SAT & ACT Test Prep, Which Test To Take?
Unfortunately, standardized tests are a big part of the college admissions process. But which test, the ACT or the SAT, is the right test for you?
Last year's test season is dead and buried and the 2010 school year is as well. While Seniors should be focusing on bigger and better things than test prep now that the 2011 school year is fast approaching, this is exactly the right time for Sophomores and Juniors to be thinking about getting ready for the ACT and/or SAT.
First, you should know that it is important to focus on only one test. Because all colleges now accept either test, you can send any test score to any college and the score will be given equal weight. But even though both tests have many similarities, the differences between the two are important enough that preparing for one test could hurt your efforts to prepare for the other. Students will need to find out which test they naturally perform better on, and the focus all of their efforts on that test.
Some differences between the tests are obvious. The ACT has four sections, English, Math, Reading, and Science, plus an optional Essay. The SAT, though, has 10 sections, four Verbal, three Math, Writing, and a mandatory Essay. The ACT will take three hours, while the SAT will be closer to four.
Other differences are less obvious and more important. The ACT is much more straightforward than the SAT. Like we've said when we talked about the Golden Ear, if something sounds good on the English section of the ACT, it's probably a good answer choice. On the Verbal sections of the SAT, however, answers that sound good are probably wrong. This is typical of the SAT; the test makers like to try to confuse students as often as they can.
The SAT also delights in testing students on obscure vocabulary words. The ACT will occasionally have a couple of words that most students won't know, but the English and Reading passages are, for the most part, easy to follow. The SAT takes the opposite approach. There are some passages that almost read as if they've written a normal sentence and then taken every word to a thesaurus and replaced it with its longest synonym. There comes a point, while preparing for the SAT, where the only thing you can do is to do a practice section and look up every word you don't know and try to memorize it and all of its synonyms. Which is, of course, much more boring and tedious than anything you'd have to do on the ACT.
At the end of the day though, the only real way to know which test you'll do better on is to take both tests and compare your scores. Most students will probably do better on the ACT, but there are always students for whom the opposite is true.
One other important note: if you took the PSAT as a junior and score high enough to become a National Merit Finalist, you have to take the SAT. The good news though, is that if you scored that high on the PSAT, odds are you'll do pretty well on the SAT as well.