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SAT vs. ACT for College Admissions

A quick explanation of why students shouldn't study for SAT and ACT at the same time as so many programs suggest they do. It burns them out and deflates overall score growth.

Back in the early 2000s when Blue Train Tutoring first started rolling, the SAT was the primary test for students in the South Bay. Since then, with the advent of online applications, readily accessible conversion tables and a growing concern that no one test should determine everyone’s fate, the ACT has risen in popularity. Today most, if not all, colleges consider the tests one hundred percent interchangeable. With this newfound equality, many high school juniors find themselves confronting several key questions.

Should I take both tests?

It’s true that a certain percentage of students take both the SAT and ACT. But it is also true that many of these students could have had a more successful and less stressful journey had they planned ahead.

First of all, we don’t subscribe to the notion that students should be preparing for both tests at the same time. Testing companies that sell ‘dual prep packages’ are often preying on people’s fears that they must prepare for both to cover all bases. What this logic leaves out is the fact that a 17-year-old only has so many hours in the day and so much energy to commit towards these exams. More often than not we will see the most earnest, intelligent students head down the dual study path only to burn out and not show the single spike of improvement that their hard work should have earned. Add to this that they tend to become disenchanted with the entire college process. Not a good thing when there are still applications, essays, and supplements on the horizon.

So, what to do? To begin, it is a good idea to take stock of yourself and your abilities by taking a practice test of each exam. If you don’t want to sit for two four hour exams, you can do the reduced versions of the exams in the PSAT and the PLAN. (These exams can be gotten from a high school counselor or by emailing bluetraintutoring@verizon.net and requesting them.) Once you have scored the exams, you can compare the results and make a plan for which test would be better for you. If you need help sorting through the scores and possibilities of improvement, you should consult someone with experience in this area, as the SAT and ACT do have different levels of growth potential—but this would only be necessary if the scores were relatively close.

Now that you have kicked your tires and seen which one would make for a better test to focus on, we suggest you consider that your only test to prepare for during the spring testing season. This way you can focus all your efforts into one goal. After taking one or two exams in the spring, you can take the summer to consider switching to a different test in the fall or continuing your studies with the same test. Either way, you will have numbers to work with after heading down the path that you felt was the best direction to start. In our experience, this is the best way to stay sane and balanced, while giving yourself the best advantage in reaching your highest potential. In the next entry, we will discuss the differences between the test and why certain tests are better for certain testers. If you have any questions about you or your child’s situation, feel free to email us or call us at 310-376-0135.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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