Should You Take the ACT or SAT?

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It’s that time of year again when high school students are trying to decide whether they should take the ACT or SAT, both, or neither, as part of their college application process. Although similar in nature, the two standardized tests do measure different capabilities. Most colleges will accept either test, and some are even test-optional, so what path is best for you? According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, the number of students taking the ACT has increased dramatically, and now equals or exceeds those taking the SAT, although some students may be taking both. Here is a brief description of each test to help you decide what your next step should be:

• SAT: Test length is 3 hours, 45 minutes. There are ten sections – three which measure critical reading skills, three math areas, three writing, and one experimental section, which is currently unscored. The total score can range between 600 and 2400 depending on how many scores are included from the three subject areas. The SAT has a stronger emphasis on reasoning ability and vocabulary, which is good if English is your strong point. Upcoming SAT exams are scheduled for November 8 with a regular registration deadline of October 9 and a late registration deadline of October 28. The next tests are scheduled for December 6 and January 24. The College Board is redesigning some areas of the SAT, beginning with the tests scheduled for the spring of 2016.

• ACT: Test length is 3 hours, 25 minutes, including the writing test. There are four Sections – English, math, reading, and science, plus the optional writing test. Although the writing test is optional, many schools do require it, so it is best to check with the schools on your application list. Each section is scored individually, and then averaged for a total composite test score between 1 and 36. It is said that the ACT focuses more on exacting knowledge because it has a science section, while the SAT doesn’t, tests more advanced math concepts, and its questions also tend to be a bit more straightforward. The next ACT exam is scheduled for December 13, with a registration deadline of November 7. The next test after that is set for February 7.

Overall, the ACT measures achievement, while the SAT is more likely to measure aptitude. You can discuss preferences with the admissions office at your selected colleges. It may also help to assess your strong areas with your guidance counselor, or to take some practice tests, to decide which is best for you.

Financial Aid Matters

Once you have determined whether your school requires a test, or achieved a test score that is sufficient for admission, the next step is to secure the financial aid you need to help pay for the college you want to attend. For more information about maximizing financial aid, contact College Financial Aid Advisors (CFAA) or visit my About.com website, Paying for College.