Should I take the ACT or the SAT?

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One of the most common questions parents and students ask us is, “Don’t colleges only accept the SAT now?"

There’s been so much confusion over this topic because parents and students alike don't know if they should take the SAT or the ACT now, but it’s pretty simple to understand, so let us help you make an informed decision.

Every spring in the state of Michigan, all juniors in public schools complete a series of exams known as the Michigan Merit Examination (MME). The Michigan Department of Education uses the results of these exams to judge the overall progress of each school on a yearly basis. In the past, one of these exams was a free opportunity for students to take an ACT.

In a money-saving effort, the State of Michigan switched this free college admissions exam opportunity to the SAT. While this normally might not be that big of a deal, the SAT was completely redesigned in January 2016. As a result, CollegeBoard (makers of the SAT) is going through a lot of trial and error with the SAT as they attempt to establish some consistency with questions and passage types.

Like the ACT, the SAT uses a scaled score to curve each exam. Since the students taking the SAT are still the guinea pigs for CollegeBoard, these scaled scores have been very inconsistent from test to test.

For example, answering 44 math questions correctly on one SAT can results in a scaled score of a 640, while answering 44 questions correctly on another SAT results in a scaled score of a 710. This is a huge range of scores. Until CollegeBoard is able to work out the kinks of this exam, it will be a very difficult process for colleges to interpret SAT scores.

If a student is strong at math and feels like that is their strongest subject, the SAT might be a good option for them considering half of the SAT is math and it includes a section where students are not allowed to use a calculator, as well as free response questions. On the other hand, if a student struggles with math, chances are the ACT could be a better fit.

Something that we have noticed regarding the SAT is that sometimes, the questions are written in a way that will specifically try to trick a student, whereas the ACT is generally more straightforward. We’ve had many students that have walked out of the SAT feeling like they got a 1600 only to get their test booklet back and realize that they misread a handful of questions.

Another thing to take into consideration is the fact that there are way more ACT practice tests available that students can take to gain exposure to the test than SAT. The SAT practice tests are slowly starting to trickle in, but the SAT has some catching up to do with the ACT in that regard.

While colleges will use either a student’s highest ACT score or highest SAT when considering that student for admission, we have noticed that most of our students tend to test better for the ACT. That’s not to say we’d recommend taking the ACT over the SAT, it’s just something to remember.

It’s important to remember that every student is different, and every student has their own strengths and weaknesses, so keep your student’s strengths and weaknesses in mind as you try to decide which standardized test to take.

Colleges in Michigan and across the country do not only accept the SAT – that’s a myth we’re here to debunk. When it’s time to go take the SAT in the public schools this spring, students should give 100% effort. However, if you are considering investing money into ACT or SAT tutoring, talk with your student to see what they’d feel more comfortable with and start from there.

If you still have questions, contact us to learn more about how our full-length ACT and SAT analyses could help determine which test is the best fit for your child.