The SAT and ACT are an intimidating part of the college process for most students, and the fact is that even in today's test-optional era, many students are still applying with scores. While every student is different and testing is by no means needed for everyone, for students applying to selective schools it may still be a good idea, depending on a number of factors.
But once you've decided to test, what then? How do you pick which test to take, and how do you prep? Here are a few thoughts (and please note that this info applies to the classes of 2023 and 2024--past that, you're dealing with the new SAT, which will be it's own post when we know more.)
What are these tests for, anyway?
The SAT and ACT both purport to measure college readiness...but they don't. Study after study shows that these tests don't correlate to your high school grades, how well you do in college, or what content you know. (In fact, SAT used to stand for Scholastic Aptitude Test...but they don't use that language anymore because it is proven to not be a great measure of aptitude!)
Instead, think of them as admissions officers do: a tool that allows them to compare students across contexts. For example, students from two different high schools in two districts in different states may both have taken a class called "Algebra II." But is the curriculum and the level of material the same at those two schools? Did they absorb the same content? Standardized tests are an additional point of comparison besides grades.
Which Should I Take?
Good news! You can take either test--no college cares which you submit (although policies vary as to whether or not schools superscore, taking the highest test sections even from different sittings, or not.) You also have control over who sees your scores and which they see: except for just one or two schools, you get to pick which scores and which tests to send for consideration as part of your application.
Which Test is Better for Me?
The two tests take different approaches. One of the best ways to determine which might be better for you is to take an ACT practice (or the Pre-ACT, if it's available to you) and compare that to an SAT practice or PSAT scores. About 30% of students do much better on one test or the other (sometimes a difference of more than 100 SAT points of improvement simply from picking the right test!). Careful test selection is key, especially since most kids don't benefit from splitting their energy to prep for two exams.
I'm always happy to chat about the right test for any particular student or to provide, score, and analyze a practice exam of either type, but understanding some of the key differences between the tests is a great first step for both parents and students. Click the button below to download a handy comparison chart. It covers everything from structure and timing to scoring and content.