Should I Take the SAT, ACT or Both?

The anxiety and fear surrounding the SAT and ACT for high school students can be heightened when they are faced with the decision of which test they should take. What if they pick the wrong test and don’t score well? There are pros and cons of each test and of choosing to take both. Some students do better on the ACT while others do better on the SAT. Some students excel on both tests and, if they have time, choose to take them both in order to make their applications stand out even more. According to Janet Rapelye, the dean of admissions at Princeton, an increasing number of applicants to the school are choosing to take both tests and to submit both scores. Rapelye says that it is fine to only take one of the two tests, but receiving scores from both might give admissions officers more information about the applicants.

Pros and Cons of Choosing the ACT

The ACT is accepted by all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S., and it is granted equal weight to the SAT. This was not always the case, and the myth of the SAT being favored still exists. In the past, some of the schools in the Northeastern region of the U.S. looked at the ACT test with disdain, but that has changed over several decades. Today, the schools view the two tests equally, freeing you to choose the one that fits you the best.

The ACT is primarily based on your knowledge of the material that you have learned in high school. It allows you less time to answer each question than you get on the SAT, but the information hews more closely to your high school curriculum. If you have a strong command of the information that you have learned and can work efficiently, the ACT may be a better choice for you. Since the test contains more advanced math questions than the SAT, it may be a good choice for students who are skilled in math. Similarly, the ACT includes a science-reasoning section. If you are an excellent science student, the ACT may allow you to showcase your science knowledge so that you can stand out. If you are not a fast test-taker and do not meet the criteria for an extended test-taking time, you might want to choose the SAT instead.

Pros and Cons of Choosing the SAT

While the ACT primarily tests your knowledge in multiple areas, the SAT is more focused on your reasoning abilities. It may be a better choice for students who have good critical thinking skills and who excel in language and reading comprehension. The SAT also gives you more time to answer each question so there is less time pressure. Because it does not have a science section, students who are more literary-inclined often opt for this test. The PSAT, which students take to assess their readiness for the SAT, is also used to determine the students who might be chosen as National Merit Scholars. Even if you ultimately choose to take the ACT, you should still take the PSAT to avail yourself of the additional scholarship opportunities.

Who Should Take Both the ACT and SAT?

There are some students who may benefit by taking both the ACT and the SAT, and others who may be harmed by doing so. Taking both is not required by any school, including the schools of the Ivy League. If you do take both, the schools may have a better picture of who you are and what your abilities might be. At the same time, some students may do worse on both tests when they choose to take both because when they are dividing a limited amount of time to studying for both tests, they may not be sufficiently prepared for either one. If you excel on both tests, however, you can demonstrate that you are likely to succeed in college and strengthen your prospects of gaining admission into your top-choice schools.

How to Decide

A good way to decide whether you should focus on taking one test or on preparing for both is to take both the PSAT and the PLAN, or take a practice ACT and practice SAT. These preliminary tests are not used for admissions purposes by colleges, but they can help you assess which test might be better for you to ultimately choose. Some tutoring companies offer their own “combined test” to indicate which test is right for you. These tests do not take into account the timing differences and changes in breaks between tests, so they aren’t always the best predictors. If you obtain high scores on both the PSAT and the PLAN, it may be smart for you to prepare for and to take both the ACT and the SAT. If you score much better on one of the two, then you might instead want to focus on preparing for the test that better fits you and your particular talents.

Deciding whether to take the ACT, the SAT or both is an important first step as you start thinking about your future college admissions. If you can take the PSAT and the PLAN early in high school, you may then be able to establish a preparation roadmap for the test or tests that might help you gain admission into your target school. While your scores on these tests do not mean that you will ultimately succeed in college, they are weighted heavily by college admissions officers, making your test choice and your scores very important. No matter which test you take, it is important that you devote enough time to preparing for it so that you are able to score the highest you possibly can. By doing so, you can strengthen your college applications so that you stand out among the many applicants when you ultimately start applying to colleges.

Going Ivy is a full-service college admission, tutoring and test preparation company that can help students decide whether they should take the SAT, the ACT or both tests by offering practice tests to students throughout the year. 

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