Which One Should You Take?

Please focus on one test. I have had several overachiever “tiger” parents have their students prep for both exams and just end up completely stressing their student out. I tell the parent to let the student choose an exam and focus on prepping for that and it will allow them to be able to have the max score with less work.

Let me tell you why which test you take doesn’t matter. Colleges use something called “the concordance table” to compare SAT and ACT scores. They don’t prefer one test to the other: they just like you to have the highest RELATIVE score possible. A 1600 on the New SAT is a 36 on the ACT –Your only job is to pick ONE test that’ll give you the best comparative score. It’s your job to pick the test that’ll give you the best score, focus all of your time and effort.

With that in mind, the big question is: which one will get you the best relative score?

Take both tests your sophomore year, decide which one you like better and focus solely on that test. Divided study will water down your study and reduce the score you can get.

A note to parents in Michigan and Illinois. The state exam was changed from the ACT to the SAT so the students will have a few differences in how they prep for each exam. The SAT will be given on a mandatory testing day their junior year. I always recommend that prep start sophomore year for optimal results and minimal stress.

The Differences Between the New SAT and ACT

The New SAT, which launched on March 5th of 2016, is just like the ACT. The two tests have far more commonalities than differences, so let’s list the few things that set them apart:

  • The New SAT doesn’t have a science section. Science is really just a Reading section with Science words, and has nothing to do with science.

  • Both tests come with optional essays.

  • The New SAT has a few fill-in-the-blank math problems, and half of the math problems don’t allow calculator use. The “without calculator” problems aren’t difficult because they don’t require any difficult arithmetic.The ACT lets you use a calculator on all its math problems, and all the answers are multiple choice.

  • The New SAT is far less “time intensive.” This is the big issue that really separates the two exams. The New SAT gives you far more time per problem, so it’s a much less intense testing experience. Alternatively, the ACT makes you go at a blisteringly fast pace. So if you need some more time to consider your answers, the New SAT is going to be your friend. If you can plow through questions and are super focused, then the ACT should be your exam of choice.

Aside from those differences, the material  that the student is tested on is the same. They both test your knowledge of math, English grammar, and reading comprehension. They both take 3-4 hours to complete. And they both accomplish the same exact same goal: giving admissions an officers to save time by tossing your application in the trash if your scores aren’t high enough before they ever look at it.

Because the New SAT lacks a science section and is less time intensive, it might seem like an obvious choice. But you want to chose the test that YOU are better at.

Pick the Test That Gives You the Biggest EDGE

A lot of people say that the New SAT is objectively easier than the ACT. The ACT was easier for me personally. That is why I created a FREE ACT mini-course that will show you how I raised my score by 12 points here. It was really easy to “learn” the test for me, also I took the ACT before the changes were made to the SAT so that plays into my decision. The ACT has been the same forever.

On the SAT you have more time to deal with each question and fewer sections to master. But before you dive right into the New SAT, you need to know the following:

  • College applications are about COMPARISON, and not about absolute value.You’re not evaluated based on how good you are – you’re judged on how good you are compared to all the other applicants.

  • These tests are graded on a curve. Your performance is scaled, and your final score is based on how you did compared to everyone else.

  • This means that you should take the test that gives you the biggest competitive edge. The SAT might be “easier,” but it’s easier for everyone who takes it. The ACT might be “harder,” but it’s also just as hard for all the students who are taking it alongside you. The scale will come into play – if you can use that scale to your advantage, you’ll end up with the best college application possible.

The short version: if you’re awesome at fast-paced assignments and can stay focused for long periods of time, you have a huge competitive edge on the ACT. You can use those skills to blow the other students taking the ACT out of the water.

If you’re not so good at fast-paced assignments (if you prefer to take your time and think things through, or if you usually don’t finish your tests in school), the ACT will be a total nightmare. You should probably take the New SAT instead.

The Really Simple Way to Decide

If you take the following steps, you’ll be able to make the right decision and begin focusing on the correct test.

  1. Take a full-length, timed, graded, realistic practice exam of both tests and then compare your scores using the concordance table.

This will take about eight hours over the course of two weekends. The College Board book and Real ACT book will show you exactly how to grade your exams.

  • You need to take BOTH tests under REALISTIC conditions If you take one test on a weekend, after a full night’s sleep, with a proper meal in your belly, in a quiet room, and you take the other test in the afternoon, in a busy library, on 4 hours of sleep, you’re obviously going to do better on the former. There’s no point in doing this unless you do it right.

Test prep is not so bad if you start early. I have a lot of parents come to me in a panic their student’s senior year. An increase is achievable but hard with all the other stresses of Senior year. If you start many months in advance, you can put in 20-40 minutes a day and have a stressless increase in scores.

Check out my private ACT/SAT prep course here. stemgirl.teachable.com/p/private-test-prep
I have a group ACT prep class for those who benefit from collaborative learning. stemgirl.teachable.com/p/act-bootcamp

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ACT vs SAT: Which one should I take?

by Miesha Jihan time to read: 5 min