Planning for the SAT and ACT can seem overwhelming. There is so much to consider: which test to take, when to take the tests, how to prepare for the tests and more. Today we are offering some answers to common SAT/ACT related questions.
Keep in mind that these answers represent our perspectives, based on what we have found works best generally for students. When it comes to academic choices, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach, as each student has his or her own unique set of circumstances.
For more personalized information, please contact us to set up an appointment with a college counselor who can offer guidance based on individual students’ needs.
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Should I take the SAT or the ACT?
This is the question to which parents and students most want a black-and-white answer. Take the SAT or take the ACT. The answer, of course, is not that simple. The SAT and ACT each test different skills and require different methods of preparation.
All colleges accept both tests, without a preference for either, so which test to take is ultimately a matter of personal preference. Please see this post for a more comprehensive breakdown of the elements of and differences between the two tests.
We generally recommend taking each test once to see which is a better fit and then focusing on the preferred test to take a second time.
Regardless of which test you choose to take, remember that neither test is a measure of intelligence. Rather, they each measure only how well you take that particular test. There is more to you than just your test score and colleges are interested in the whole package.
When should I take the SAT/ACT?
Ideally, testing should be complete before senior year starts. However, there is still time to take a test or two in the fall of senior year, depending on individual colleges’ application due dates. When deciding when to take the tests, it is important to take into account things like course loads, extracurricular activities, and how advanced your curriculum is. For example, if you play spring sports, you might want to consider taking the tests in the fall and winter so that you have room in your schedule to spend time preparing. You’ll also want to have as much Algebra 2 under your belt as you can when you take the tests.
How many times should I take the SAT/ACT?
We typically recommend that students take each test one time to determine which they prefer and then focus on the preferred test to take a second time.
When should I start preparing for the SAT/ACT?
The most important factor in preparing for the tests is consistency. You should be working consistently leading up to the test dates so that your brain is used to doing the kind of reading and thinking required by the tests. If you prepare too far in advance without maintaining a study routine as the test approaches, the early preparation will have been for nothing. Use the idea of consistently working a few times a week for 4-5 weeks before the test as a general starting point for forming a study plan. Your success on the exams will almost certainly correlate directly with the amount of quality time spent preparing.
How should I prepare for the SAT/ACT?
There are many options to consider when deciding how to prepare for the SAT and ACT.
In nine years of tutoring, we have observed that many students benefit from personalized assistance when preparing for the SAT and ACT. One-on-one tutoring sessions can help hold students accountable for their preparation and tutors can tailor their guidance to exactly what each student needs. Tutors can identify whether a student needs help with test-taking strategies or with the substantive material, then proceed accordingly. Tutors can also help students identify patterns in test questions that may not appear obvious during self-study.
Some students prefer a structured classroom setting and find signing up for something like a 6-week long course beneficial. There are many providers of these courses, such as Kaplan and Princeton Review. These courses are expensive and it is up to the student to make them worthwhile. Simply attending the classes without putting in 100% effort will not help; these courses require diligence and a willingness to follow the plan and complete the practice tests.
For students who are self-motivated and able to learn on their own, test prep might mean purchasing a book and working through practice tests. For the SAT, we recommend The Official SAT Study Guide from the College Board, as well as the free online resources available through Khan Academy. With Khan Academy, students can track their progress and customize their practice based on their performance. For the ACT, we recommend either The Official ACT Prep Guide or Cracking the ACT from The Princeton Review.