SAT or ACT… Which Test is Better for ME?

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Standardized tests are a crucial component of the application process for any student, and they are even more important for student-athletes who want to continue playing at the college level. While both SAT and ACT are universally accepted by colleges, students may find that they prefer one exam to the other.

What type of student should take which exam?

Understanding the construction of each test is essential for making this decision.

The ACT test focuses more on high school content knowledge, as well as testing a students’ ability to finish tasks quickly.  The ACT covers a wider range of material than the SAT does, but the questions are almost always presented in a more straightforward, predictable manner.  As a result, thorough practice almost always leads to improvement.

The ACT may be a better test for you if:

  • you’ve taken difficult classes and gotten good grades
  • you are able to read passages and decide on answers quickly
  • you tend to freeze up when confronted with unfamiliar questions or experience test
    anxiety when unsure how to solve problems
  • you are diligent and willing to do a lot of practice work
  • you have a good memory for formulae and grammar rules
  • you are comfortable with visual information like charts and graphs

The SAT emphasizes problem solving and reasoning ability more than content. Essentially, it presents students with unfamiliar problems and tests how well they can figure out which answer works best.  The pacing of the SAT is also slower, so students who have difficulty finishing sections on time will likely have a better time with the SAT than with the faster-paced ACT.

The SAT may be a better test for you if:

  • you are comfortable using answers to solve problems rather than figuring out the solution using only the information provided
  • you have a strong vocabulary
  • you have trouble finishing timed tests
  • you struggle with high-level math and science material, especially if you haven’t completed Algebra 2 yet

No matter which test appears to suit your learning and thinking styles, there’s no substitute for practice testing.  Take a practice SAT and ACT and compare the scores.  If they are close, go with the test you feel more comfortable with, but if one test is clearly better, focus your attention on it.

How can students improve on individual sections of each exam?

ACT— improving your score is all about practice, practice, practice (and EVEN MORE practice!!).  On English and Math, take practice sections, identify what types of questions you are missing, brush up on that content, and repeat.  The more you practice, the more questions you’ll see and immediately know how to do.  On Reading and Science, learn the types of passages the test presents and practice the ones that give you the most trouble.

SAT— improving your score depends less on the number of questions you do for practice than it does on what adjustments you make after learning what you tend to miss.  You should practice generally applicable strategies (plugging in answers and making examples in math, process of elimination and predicting which words could fill a blank on reading) rather than focusing on “learning” problem types.  While reading broadly and regularly from newspapers and novels is usually the best preparation for the reading section, studying vocabulary can be an alternative for those who want to do more targeted work in the time they have available. Learn new vocab in small doses, but start studying new words ASAP and continue until you take the SAT.

Most importantly, all students should aim to take practice tests early on in high school. For recruiting purposes, the earlier the student-athlete has a score, the earlier he or she can plan ahead and formulate a better understanding of target colleges and universities. Early scores also allow college coaches to understand how student-athletes will be viewed by the admissions office, influencing their recruiting decisions.  From an academic perspective, an earlier understanding of each standardized exam leaves more time to build on individual strengths and weaknesses.  Regardless of which exam you choose, utilize all the resources available to you to maximize your score and gain admission into the universities of your choice.

The above content was provided to Dynamite Sports by Bryan Bibler, CEO and Co-Founder of Thirty-Six Education.

Thirty-Six Education is a test preparation company that provides specialized tutoring to students all over the world. One-on-one online instruction is facilitated by the companys proprietary whiteboard program and iOS app. Thirty-Six Anywhere is a state-of-the-art solution for students who need top-notch tutoring and flexibility.

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