Now that the ACT has taken over the SAT as the most popular college entrance exam in America, parents and students find themselves asking the question of which exam should they take; the ACT or the SAT.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation that is floating around the internet and study halls nationwide and it has led to three major misconceptions about the exams.
Misconception #1: The ACT is a better test for kids that are good students but bad test takers. The ACT is known as an academic achievement test and the SAT is known for being more of a reasoning test. That has led many to think that if their child is a good student but not a clever tester, then the ACT is the best test for them. For better or worse, this theory does not hold water. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of teenagers are much better students than they are philosophers and therefore they feel much more comfortable with the style and format of the ACT which is modeled more closely after their school work. However, because the ACT is a standardized test scored on a forced curve, the fact that your child feels more comfortable or is a better student is negated by the hundreds of thousands of students that experience the same feeling. The only real way to know which test is better for your child is to have them take both and see how they do – you might be surprised.
Misconception #2: If a student scores the same on each test, they should study for whichever one they felt more comfortable with. The focus parents should have is on which exam, after studying for it, will provide your child with the absolute highest score possible. The vast majority of students who take both exams without studying will score the same when their scores are converted (see Misconception 3 for more details). Therefore the issue at hand is whether or not one of the exams is easier to raise the score for. The ACT, as mentioned earlier, is more of an achievement test. That means it is measuring what a student has learned over the last few years in school. A side effect of this type of test is that when your child was doing their homework every day and studying for their tests every week, they were accidentally preparing for the ACT as well. Because it reflects what was taught in school, when a student studies for school, they study for the ACT as well. The SAT on the other hand is a reasoning test and as we all know, our 13-17 year old children are not taking reasoning classes in school nor are they being classically trained in critical thinking. Therefore, when your child sits down to study for the SAT, nearly all of the relevant information regarding the test will be new to them, and therefore potentially helpful for raising their score. Juxtaposed to the ACT where much of the helpful information they have already “accidentally studied” and therefore there is simply not as much new information to learn. That is why the SAT is generally an easier test to improve on.
Misconception #3: The ACT is not accepted at all colleges. A number of years ago, the College Board and the ACT (the organizations that write the SAT and ACT respectively) came together to do a joint research project. The purpose was to create an authorities and definitive conversion chart for the public so there would no longer be confusion about what scores on each test meant. What came from this study was the ACT SAT Concordance Chart – a simple resource that allows anyone to convert an SAT score to an ACT score and vice versa in mere seconds. Because the two organizations created this resource jointly, it immediately became universally accepted by every college in American – even including Ivy League schools. Once this chart became the norm for conversion, the days of universities requiring, or even preferring, one test over the other simply ceased.
Armed with this information, students and parents can take back control over this stressful standardized test process. The most important thing to keep in mind is that with the correct information and preparation, students can put themselves in a position to majorly increase their score in a relatively short amount of time. However, if you follow bad advice and listen to misconception, you can fall in to the trap of wasting a lot of hours of studying that could have been put towards something more important and productive.