In the past, which exam you took was based on where you lived. For example, most students in the Midwest took the ACT, while students in the East Coast took the SAT. Today, students now have the choice to take either the SAT or the ACT, regardless of where they live. Most colleges also have zero preference regarding which exam a student takes. Today, the two exam formats are more similar than ever before: both exams have very similar content in Math, Reading and Writing. Both have optional essays and both are approximately 3 and a half hours in length. Now let’s take a look at the differences between the two exams:
Time: While the material tested on both exams is almost identical, the ACT is far more time intensive. In other words, the ACT gives you less time per question.
The hardest part of the ACT is time. There are definitely strategies to improve timing, but if you have serious issues with timing or prefer more time to consider your answers, the SAT may be the better option. Alternatively, if you are able to plow through questions and are super focused, then the ACT may be the better choice.
Science Section: The ACT has a separate “science” section, but the SAT does not. I put the word “science” in quotes, because it has absolutely nothing to do with the science taught in high school. This section is primarily about analyzing charts and graphs and requires the ability to quickly decipher information from charts, graphs and text. Although the science section is all about strategy and relatively easy to master, the SAT might make your sense if you absolutely hate analyzing charts/graphs. You won’t completely get away with not having to do analytical type questions on the SAT: while the SAT doesn’t have a separate “science” section, the exam does spread chart/graph problems across all its sections (Reading, Writing, Math).
Math: In terms of content, ACT Math and SAT are very similar in terms of material: both mainly focus arithmetic, algebra and geometry. Both exams also test trigonometry, but focus very little on it. However, while the ACT math section is 100% multiple choice, the SAT Math section is roughly 80% multiple choices and 20% grid-in (fill in your own answer).
The ACT lets you use a calculator on all its math problems, but the SAT math section is separated into a “without calculator” section (one-third of the math questions) and a “with calculator” section (two-thirds of the math questions). Some students might get nervous about the “without calculator” section, but it doesn’t require any difficult arithmetic, so this isn’t really much of an issue.
A common misconception among parents is the belief that school counselors are experts on everything SAT/ACT. While they may have some knowledge about these exams, counselors are by no means the authority when it comes to test prep. SAT/ACT prep teachers are the experts and they usually either work at for-profit prep companies or individually have their own tutoring business.
High school counselors generally only know very basic information on these exams, such as exam dates and whether or not the school is be a test center for certain dates. They don't really know any of the finer details about these exams when it comes to both the actual content/strategy or the game planning.
Game planning is figuring out what needs to be done before actually studying for the SAT/ACT. For example, all of Sarah’s questions regarding her Langley High School junior were game planning type questions:
What’s the difference between the SAT or ACT?
Which exam should they take? Should they take both?
When should my child take the exam? When should they begin studying?
How many times should my child take the exam?
This is the primary reason for this blog: to give you parents the right answers to these very important questions. The first topic I’ll cover is understanding the differences between the SAT and ACT exams and helping you figure out which exam your child should take.
I remember the first phone call I received when I first started my test prep business back in 2011. It was from a parent of a junior from Langley High School, which happens to be my alma mater. Sarah asked many questions most parents ask regarding the entire process:
What’s the difference between the SAT or ACT? Which exam should my daughter take? Should they take both? When should they take the exam? When should they begin studying? How many times should they take the exam?
After talking for about 45 minutes, I remember Sarah exclaiming how much sense my advice made to her... unlike the information they got from the school counselor. Confused, I asked Sarah what advice the school counselor gave her. After Sarah explained the recommendations that had been given to her, I couldn’t help but be a little bit in shock. Not only had was the counselor’s guidance different from mine, it was also very very bad advice. More specifically, had Sarah followed the direction given by the school counselor, it would have been detrimental to her daughter’s performance.
Since then, I’ve had many similar phone calls with parents from not only Langley, but many other high schools as well. What has astonished me is that school counselors give consistently bad guidance, regardless of the type of school...high schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods...very affluent high schools...middle class high schools...all girls schools...all boys schools...public...private. It didn’t matter.
My reason for writing this book is to help you parents. I know that the test prep process can be confusing and the last thing you need is to be steered in the wrong direction when all you’re trying to do is seek sound advice. This book will focus on the game planning process, which is primarily what you need to figure out before your child actually sits down and starts studying for the exam.
By reading this book you’ll find out that game planning is just as important, if not more important, than actually studying for the exam. My goal is to help make the process as stress free as possible for you as well as set your child up for success.