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Come sophomore and junior year, parents and students start to feel the weight of impending standardized testing. And all the questions that come with that? Should I (my child) take the ACT or the SAT? Do I need to take Subject Tests? What score will be “good enough?” How much difference does it make anyway?
Here are answers to your key questions:
How are the ACT and SAT Different?
The ACT is more closely aligned to what you’re studying in high school, whereas the SAT measures critical thinking and reasoning skills more than it does subject knowledge. So if you get great grades in school, consider taking the ACT. If you feel your skills at reasoning and thinking are excellent, but you’d rather not be tested on the material you learn in school, take the SAT.
The ACT also tests science, so if you’re applying to certain schools, you may not need to take the SAT Subject Tests. But for many students, it’s easier to take the SAT because it doesn’t test science.
Which One Should I Take?
It used to be that Midwestern schools used the ACT more, whereas coastal schools preferred the SAT. This preference is now not significant, so take the test you’d do better at. The simplest way to find out is to take a practice test cold (unprepared), look at your scores, and just take the one you did better on . People will recommend very complex ways to make this decision, but this heuristic works.
Should I Take Subject Tests?
A relatively small number of school require the Subject Tests, and then not for all programs. Take the Subject Tests only if you’re applying to a school that requires them.
If you might be applying to one of these schools. then take the SAT subject test in the same year you study the subject. For example, if you take Chemistry in sophomore year and might apply to a school that requires the subject test, take the Chemistry subject test in sophomore year.
When Should I Take the Tests?
- Take Subject tests when you take the subjects you’re being tested on, if you can.
- Take the Practice SAT (PSAT) in sophomore year and again in junior year
- Take a practice ACT in junior year
- Take the ACT or SAT in spring of junior year and again in the fall of senior year. That way you can take it twice (more than that is a waste of energy), and avoid taking it when you’re studying for junior year finals.
How Important is Standardized Testing?
Grades and your transcript, which show how tough a high school curriculum you took, are the most important measure for college admissions. Standardized tests are a secondary measure, but at many schools, still very important.
How Many Schools Don’t Require Standardized Tests?
FairTest publishes a list of schools that don’t require, or don’t consider, standardized tests. If you’re applying only to these schools, you may not need to take either test.
What Score Will I Need to Get Into My Dream School?
Many sites have college profiles that tell you the average SAT and ACT score of admitted students at many universities that report this data. You can also view this data at the website of the National Council for Education Statistics.
What Schools Can I Get Into With My Score?
You can use sites like LifeLaunchr to do a college search based on many criteria, including test scores and grades, and get a sense of where you might be able to be admitted.