High school students often have a hard time deciding whether to take the SAT or ACT. Some choose to take both.  Others make a decision that’s not in their best interest. Dr. Linda

Dear Dr. Linda,

Choosing whether to take the SAT or the ACTOur son Cory is getting anxious about whether to take the SAT or ACT. He wants to take only the ACT because the essay isn’t required. He thinks his writing is so bad that he shouldn’t write the optional essay. We think he should because we’re assuming that colleges will think students who don’t do the essays are lazy. What is your advice?  Should he take both tests?  We’ve heard that the SAT is preferable. William and Kate

Dear William and Kate,

I understand Corey’s concern. I don’t think colleges will think he’s lazy if he opts out of the ACT essay.  However, to choose the ACT simply because he doesn’t want to write the essay isn’t the best way to make the choice.

In order to make his decision, Corey needs more information. Before he signs up for either the SAT or the ACT, he needs to call the admission office of each college to which he’s applying.  Ask which test they prefer and if they require the essay on the ACT.

Cory’s not alone. Many students and their parents agonize about whether to take the SAT or the ACT.  Students who do well on tests often choose to take both.  At the present time, the two tests are quite different. (The new SAT I wrote about last week which won’t be given until 2016 is more similar to the ACT. The essay will be optional.

SAT or ACT: The Differences

The ACT focuses more on what he knows, while the SAT has a stronger emphasis on innate ability.  In general the ACT questions are more straightforward than the SAT. The ACT has a science section and more advanced math concepts than the SAT. Students who have excellent reading, vocabulary, and comprehension skills but aren’t as well prepared in math and science often choose the SAT.  The SAT  also emphasizes vocabulary.

Another way to look at this depends on the way the tests are scored. Colleges look at the composite score of the ACT and the individual scores you received in each section on the SAT.  So students who are  weak in one area, often prefer the ACT.

The SAT jumps back and forth between critical reading, math, and writing. The ACT focuses on one subject at a time. For some students, going back and forth between subjects is confusing so the ACT would be a better choice.

After making the calls to the admission offices of the schools where he’s applying, Cory may find out that he can take either the SAT or the ACT. And he may find schools on his list that prefer the ACT also require the essay. So now he needs to make a decision.

I suggest that he do practice tests for both. Which is he most comfortable with? Which seems the easiest? Which test matches his learning style? Now he’s in a better position to choose which test to take.

Be sure to take practice tests from “real” questions that are asked on the tests.

Although the study review books will help him, he’ll get even more out of a test prep class or individual tutoring. Strong Learning offers both to help kids get the best grades they can. Call 845- 628-7910 for more information.

Good luck to Cory on his exams,

Dr. Linda

P.S. Cory will find some great suggestions for taking either test in my complimentary eBook, Top SAT, PSAT, ACT Strategies. He can pick up a copy at

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