Q: I am in 10th grade and starting to think about preparing for college admission. This year, some of my friends took the new SAT. But at this point I don’t know if I should prepare for the SAT or take the ACT. Which would look better for college?
A: To colleges, the SAT and the ACT “look” the same. Admissions offices do not care which test you take. It doesn’t matter. You should take the test with which you are more comfortable. Some students like the new SAT, while others do not. There is always going to be a difference of opinion.
The tests were created at two different times and by two different companies. And, these companies pretty much control the testing market. The tests are not perfect, and results are dependent on many factors including academic preparation, socioeconomics, and English fluency.
Recently, many college counselors have been recommending the ACT (with writing) over the SAT. Here are a few reasons why:
- The ACT is somewhat more straightforward in what it asks.
- Each time you take the test, your scores go on one score report. Colleges can never see how many times you took the test; if you get a score that makes you unhappy, it doesn’t go anywhere except to you.
- The ACT + Writing is a 3-hour test. If you apply to a college that asks for the SAT score plus SAT Subject Tests, then you have to take a 3-hour test plus two 1-hour tests. That’s two days of testing, more time and more money. But among the schools that ask for SAT Subject Tests, many will waive the requirement if you are submitting your ACT + Writing score. That's one test, one fee, three hours: done.
In my experience students have had positive and negative experiences taking both exams, for a range of reasons. Among them is the need for testing accomodations. They’re not easy to get and both the SAT and ACT require documentation, so students with special needs will have to work with their school counselors to submit a request. One parent reported that her daughter submitted identical documentation to both the SAT and ACT, but each offered different accommodations. Both offered her the opportunity to take the exam at her regular school—rather than at a testing center—and provided breaks that did not count against her time, but only the ACT granted her extended time and the opportunity to take the exam over several days, rather than in one marathon sitting.
Some colleges and universities have even decided that test scores really tell nothing except how good the applicants are at taking the tests. More than 800 schools have become “test-optional” and do not require scores (although they may ask for something else instead, such as completing additional essays). You can go to Fairtest.org for more information and a list of schools that do not require standardized test scores for admission.
Not sure which test is best for you? Talk to your college counselor and read the test brochures (they should be available at your high school’s college office) to help you decide which one looks more “friendly” to you. Remember—it does not matter for admission which one you choose!