As seniors are anxiously awaiting their admissions decisions, most juniors are just beginning to dive headlong into the college search process.
And with this comes one of the most important considerations in college admissions – which standardized test to take, SAT or ACT?
Last year I wrote this post with my advice for deciding which test to take. My preferred strategy has always been to take a diagnostic for both tests to determine which you are better at, then put all your prep efforts into that one test. We were also able to use PSAT results to estimate performance on the SAT.
But the Class of 2017 gets the distinct “pleasure” of being the first group to take the Redesigned SAT, which will be debuted on March 5. And while the College Board has been clear about how the new test differs from the old test, the big unknown still remains – how difficult will this new SAT actually be?
Early releases of sample questions led to speculation that the Redesigned SAT would be significantly harder, causing many students to run into the open arms of the ACT. In efforts to hold onto their market share (standardized testing is a business, let’s be honest), the College Board has since shown signs that they are scaling back the difficulty of the Redesigned SAT. But nobody knows for sure until the March test rolls around. And even more importantly, nobody knows just where the score distribution will fall – how does a 1450 stack up against the rest of the test takers, for example? We won’t have complete information on scores until the College Board completes the process of norming and scaling in late May or even June. Meanwhile, Class of 2017 students who opt for the March SAT have to decide whether to sign up for another SAT, a decision which is difficult to make if you have no basis for knowing if your scores are “good enough.”
With all this tweaking of the test, it’s also uncertain just how accurate the diagnostic tests or the PSAT will be for predicting performance on the actual test. If a student does well on an early version of a practice SAT taken before the release of the new test, it may not mean they will do well on a version of the test several months later – which may have undergone significant changes.
In sum, taking the Redesigned SAT means being comfortable with a fair amount of uncertainty. If this concerns you, it may be best to avoid the Redesigned SAT entirely and just take the ACT, a strategy which many students in the Class of 2017 are opting for. All colleges accept the ACT and have no stated preference for one test over the other.
Another strategy, if you don’t mind taking more tests, is to take both tests in Spring, then retake whichever you score higher on.
What about Subject Tests?
Regardless of whether you choose SAT or ACT, the role of the Subject Tests (SAT II) still remains the same. Very few colleges require them, but they are often highly recommended for technical majors such as engineering. Most commonly, Subject Tests are taken so that a student can demonstrate their mastery of a certain subject, and used by colleges to better understand a student’s abilities. The decision whether or not to take subject tests should be made independently of the decision to take SAT or ACT.
What Matters Most: Preparation
Ultimately, what matters most is that students take the time to prepare for whichever test they decide to take. While a handful of lucky students can walk into these tests “cold” and score quite high, the vast majority of students will benefit greatly from taking the time to prepare. Whether it’s with a tutor, a test prep company or simply self-study, putting in the time to prep is one of the best investments you can make in the college admissions process.
If you are a student or parent in the Class of 2017, and you haven’t yet made a plan for testing or test prep, now is the time! As testing is a highly individualized part of the college admissions process, I include testing advice with all my programs. Contact me if you’d like to discuss your options.