SAT or ACT: Which test should college-bound students take?

Published on Monday, 1 February 2016 23:05 - Written by Donna Spann, Guest Contributor

When it comes to the standardized tests used in the college admission process, students often want advice on which to take - SAT or ACT?  

Either, of course, is accepted at the vast majority of schools. Conventional wisdom used to suggest that students with advanced math skills, and who are good at guessing, might prefer the ACT. Students with strong critical thinking skills and verbal abilities, or who are weaker in math, often got steered toward the SAT.

But in 2016, changes in the SAT may eventually change that conventional wisdom, and should probably influence the way current juniors think about these important tests.

The redesigned SAT makes its debut with the March 4 test date. Reports, and the practice tests that have been made available, indicate that in some ways, it will be more similar to the ACT, with no penalty for guessing. It is also designed to better reflect a student’s readiness for college, with even more emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving.

So why do I suggest that current juniors seriously consider taking the ACT instead this spring?

For one thing, if you take the SAT in March, it may be May or June before you get your scores back. With a new test format, it’s likely to take College Board officials longer to score the tests and rank students’ results. They will also want to see the results of the second administration of the redesigned test on May 7 and compare to the March 5 results. They’ll have to “build the curve,” so to speak.

Without knowing in which areas you did well, and in which you need to study more, it will be difficult to know how to prepare for your next attempt - or even whether you need to take it again.

For another, no one knows yet how college admissions officers will treat the results of the first few revised exams. Will they give them the same weight as always, or will they be a little dubious about the accuracy of the results until they’ve seen a couple of rounds of scores from the new tests?

Finally, there are no major revisions to the ACT this year. If you’ve already taken it, you pretty much know what to expect, and admissions officers do, too. If you’re taking it this week, you should get scores back in time to help prepare for the April or June test dates.

For sophomores and younger students, the choice is not as clear - but they have the luxury of time. They have more time to prepare for exams and to retake them if necessary. The College Board, which administers the SAT, is a well-respected and well-established institution. I have no doubt that bugs, if there are any, will be worked out quickly, certainly in time for the fall test dates.

So, younger students may wish to take both an SAT and ACT practice exam and determine which one best suits their strengths. And, of course, I always recommend sophomores and juniors take the PSAT - even if they decide to go with the ACT for college applications. The PSAT is given in the fall, and it’s the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholar program, which awards scholarships of at least $2,500 to students with the very highest scores. High scorers may also be eligible for prestigious merit-based scholarships at the collegiate level.

Because it’s the younger sibling of the SAT, it’s also excellent preparation for that test.

 

Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 12 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career exploration and the college application and financial aid processes.