A reader recently contacted me with this question: "I have read your advice on preparing for the SAT and PSAT tests, but what about the ACT test? What preparation should my son do?"
The ACT is another standardized college entrance exam. Many, if not most, colleges accept either the ACT or the SAT and there are equivalency score charts for the test.
In some states, 100% of high school students take the ACT, in other states a small percentage of students take the ACT test.
What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?
The ACT is a knowledge-based test; the SAT is a reasoning-based test. The ACT also includes a Science Reasoning section. It is the opinion of Greg Landry at Landry Academy that the graphs and charts in the Science Reasoning section are difficult for many students. I don't completely agree with that, but if your student is not familiar with interpreting graphs and charts, that would be an area for them to practice.
Another difference is that the SAT will count off 1/4 point for wrong answers, but no points off for non-answers. The ACT does not count off for wrong answers, therefore guessing is not detrimental to the student. I believe that students taking the SAT should be able to make a reasonable guess by process of elimination, and should not be afraid to do so.
Some students may score better on the ACT than the SAT, or vice-versa. Either test is acceptable for college entrance. The ACT offers an optional essay, if the college requires an essay score.
Why do I have my students take both the ACT and the SAT?
I have my students take the ACT before they enroll for dual credit classes at the local community college.This is the second semester of their sophomore year, at the latest. You will need to plan ahead if you are going to use this score for community college entrance so that you have time to receive the scores before enrollment begins.
I prefer this test over the test they can take at the community college (THEA in Texas) because it is a national test and it gives me a better idea of where they stand academically.
I do not have my students do any preparation for this test. I want to know what they know without doing any last minute preparation. I feel like this gives me an accurate assessment of where they are academically. I do not have my students take the optional essay portion the first time they take the ACT.
My students take the ACT a second time late in their junior year of high school or early in their senior year. I may add the essay portion at this time, but not always. My decision is based on the colleges they are applying to and if those colleges require the essay.
What's all the fuss about the SAT if colleges accept either test?
The main reason I have my students take the SAT is as a follow-up to their PSAT score. I wrote about the significance of the PSAT score earlier. If your student scores high enough to be a National Merit Qualifier, an SAT score is required. I don't think the College Board states that the SAT score is to prove that the PSAT score is legit, but I think it is. If there is a large discrepancy between the PSAT score and the SAT score, I think a Semi-Finalist would have a slim chance of progressing to Finalist.
My answer to my reader? Since her son is still young (pre-high school), I advised no preparation. Let the test be a benchmark for him.
While I believe that too much emphasis is put on preparation for these standardized tests, if your student is in high school, you can purchase ACT test practice test books at almost any bookstore. This will give your student an idea of the type of questions they will encounter on the test. The ACT website also has practice tests. Be aware that online practice tests do not give students practice transferring their answers to an answer sheet, and filling in the bubbles, but they will expose them to the questions.
Preparing for either of these tests was covered when I wrote about How To Prepare for the SAT. Basically, a good well-rounded education that emphasizes reading, vocabulary, and writing, as well as understanding math.
In conclusion, have your student take the ACT, or have them take the SAT, or have them take both. Either test score will be acceptable for college entrance and your student may do better on one test over the other.