preference toward knowing the long-form version of a problem. But if your child feels seriously intimidated by the prospect of not having a calculator, that may be an important factor to consider in test prep and when choosing a test.
Which test should my child take?
Different colleges previously required different exams based on region, but that is no longer the case. Both tests are accepted, and admissions offices consider scores interchangeable. You might think, in this case, that submitting a student’s best score, whether it’s from one test or the other, doesn’t matter. That might be technically true regarding the way admissions offices view each test, but regarding your child’s ability to demonstrate his or her best work, it may be best to sit both exams.
Because of their differences, each test gives slightly different advantages, and offers slightly different points of challenge, depending on the student. If your child can train for both, he or she can either: choose which seems to be the best match, or take both and open his or her options for the highest possible score.
If your child does sit both tests, we suggest beginning with the one that seems easiest for your student to master — we recommend the SAT® test, ideally preceded by the PSAT/NMSQT® test — and then follow it with the exam that may be a bit more of a challenge. Just remember, no matter what your child predicts about his or her performance, it is impossible to know until he or she tries. We see students exceed their expectations all the time!
Finding what’s right for your student.
Ultimately, you and your child have to decide. Though we recommend taking both the ACT® and SAT® tests, if your child takes one and is satisfied with the score, that’s great! It’s all about learning test content, getting trained in the different methods for tackling both exams, trying at least one, and going from there.
At KD College Prep, we teach a comprehensive understanding of both exams, and we help our students grow and leverage their skills to their best advantage. That lets us maximize scores while also boosting confidence and teaching hard work. When you’re ready to talk about your student’s best test prep solution, just give us a shout!