During the pandemic many colleges and universities did away with requirements for standardized testing as part of the admissions process. Many saw this as a positive, but parents (and students) are now more confused than ever about which test (if any) to study for and take—and what they can expect going forward.
“The answer often depends on who the student is,” says Amy Seeley, president of Test Pros LLC, based in Lakewood, OH, which offers in-person and online tutoring. Seeley says all colleges and universities now accept scores from both tests interchangeably.
What factors determine a student’s test selection can depend on a few things, she says. “First and foremost, there are many students out there who have certain strengths that make them better suited for one test over the other. For example, a student’s math ability can have a large impact. For students intimidated by mathematics or reliant on their calculators, the ACT can often be a better test.”
The ACT math section has much more straightforward questions, and students can use a calculator on all 60 math questions. Additionally, all math questions on the ACT are multiple choice. If a student is worried about their math score affecting their overall composite, math only makes up 25 percent of a student’s ACT score. Conversely, the SAT can contain more complex math questions. On the SAT, math makes up 50 percent of the overall score.
“The best way to determine what test a student is better-suited for is to take a practice test for both the ACT and the SAT,” she advises. Students should make sure they’re taking an official ACT or SAT exam, made by either the ACT or College Board. It’s critical that students take these practice tests in a way that replicates the real test environment. Families can then make a decision on which test to take based on actual scores, rather than assumptions or feelings.
“We often hear students tell us that the SAT ‘felt easier’ (likely because of the longer time limits), but when it comes down to numbers that student may have a higher overall ACT score.”
WHEN TO START PREPPING
Laurie Kopp Weingarten, president and chief educational consultant of One-Stop College Counseling, a company based in Marlboro, says the summer after 10th grade is the right time to start studying for either or both tests. “Without the pressure of schoolwork, they can make tremendous progress,” Weingarten says. But they shouldn’t devote their entire summer to studying. “I typically tell students that they should plan to study about two hours per day, five days per week, for two weeks. Then take a full-length, timed, practice test, see how much they improve, and then we alter the study plan from that.” Pushing your teen to start studying in seventh or eighth grade usually backfires, she says.
UPCOMING CHANGES TO THE SAT
Weingarten says the new SAT (which will be introduced in March 2024 for domestic students and March 2023 for international students) will be appealing to many kids. “It’s two hours 14 minutes (instead of three hours), and it’s digital,” she says. “It will only be taken on a computer, and a student can bring their own laptop or iPad if they like.” The October 2023 PSAT will also be the new, digital PSAT.
The new SAT will be adaptive, so if a student does well on the first section of English/reading, the second session will contain harder questions, allowing the student to achieve up to a perfect score. “It will be the same for math,” she says. “There will only be one reading question per passage, which makes a lot of students less pressured.” Both math sections will allow calculator usage (currently, one math section does not), and there will be a highlight tool on all sections.
WHAT ABOUT TEST-OPTIONAL?
“Right now, it seems possible that the majority of colleges will remain test-optional,” Weingarten says. “However, certain states are requiring tests for students applying to their public universities (like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, for example). So, I tell my students to study for the test and see how well they can do.”
BENEFITS TO NO SAT?
Without the SAT, students will have to go on the strength of their transcript, teacher and counselor recommendations, interviews, essays and activities. Because SAT scores often correlate with parental education and income it’s often seen as discriminatory, Weingarten says. The new changes and the option to forgo the test could mean the next steps toward making education more equitable for all.