As college counselors, we are often asked, “Which test should I take?” The answer is, all colleges will accept either the SAT or ACT; there is no one right choice. It is entirely dependent on the student and what works best for them. There is certainly no harm in trying both, but once you have chosen, it is important to focus on only one test, working hard to master the content, format, pacing, and question style.
It is best to finish your standardized testing by the start of your senior year so that you can focus on working on your college applications, which are due as early as October of senior year. This could mean two or three test dates over the course of junior year.
How To Prepare: Creating a Study Plan
To get an idea of what the exam is like, which subject areas may need extra attention, and which test is the best fit, we recommend that all students begin with a diagnostic test. These are available online, through tutoring services, or in test prep books. Once you have properly gauged your test-taking abilities, plan to dedicate at least three months to studying for your chosen exam, the SAT or ACT. As mentioned before, it is best to devote this time to one test. Since students usually take these exams for the first time in the fall of their junior year, summer after sophomore year is a great time to start test prep. Your test prep plan may include:
- Using the free resources at khanacademy.org/sat for the SAT or https://cloud.e.act.org/free-practice-act-test for the ACT
- Self-administering timed practice tests regularly
- Establishing realistic score and performance goals
- Purchasing test prep books and flash cards
- Meeting with a well-trained tutor for extra practice and motivation
- Setting aside a specific block of time each week for studying
- Reviewing familiar, foundational concepts that may come up on the test in an unfamiliar way
As you craft your plan of action for the SAT or ACT, it is time to register for a testing date or two. To give yourself time to execute your study plan, select a date that’s at least three months away. Before you log on to the College Board or ACT website, be sure to follow our tips for a seamless registration listed below:
ICC’s Tips for Registration
Registering early will ensure that you will not incur late fees or be stuck with a standby spot. Registration deadlines are listed on both ACT and SAT websites; however, it is important to keep in mind that these deadlines usually fall about a month prior to the testing day. Keep an eye on the dates and register as far ahead of the deadline as possible.
When you register for the ACT or SAT, they will ask you to provide information such as class rank, GPA, course work, career interests, and demographics. You do NOT need to answer these questions if you don’t want to. The testing agencies are gathering information on you that they will then sell to the colleges. Required questions will be marked by an asterisk and are for identification purposes.
Many students choose to take the ACT or SAT at their high school or at a school nearby. In these cases, the testing location is convenient and familiar. Although as registration opens and seats begin to fill up, you may not get a spot at your ideal testing location—a great reason to register early!
For a small fee, these services allow you to receive a copy of your test questions and answers as well as the correct answers. These reports are usually mailed to the student 6 to 8 weeks after the test and can make a big difference in knowing where your weak spots are if you plan to retake the exam.
If you feel that standardized test costs may pose a financial burden to your family, it is important to note that fee waivers are available. Check the ACT and SAT websites for specific information and eligibility requirements.
Remember: with a little planning and preparation, you can feel confident going into the ACT or SAT. If you need a referral for a top-notch tutor for your student or you have questions about standardized testing, don’t hesitate to call an expert college counselor at International College Counselors or email us at email@example.com.
Susan Moldow has 25+ years of experience in education, including teaching and working extensively as a college consultant, academic coach, and interviewer for Cornell University admissions. Susan’s passion for bringing out the best in her students – combined with her coaching expertise – makes her especially adept at taking the stress and fear out of the college admissions process. She has helped hundreds of students realize their educational aspirations and gain admission to undergraduate and graduate programs in the United States. A graduate of Cornell University (B.S.), the University of Maryland (M.Ed.), and Florida Atlantic University (M.A. in English) as well as a current student pursuing a dual PhD in Literature and Women and Gender Studies, Susan is knowledgeable about the college admissions process both from her experience helping students and from her own educational journey.
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