Thursday, July 12, 2007
By Jerry O. Moore
Maybe as a parent you already know whether your child will be focusing on the ACT or the SAT for college admissions and/or scholarship purposes. However, for many parents, particularly those in the South and the Midwest, this is not a simple decision to make.
One of the more common questions that filters into my office and the office of our counselors and principals is “which test should my son or daughter take and why?”
Well, that’s a good question, and the answer is not as simple as many think.
There are major differences between the SAT and the ACT, and it is vitally important that parents know those differences when planning for their child’s education after high school. Why? Because scholarships, grants and actual admissions could be thwarted if the right test is not taken. So, what should a parent know in order to be truly informed prior to making a decision for their child concerning the ACT and the SAT?
To begin, the SAT is preferred at most coastal schools (eastern and western), but the ACT is more often used by Midwestern and Southern colleges and universities. However, each school has its own policies and procedures. Many schools accept both exams, and some schools even prefer both exams be taken for admissions. It is extremely important that parents and students check with each school to which they are applying. Never make an assumption.
The ACT has a science section. If your child struggles with science and is not planning on attending a school that requires the ACT or accepts either exam, this is a potential reason to avoid the ACT and opt for the SAT. Still, it needs to be understood before making this decision that the science section on the ACT does not grade strictly on science knowledge, per say, but delves more into reasoning skills when considering the grade on this particular section of the exam.
An essay is required on the SAT, but is currently optional on the ACT. More importantly, the essay factors into your overall score on the SAT, but not towards the composite on the ACT.
Many students have made their decision in the past to take the ACT instead of the SAT due to the fact that there is no penalty for wrong answers on the ACT. This should never factor into one’s decision concerning which test to take. Both tests are scored and scaled differently. In other words, you can’t make a true comparison between scores.
All SAT scores show up on every SAT report that is sent to various colleges of your choosing. The ACT only sends your highest score when the score is requested. So, there is no penalty in the way of perception by college admission and scholarship reps, so to speak, when viewing ACT scores, because they only see the highest score. This is why Duke University began a program several years back that allowed students who met particular standards to take the ACT beginning in the 7th grade. Students can take the ACT and become familiar with the exam without academic or perceptual penalty, but this would be impossible with the SAT, because they will send every score you’ve ever mustered from each administration each time your score is requested.
Finally, while the National College Board would probably deny what I am about to say, the SAT tends to work slightly more like an IQ test, and the ACT does not. The subject matter on the SAT is no more advanced, but the math is trickier and grammar concepts are harder to pin down. So, at least marginally, “good test-takers” tend to do better on the SAT while good students tend to do better on the ACT.
In the end, students need to take whichever test their prospective colleges require. But, if those colleges will accept either exam, it’s a good idea to take into account the differences between the exams. And, it’s not a bad idea to take both exams. There is much overlap between the two, and taking both of them may give you the best chance of getting the score you need for admissions and scholarship opportunities.
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