Should You Take the ACT or SAT?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, ACT SAT Registration, College Admissions, College Applications, SAT Prep
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I would highly recommend that students try BOTH the SAT and ACT.  Why?  Both tests are accepted by colleges everywhere.  Some students find that they prefer one test over another, but they can only know this for sure by taking them both.  Once you have taken both tests, you will know whether you should focus on just one of them going forward.  If your scores on both were pretty comparable, you can try both of them again.  You can compare your test scores using my ACT/SAT comparison chart

Let’s say that you don’t want to take the time/money to explore which test is preferable – you want to pick one and stick with it.  Here are some ways you can make that decision.

1. Check out my ACT/SAT comparison chartI made a concise overview of the similarities and differences between the ACT and SAT.    

2. Look at your PSAT and PLAN scores.  The PSAT corresponds to the SAT, and the PLAN corresponds to the ACT.  Most students take the PSAT as juniors, and most take the PLAN as sophomores.  The easiest way to compare them is to look at the percentiles that you earned on each test.  If, for example, if you have an 80th percentile on the PSAT and a 65th percentile on the PLAN, it would probably make more sense to focus your efforts on the SAT.  If the percentiles are comparable, you should probably do both the ACT and SAT at least once.  

3. Do you qualify for extended time?  If so, I would recommend focusing on the ACT.  In my tutoring experience, students who have extended time tend to find the ACT easier than the SAT.  Perhaps this is why it seems like the ACT is more strict about allowing extended time than the SAT.  Students find this to be the case because the questions and passages on the ACT tend to be a bit more straight-forward and less “outside-the-box”, making them much more doable for students who have more time to process them.  Much of the coaching I do for students with the ACT is with respect to timing, and if you have extended time on the ACT, you can focus much more just on your critical thinking process rather than how quickly you are doing things. 

4. Where are your subject strengths?  If you are a solid reader, have a great vocabulary, and can write essays well, the SAT may be more for you.  If you are good at science and are more comfortable with advanced math like Trigonometry, the ACT may be up your alley. 

5. Do you struggle with timing?  You should almost certainly focus on the SAT.  The ACT Math, Reading and Science are all pretty tough for students to finish.  In my experience, few students have difficulty finishing the SAT. 

6. Do you have test anxiety?  If so, the SAT may be a better fit.  Why?  The questions go in order from easy to hard on almost every section, so it is much less likely that you will become stuck on a tough question.  Also, you won’t have to worry about time as much. 

7. What is the Superscoring Policy of the College you Most Want to Attend?  Most colleges will superscore the SAT, which means they will take the best score from each section of the test over several test dates.  A few colleges superscore the ACT.  If you are applying to a college that DOES superscore the ACT, you may want to be more open to taking the ACT because you will have more opportunities to earn a solid score.  If the college only superscores the SAT and you tend to be somewhat inconsistent in your performance on test day, the SAT may be a better fit for you.  To see the policies of colleges on superscoring, please take a look here:

If You Have a Disability, Where Can You Find Practice Tests for the ACT?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, ACT SAT Registration
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If you are taking the ACT test and have a learning or physical disability, you may be taking the test not just with extended time, but with certain special accommodations.  If you have poor vision or are blind, you will likely need a braille practice test.  If you will be permitted to have the test questions read to you, you will want to practice using a DVD like you will have on test day.  Where can you find materials that will help you prepare, since typical materials won’t replicate your test-taking experience?  You can order them here:

I had a student recently show me these materials from ACT, and they are top-notch in quality and won’t cost you anything to use.  ACT wants to be certain that all test-takers have equal access to practice opportunities.

10 Real Worst Case Scenarios when Taking the ACT, SAT and PSAT and How to Handle Them

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, ACT SAT Registration, PSAT, SAT Prep, Test Anxiety
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It can help you prepare for the ACT & SAT by knowing some of the worst things that could happen to you when testing.  In my years of tutoring, here are 10 things that I have had students actually experience while taking the ACT, SAT or PSAT. 

1.       A Bird Flew Through the Window of the Testing Room!  While everyone else completely freaked out about this, my student was able to remain calm and focused.  The proctors ended up giving the room 5 extra minutes to finish the test section, and my student ended up doing quite well!    

2.       The Proctor Messed Up the Timing.  This has happened a few times to my students over the years, and even happened to me once in high school.  The only recourses afterthis happens are to (A) complain to the proctor directly after the timing error, (B) complain to the test site administrator directly after the test is done, (C) complain directly to ACT or SAT, or (D) ACT or SAT will give you a credit to take the test another time free of charge.  Unfortunately, the damage is already done at this point.  The better thing to do is to make sure that a proctor timing error never happens in the first place.  Here are three ways to do all you can to prevent proctor errors:

  • Gently ask the proctor if he or she will be keeping time on a watch or a clock, and how often they will tell you when there is time remaining.  This subtle reminder certainly can’t hurt anything.  It can help in the sense that proctors are reading the instructions about timing as a script – sometimes they may not really be processing what they are reading.  By asking a polite question about timing before testing begins, you may be helping the proctor remember what he or she has to do.
  • Bring a watch.  How can you be sure that timing was off unless you keep time yourself? 
  • Take the test at a place that has been doing it a while.  Most of the proctoring errors my students have had have occurred at test sites where the ACT or SAT has not been administered very long.  The proctors are not familiar with the whole process, and they are more inclined to mess things up.  If you are not sure about how long a school has been administering the test at that center, call the school directly and they can likely tell you. 

For an interesting article on how the SAT responded when their proctors made errors, read this New York Times piece:

3.       You are Accused of Cheating by the ACT or SAT.  Over all my years of teaching, I have only had one student have this happen.  He had a sizeable score improvement after we worked together, and based on reasons unknown to me, the ACT felt that he had cheated.  They offered him the opportunity to take the test again, but it was too late for him to do it again for his college application.  I don’t mean to alarm any of you, but I can assure you that having this happen is very, very  rare.  If your score is significantly different  from previous scores and if your scores are significantly out of line with your grades, it may raise some eyeballs, but the standard of proof is extraordinarily high.  The worst that seems to happen in a case like this is that you will have to retake the test. 

4.       Your Batteries Run Out on Your Calculator.  I had this happen to a student in the spring of his Junior year on the ACT – he turned in his booklet before testing was over and cancelled his scores.  If this happens to you on the test, I would encourage you to keep on trying – most of the questions can be done without a calculator.  This is more the case on the ACT than the SAT, but is still applicable on both.  Prevent this from happening by putting in new batteries the night before the test, and also bringing a simple backup calculator. 

5.       You Have a Panic Attack While Testing.  This happened to a of mine student once, and she let it run its course and continued testing.  If this does happen to you, know that it will probably pass and just do your very best.  Prevent this from happening by mentally preparing for the test by addressing your test anxiety ahead of time:

6.       You Have a Small Desk.  There is nothing you can do about this once you are there.  You need to take care of this ahead of time by registering to take the ACT or SAT at a location where they provide larger desks.  The general rule is that high schools have larger desks and colleges have smaller ones. 

7.       You Have a Proctor on a Power Trip.  Usually, test proctors want to be left alone to read their novels.  On occasion, you will find a proctor who thinks it is their mission to intimidate test takers.  Just know that they have very little power to do anything other than to seem mean.  As long as you are not doing anything to cheat, such as going back and doing questions for a section that is already completed, you will have nothing to worry about. 

8.       There is a Distracting Student Right Next to You!  Some students are able to tune this out, but for those who can’t, there are two things you can do:  (A) ask the proctor if he or she can do something about it because it is distracting you and (B) bring earplugs to the test – just be certain that you are able to hear the proctor instructions. 

9.       The Testing Facility is Burning Hot or Way Too Cold!  You’re stuck with this unless you plan ahead.  Wear layers to the test so that you can adjust to the building temperature.

10.   You are Distracted by People Cheating.  Know that the SAT and ACT have rigorous measures in place to catch cheaters – for example, they can compare the answers of people sitting close to one another to see if there unusual patterns.  You are welcome to voice your concerns to the proctor or test site administrator, but ACT and SAT will allow you to contact them anonymously using this contact information found below:

How can you avoid problems like these in general? 

1.       Don’t wait until the last minute to take the test.  Take it in your junior year – please don’t wait until the fall of your senior year to take it, because you will have no time to retake it if there is a testing mishap. 

2.       Focus on controlling what you can and letting the rest go.  This is good advice for life in general, but is very applicable here.  Try to go into your own little world while you test as best you can.

3.       Be assertive when needed.  If you have an incompetent proctor or there is a distracting test-taker, let someone know about it!  It will do you no good to just sit around and complain about it – colleges will only see your score.  

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

Should you send your ACT and SAT scores directly to colleges?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, ACT SAT Registration, College Admissions, SAT Prep, Test Anxiety
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Many students wonder whether they should have their ACT and SAT scores sent automatically to schools before they have a chance to see the scores for themselves.  What you want to do depends on your personal situation – are you more worried about money, or are you more concerned about test anxiety?

If you are more concerned about saving some money, have your ACT and SAT scores submitted to colleges and universities when you register.  You are permitted to send your scores at no additional charge beyond the normal test registration fee to up to 4 colleges.  Both the ACT and SAT have this policy.  ACT and SAT also have the same fee to send it to additional schools:  $11.  So, if you decide to send in the scores automatically, you will have saved yourself $44. 

If you are more concerned about minimizing test anxiety, on the other hand, I would wait to send in the scores until after you have had a chance to review them.  For students who struggle with test anxiety, the knowledge that several colleges and universities are definitely going to receive the results from the SAT or ACT they are taking that day will add unnecessary stress.  It often helps students relax if they know that they will be able to pick which SAT and ACT scores to send to which colleges.  So if it is worth $44 to you to not be as uptight on test morning, go ahead and wait. 

For more details on the costs associated with score reporting, please see here:

If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

Who deserves extended time on the ACT & SAT?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, ACT SAT Registration, SAT Prep
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When we think about applying for extended time for the ACT and SAT, we usually think that extended time is only for those who have learning disabilities, such as ADD, ADHD or Dyslexia, or those with physical impairments, like blindness.  There is a significant group of students, however, who can receive extended time on these tests and may not realize it. 

Who?  Students who have suffered from multiple concussions.  Why do these students need extended time?  Because as anyone who has suffered from a concussion knows, it is not that tough to pay attention for a short period of time, such as when you are taking a test or quiz in a high school class period.  However, when you have to take a 4-5 hour test like the ACT or SAT, the head discomfort and lack of mental focus that ensue can cause serious problems. 

It is completely understandable that students with multiple concussions can slip through the cracks, because they likely do not need an IEP or 504 plan for anything they do in school.  As a result, parents and students must take the initiative to secure documentation from a doctor and have an IEP or 504 plan that specifically provides accommodations for longer assessments.  Perhaps they should be taken over several days, perhaps they should have 50-100% extra time.  (I have had students in each of these situations). 

Accommodations are there for a reason – to make the playing field level for everyone taking the test.  Make sure you make the necessary applications for extended time if you suffered from multiple concussions or some other injury that makes it extraordinarily challenging to maintain attention for a multi-hour period.  To find out about how to apply for extended time, please see my guide

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