This is a very common concern but one that can only be answered by having the student do some practice questions from each exam. Each exam has its advantages and disadvantages which I discuss to some extent in the next question on this page. The key is that if the student starts preparing early enough, he or she should have enough time to take both exams, assuming one exam turns out not to be for that student. I don't recommend preparing for both exams simutaneously. This is usually very confusing to students and doesn't work out very well. Each exam should be prepared for separately and conscientiously.
Which test should I take: the SAT or the ACT?
Yes. It makes no difference which one the student takes as all colleges and universities will accept either exam. The advantage of the ACT over the SAT Reasoning Test is that if your prospective school requires or recommends SAT Subject Tests (formerly SAT ll) as well as the SAT, some schools will accept the ACT instead of the SAT Reasoning and Subject tests. If the student wants to verify whether or not a particular school will accept one exam or the other, the student should call the admissions department of the university and an admissions counselor will give you the answer.
Do all colleges accept both exams?
Generally speaking, the biggest difference to students between the exams is that students can guess away without fear of penalty on the ACT whereas on the SAT students must decide whether to answer the question because the student loses more credit for answering a question wrong rather than leaving it blank. However, time is also more of a factor on the ACT than it is on the SAT. Also, the student must have much more math knowledge for the ACT but on the SAT the student needs much more vocabulary in order to do well. There is no science section on the SAT, but the science section on the ACT promotes fear to many students but it shouldn’t because with practice most students will be able to do well on that section. There are more differences between the exams but those are the main ones.
How are the exams similar and different?
When should I be done with the exams?
By the fall of the student's senior year, the student should have all standardized testing done. Some, however, take the take as late as January of his or her senior year. But remember: early decision 1, early action, and rolling admissions applications need to be completed by November of the student’s senior year. However, regular admission applications aren’t looked at until after January 1 of the New Year, so the November and December exams can be taken and will be accepted by the admissions committees. Some schools might even accept a January score but you will need to check with a particular school to verify that.
Generally speaking, the sooner the student commences serious studying for the exam the better. Early in the student’s junior year, the student should start preparing. By then, the student has all the math he or she will need for the SAT and the student’s vocabulary will not significantly change in the next few months. This gives the student ample time to do well and if he or she discovers that the SAT is not the exam for him or her, then the student has plenty of time to prepare for the ACT and do well. One might remember the old joke: How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice , practice, practice. This is certainly true of these exams. Practicing earnestly and conscientiously will improve your score. To do well, the student must take the exam extremely seriously. If he or she does, it will pay dividends.
When should I start preparing for the exams?
No. Every SAT exam and every ACT exam are “equally” difficult. The examiners know beforehand pretty much how each exam will score before it is given. Yes, they do skew the exam slightly to allow for some deviation but it is not significant. A student may tell you that the March SAT exam was harder that the May exam, for example, but that could be that student’s perception of the exam. Maybe that student knew the vocabulary on the May exam but didn’t on the March exam or maybe the student had an easier time with the math questions on the May exam. All exams are given equal weight by the admissions committees and the admissions officers don’t look at a 2140 or any score differently because it was taken at a particular date.