In the college admissions game, standardized test scores are a big deal. Though a good score isn't necessarily a guaranteed ticket into the school of your choice, it can help you achieve your goals. The ACT and SAT test different skills, so your smartest move is to take the test that's most likely to play to your strengths.
The SAT tests your ability to reason, essentially giving colleges a glimpse at your potential to achieve. It includes verbal reasoning, math and writing sections. The ACT, on the other hand, tests cumulative knowledge, including English, math, writing and science. According to The Princeton Review, a college cares more about the scores on individual sections for the SAT, while it cares about the composite score of the ACT.
Most colleges will accept your test scores from either the SAT or ACT. You can submit both tests scores if you feel that both are good enough to show off your skills as a student. Some colleges will also require the SAT II subject tests, while others don't require standardized test scores at all. Before you make a decision -- especially if you are paying to take a study course for one version or the other -- check the admissions requirements for the colleges on your short list.
Best for You
According to Scott White, director of guidance at Montclair High School in New Jersey in an article in the "New York Times," students who tend to be bright underachievers are likely to do better on the SAT, while those who work hard and achieve well in class are likely to do better on the ACT. Questions on the ACT tend to be more straightforward, according to The Princeton Review. Perhaps the best way to determine which is right for you is to take practice versions of each test and see which earns you the better score. Even if you can't afford to take a real exam, try mimicking real-life testing conditions while taking a practice test in a book from the library or online from The Princeton Review or The College Board. Once you've determined which test you're likely to do better on, spend extra time reviewing the sections you scored poorly on to improve your overall score.
Overcoming Poor Scores
Getting a score below the typical threshold for your college of choice is a big disappointment. All is not lost, though. If you have enough time, you can study harder and retake the test. The school will usually take the highest score you received, according to MIT admissions. Alternatively, remember that schools are looking to admit real people, not just test scores. You can overcome poor test scores by focusing on your admissions essays and recommendations.
Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.