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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW

gerald_bradshaw@post.harvard.edu

Bradshaw College Consulting

(219) 663-3041

Dear Mr. Bradshaw:—

I am confused about whether to take the SAT or the ACT.

I have friends who have taken both tests and some say the ACT is easier.

I’m thinking about taking the Oct. 1 SAT, then taking it again Nov. 5. Under Score Choice, I believe I have the option to take it as many times as I wish and only report the highest scores.

I have read that most top colleges, like MIT or Princeton, favor the SAT, but most of my friends are planning to take only the ACT and do not seem to think it makes any difference. I’m only a sophomore, so I have plenty of time to decide. Can you help?

—High school sophomore

SAT or ACT? Try Both



Dear Sophomore —

Planning ahead for college is one of the most important things you can do, and I applaud your early efforts.

Students who anticipate taking either the SAT or the ACT generally score better when they have prepared for the tests. Which test is best for you to take is another issue.

Both tests are accepted by most colleges and universities in the United States. The SAT is the most popular test if measured strictly by the numbers, but the ACT is not far behind, so it shouldn’t be ignored.

I always recommend that students take both tests and use the best scores on their college applications.

I contacted a former high school student who took both tests and had a perfect score on each: a 2,400 on the SAT and 36 on the ACT. I was eager to know how he would answer your question, since he was one of the top high school students in the country. He told me that most of his friends favored the ACT, because the test was based more on “innate ability” than “memorized tricks.”

This young man prepared 21/2 years for the SAT and only a week for the ACT. He said the SAT seemed more difficult, especially the critical reading section.

Regardless of the differences, the SAT definitely carries more of a prestige factor. Whether that is because it differentiates more (a total score of 2,400 vs. 36) or is more nationally recognized is an open question.

You are right that Score Choice lets you take the SAT as many times as you wish. You can be sure that students are preparing for the test like never before, given the fact they are allowed to report their best results from any given test date. Be careful not to confuse that to mean any combination of scores from different dates. The ACT has the same policy.

Also make sure that your high school does not report all your test scores on your transcripts, which will defeat the purpose of Score Choice.

Most highly ranked colleges recognize both tests, as do top state schools. On the other hand, some very good schools are dropping mandatory testing and going test optional. More than 800 colleges are test-optional institutions.

This is an avenue that students may want to explore if they do not test well, but have top grades and want to attend a top-tier college.




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