With the upcoming content and format changes to the SAT, more juniors than ever before are asking themselves an important question: “Should I take the SAT or the ACT?” My answer is “both.” I’ll explain why.
The silver lining to being part of the SAT transition year is that student’s have three solid testing options instead of two: the current SAT, the redesigned SAT, and the ACT. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have 3 options instead of 2 – especially for something as important as a college admissions test!
It is fairly split as to which exam students perform better on (and there are certainly students who end up with very comparable scores on each exam). The College Board’s SAT exam has always been the trickier exam. While both exams are reasoning exams (which require deductive thinking) rather than content-based exams (which hinge on rote memorization), a higher level of reasoning is required for success on the SAT. This fact alone makes it seem that the ACT is the easier of the two exams, but that’s not true, either. While the ACT exam has always been the more straightforward of the two, it is also much more time intensive. Many students struggle to finish all of the questions in the reading and science sections (which both have 40 questions in 35 minutes and involve reading passages as well). The trickiness of the SAT is only matched by the time intensity of the ACT.
What if you simply took a diagnostic SAT and a diagnostic ACT and focused all your studying energy on whichever one you scored higher on? Unfortunately, a student’s ultimate potential can’t be measured from his starting point. For example, some students can truly learn to excel on the SAT with the proper instruction, and yet can never get themselves to read quickly enough to get through the ACT. Other students may never be able to wrap their heads around the convoluted SAT reasoning methods but may find success with better pacing strategies on the ACT. Whichever exam a student initially decides to pursue is okay, but it is important to still give the other exam a try.
“But wait,” I hear you say. “Shouldn’t upcoming changes to the SAT affect my standardized testing plans?”
They shouldn’t. The internet fans the fire of tremendous concern over the redesigned SAT. Some professionals even recommend completely avoiding it and instead focusing exclusively on the ACT. I find this advice to be erroneous. The ACT is a great option, and it always has been. But to skip out on the SAT simply because it’s changing? Because it’s not yet a known entity? I have gone into great detail before about not being afraid of this exam, but the bottom-line is this: many students will do extremely well on this redesigned SAT. Students who choose to avoid the new SAT out of fear will never know if they would have scored much higher on it than on the ACT.
The fact is, the redesigned SAT looks a lot like the ACT. This means preparing for one makes preparing for the other even easier. If a student is going to focus exclusively on ACT prep, she should still sit for an actual redesigned SAT. She may very well find that it’s not bad at all.
But even if a student does discover that he has a much greater ACT comfort level and skill disposition, there is no risk and nothing lost (except sleeping late on one Saturday) by giving the new SAT a chance.
Finally, note that there are always convenient options throughout the year for both exams. The SAT is offered 7 times a year and the ACT is given 6 times (only 5 if you live in NY).