ACT Advice

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ACT Advice

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My daughter does not know if she should take the ACT, SAT or both. How does she decided?

You finally learned what LOL, OMG and BTW means. Now, your daughter is in high school, and there is another set of acronyms to learn—PSAT, PLAN, ACT, and SAT. Most parents are familiar with these letters and don’t need Google to determine their initial meaning. However, further examination is required if you are going to truly understand how these tests will impact your child.

The ACT (American College Testing Program) and the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Reasoning Test) are designed to evaluate students and predict college success, but both accomplish this differently. Which test to take and/or should a student attempt both can be a stressful question for an emerging high school graduate.

Philosophically, the ACT and SAT approach academic assessment much differently. The ACT tests what one has been taught in school with a more curriculum based approach. The SAT, on the other hand, is more focused on assessing innate aptitudes by testing general reasoning skills and problem solving abilities. The goal, however, of both tests are the same-determine college readiness.

In addition to the theoretical differences, the assessment structure is also different. The ACT is pure multiple choice and there are no penalties for guessing or marking wrong answers. The SAT has not only multiple choice questions but also an essay and “grid‐in” math question where a student actually writes in the correct response. There is also a quarter point penalty for every wrong answer; answers left blank are not scored.

Still unsure which test your student should take; consider curricular aspects when making an informed choice. The ACT has four specific categories covering math, science, English, and reading with an optional essay. The SAT focuses on math abilities, critical reading skills, required essay writing, and a variety of optional subject area tests. Content wise, the ACT has trigonometry and a full science section; the SAT has neither. In the area of language, the ACT focuses on grammar and punctuation whereas the SAT is steeped in vocabulary.

Lastly, if your daughter is a good test taker, it doesn’t really matter which exam she chooses. On the other hand, students who struggle, have anxiety, or don’t want to sit for both have another option to assist with the choice decision. These teens should review their performance on the PLAN (pre‐ACT) and PSAT (pre‐SAT). Both are precursors to their perspective assessments and a good predictor of future performance.

If a student takes only one test; she should choose the one better suited toward her personal strength. It is also important to make sure that your daughter knows the testing requirements of the colleges that she may want to attend before making her final decision. Choose wisely because college acceptance and scholarship dollars will be influenced by test scores.


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