(US News) By Tiffany Sorensen.
Choosing between the ACT and SAT is a pivotal decision that all college-bound high school students must make. One of the key steps in reaching an informed decision is to sit for an official practice test – the PreACT or PSAT – which give you a better idea of what to expect when you take the official college entrance exams.
In addition to considering other factors, such as whether your top-choice schools prefer a specific standardized exam, your performance on these pre-exams can help guide you in choosing between the ACT and SAT.
[Get to know important facts about the PreACT.]
If your high school offers the PreACT and the PSAT, consider the benefits of taking both, particularly if you are wholly unfamiliar with the tests and require a jumping-off point. Taking both also gives you a greater understanding of how you might do on the ACT and SAT, providing comparison points when choosing between the two.
Once you have taken one or both exams and have received your score, consider these three aspects to help you determine whether to take the ACT or SAT.
1. Strengths and weaknesses: Both the PreACT and PSAT issue reports that include your overall score, section-specific results and an analysis of test questions by type. Review your score report and make a list of your weakest areas. If you took both exams, complete this process for both and see which test you were stronger on.
[Get information on how parents, teens can make use of PSAT scores.]
Note, however, that not all weaknesses are equal in weight. For example, it may be far simpler to improve your PSAT performance in “Words in Context” than it would be to shore up your results on the PreACT’s “Interpretation of Data” portion. Consider your general academic strengths and learning style when evaluating your score reports.
2. Target results and performance gaps: Many students who register for the PreACT or PSAT do so with a target score in mind. That target score is often based on a combination of college admissions preferences, personal goals and scholarship requirements.
When you review your exam results, you will likely compare your PreACT and PSAT scores with your target ACT and SAT scores. The gap between these two results can indicate whether you should take the ACT or SAT.
Consider this scenario: You identify two weaknesses on the PreACT and three on the PSAT. The gap between your ideal and projected ACT results is potentially insurmountable, but your projected score on the SAT is a mere 50 points shy of your target. In this case, choosing the SAT makes the most sense.
[Learn how to assess PreACT performance to build a strong ACT prep plan.]
Although you may gravitate toward one test in particular, your PreACT or PSAT scores may suggest that you take a different course of action. For instance, you may be leaning toward the ACT because it seems more straightforward than the SAT, but your PSAT result may be outstanding.
On the other hand, you may wish to submit an SAT score to your dream school, but your PreACT result might be closer to the college’s expectations. Put your desires aside and truly contemplate which exam will give you the best chance to shine.
3. Comfort level and familiarity: Comfort level can also play a role in test performance. As a student’s knowledge of and experience with an exam increases, so does his or her comfort with and performance on that test. Unfamiliarity with an exam’s timing, format or content can also contribute to test anxiety and possibly a lower score.
You may feel so comfortable with the ACT that you would rather not learn about the SAT – or vice versa. High comfort level is an acceptable reason to adhere to a specific exam, so long as it is not your only reason.
Perhaps your math teacher assigns practice SAT questions as part of homework your sophomore year, or maybe your high school English curriculum involves intensive ACT prep during junior year. If one of these efforts results in fewer weaknesses or a PreACT or PSAT score that is comparable to your target result – or both – opt for the related college entrance exam.
Deciding whether to take the ACT or SAT requires research and contemplation. Evaluating your performance on the PreACT and PSAT can help you determine the standardized exam that’s best for you.