Rising Juniors: ACT vs. SAT?

The following points are distilled from conversations I have many times a day with parents of tenth graders. I hope they help. Please take it for what it is: general advice; every kid goes through a different path and we need not add to the stress caused by the competitive echo-chamber. I’d be happy to talk about your child’s circumstances - just call or text me anytime at 732-412-1416.

ACT vs. SAT? This question seems to cause people stress and to sometimes make decisions that conflict with their own best interests.

The simplest piece of advice is to choose one, prep to master it, but then plan to take the other soon after. This is because mastering one goes a long way to mastering the other. Consider the following points:

  • There is no reliable test that will predict which test is better for you child. There are 2-hour tests that I can buy wholesale and re-sell to clients. These tests purport to make this distinction, but a single test is just a snapshot in time, and sophomore year is still too early to tell.
  • The best thing to do is to take a full-length practice SAT (a PSAT result can substitute for this) and an ACT, then have an expert compare the results. Even then, the advice is merely conjecture. Some kids prep for one test yet go on to do better on the other!
  • Which one does your kid like more? This is probably the most important piece of data to answer in the “Which test?” question. If he or she scores roughly the same on both a practice SAT and ACT, then the tie-breaker should be based on his or her impression. It’s important to try to factor out a kid feeling more familiar with SAT because he or she has had more exposure through the PSAT.
  • If SAT is the choice, prep hard to master it. Since there is so much overlap between the SAT and ACT, I strongly advise students to do just a little bit more prep and take an ACT soon after the SAT. In fact, since there is no downside to taking these tests (and such great upside), it would be silly not to take the other test ... you’ve gone a long way to master both while mastering one, so take a shot at them both!
  • If ACT is the choice, my advice is the same as above - do a bit more prep and sit for an SAT soon after taking the ACT. Strike while the iron is hot!

What if the practice SAT and ACT scores are roughly the same, and my kid doesn’t express a preference for either?

My advice is to prep for the ACT first, then follow my advice above and take both tests. Since the SAT changed in 2016, it has been my experience that kids who start with ACT prep become better test-takers and are thus better off on both the ACT and the SAT. Most kids will report that the SAT feels easier after they have prepped for ACT ... we rarely hear this when a kid preps SAT first then tries ACT. Considering all of these factors and my experience with so many hundreds of students, I would argue that kids who prep ACT first are even better off on the SAT than had they done SAT prep all along.

Don't get me wrong

By suggesting that kids take both tests, I do not mean to suggest that a kid should do double the amount of prep. Rather, by taking both tests you are capitalizing on the fact that as you master one test, you are going a long way to mastering the other, and therefore the second-choice test should require far less prep time.

During the school year, Foley Prep has practice tests every Saturday and Sunday. During the summer, we have them 4-5 times a week. Everyone is welcome to take a full-length practice SAT and a full-length practice ACT free of charge. To book one, please visit FoleyPrep.com/practice-acts-sats