Lee Bierer - Nationally Syndicated Columnist and Independent College Counselor.

Is ACT or SAT best for you? – Part II

Depending on type of student, one test may be better than other.

Most colleges now accept the SAT or ACT tests. But the tests differ in content and style: the ACT is seen as content-based, the SAT more critical thinking and problem solving.

Last week’s column focused on the basic differences between the SAT and the ACT ( www.charlotteobserver.com/225), but which type of student performs better on which test?

The ACT has always offered Score Choice; students can take the test as often as they wish but only report their best single test date to colleges. Beginning with this year’s graduating class, the SAT now offers the Score Choice option. However, many schools are still requesting all scores from all test dates. Check the policies at each college.

SAT fits student who …

  • Did well on the PSAT with little or no prep work.

  • Is a strong reader with a good vocabulary.

  • Has good recall for historical or literature examples for the essay.

  • Possesses strong deductive reasoning and is test-savvy.

  • Is focused and good at puzzles.

  • Has ear for languages; easily identifies sentence errors.

  • Is a bright underachiever.

ACT fits student who …

  • Did well on the PLAN (the PSAT for the ACT).

  • Earned a PSAT score that is inconsistent with grades and effort.

  • Reads fast but is not so strong in vocabulary.

  • Knows grammar and punctuation.

  • Performs well academically but is likely to experience test anxiety.

  • Is a “book-smart overachiever” but not the best test-taker.

  • Is great at writing argumentative essays about everyday issues.

  • Works quickly – more questions and less time, but less reasoning required.

Test strategies for both

  • Take practice tests and learn the test directions now.

  • Write in the test booklet. It’s okay to do scratch work and cross out wrong answers.

  • Check the grid sheet often to make sure you’re answers align correctly.

  • Don’t spend too much time on any one question – the easy, medium and hard questions are all worth the same.

  • Know when to guess. There’s no penalty on the ACT, so respond to every question. On the SAT there is a 1/4 point penalty, so try to eliminate at least one choice, hopefully two. There is no deduction for omitted answers.

Reading sections: Try to complete the fill-in-the-blanks with words that make sense to you, and then look for their synonyms.

Comprehension sections: The first and last sentences of each paragraph are critical.

Math: Questions go in order of difficulty with easy questions first.

SAT Student Produced Response (Grid): No penalty for wrong answers, so guessing makes sense.

Here’s what I’d do

My recommendation is that students take both free practice tests online to determine which test suits them best. You can find a concordance chart to compare results at www.act.org and type “SAT concordance” in the search box.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com


1 Response » to “Is ACT or SAT best for you? – Part II”

  1. DMV says:

    Greatest idea! Your insights are very instrumental. Thank you!

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Lee Visits with The Psych Mom 



“The best part of working with you was the essay editing. You made each draft stronger and steered me when I was at a loss. You really helped me with my essay topics and helped to focus on what story to share for each prompt. It gave me direction. I was extremely happy with my essays by the time we had received your edits/approval. Once you gave me your approval, I felt confident about submitting them to the colleges!”
mom of a 2012 graduate


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