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3 Quick Tips—and lots of opinions—on the SAT or ACT

July 15, 2016

By Rebecca Grappo

Everyone seems to have a differing view on which standardized test is preferable, particularly in light of the recent changes to the SAT. Once more, locale, educational background, and command of the English language can mean that international students have additional considerations when choosing one of the two standardized tests required for admission by many U.S. universities. Before starting to prepare for either, bear in mind these three quick tips.

Quick Tip One: Pick Your Poison
The college board recently revamped their SAT so the differences between the SAT and ACT are less marked. When SAT test administrator The College Board announced the decision to issue a newly formatted SAT, pundits—including this one from Forbes Magazine—commented on the rational behind the move. Many saw the decision as the College Board’s response to the growing popularity of the ACT. Whatever the reason, the resulting similarities between the two standardized tests mean that choosing one is a more nuanced decision.

Which to take? The good news is potential test takers don’t have a shortage of resources to make comparisons. Many tutoring prep sites contrast the two, addressing the pros and cons of each. ApplerouthKaplan Test, and Princeton Review are just three tutoring companies willing to opine on both.

As far as international students are concerned, however, the SAT traditionally is the more popular. The College Board itself has material on the newly designed test and its relevance for international students. US News offers this view on whether international students should take the ACT. PrepScholar has a very good article on the benefits and challenges of each.

Similar to the views of many, Peterson’s notes that “It is imperative that students who wish to take the ACT test have a firm grasp on English, particularly American English. The test is written entirely in English.” Others point to the vocabulary section of the SAT and therefore prefer the ACT, though as the blog from Prep Scholar points out, the new SAT verbal sections now account for only half the score and “the SAT no longer features obscure vocabulary words.” So again, the distinction between the two, even when it comes to command of the English language, is now less clear.

So how do you choose? The best way to see which format resonates better with you is to do a practice test for both, which many tutoring companies now offer online for free. Whatever you do, don’t waste time and resources preparing for both. Do your research, take the two tests, then choose your preferred test and prepare for that.

Quick Tip Two: Study
Whether you choose to study independently from practice books, hire a tutor, take a group class, or go to a test prep camp, you need to study. Your availability, locale, and budget will influence the study route you choose. The web has many online reviews of different tutoring companies, as well as study method comparisons that speak to summer camp as well. Consensus either way seems to be that one shouldn’t cram right before the test and that you should give yourself a few months at least to prepare. In addition, many bloggers have published pieces on just what internationals students should bear in mind when studying for the tests. Students opine on the matter as well. This piece was quite interesting, even if it lacked clear answers to the challenges facing international students.

At RNG International, we usually recommend one-on-one tutoring for students who want to see big improvements in their scores. One-on-one instruction allows the tutor to better tailor the instruction to address specific areas of weakness. But bear in mind that just having a tutor is not enough if the student doesn’t put in the work between sessions. The student needs to be committed to doing the studying required. Remember, too, that higher scores not only can lead to more options, but sometimes even access to non-need based merit scholarships. Not a bad return on the investment for test prep.

Quick Tip Three: Think Twice Before Taking More Than Thrice
Most tutoring companies suggest that scores can improve markedly with a second test and even, to some extent, with a third. The growing trend of super scoring, in which colleges combine the best results from multiple tests, make taking the test multiple times more appealing. But before you register for number four, bear in mind that observers suggest that improvements in scores seem to decline beyond three.

However many times you take the exam, allow yourself enough time to register, usually a good month ahead of time. Consider, too, taking simulated practiced tests in simulated environments, which help you increase your familiarity with the pressures of the test itself. Those practice tests can go a long way in helping improve you scores.

In addition, if you’re an international student, be aware of where and when the test is available in your country. You can check out international dates for SAT registration here and dates for ACT registration here.

And by the way, if you are an international student, be sure the colleges to which you are applying require it. Most do require international students to take the test, though a few only require tests according to major. For a complete list of colleges that don’t require the tests, go to fair test.

For more on whether ACT and SAT prep is worth the money, read our blog on the subject.

For support in the college application process, contact Rebecca Grappo

 

 

2 Responses to “3 Quick Tips—and lots of opinions—on the SAT or ACT”

  1. My son is entering high school this year and isn’t very good at taking tests, and this year has to start preparing for the SAT. You mentioned that consensus, either way, seems to be that one shouldn’t cram right before the test and that you should give yourself a few months at least to prepare. Do most high schools offer classes for preparations or refer to a company that does it? It appears that a lot of studying could be very beneficial.

    • Rebecca and Michelle Grappo says:

      Thank you for your comment. How long one prepares for the SAT depends on the profile of the student, the target score, how much of an improvement the student seeks, and the time available each week to study. First and foremost, I’d recommend that the student first take a practice test, bearing in mind that the content of the tests are geared to grade level, so taking a test too early will mean some of the content has likely not yet been learned. The start of freshman year seems a little early to me for that reason. While many schools do not offer SAT or ACT tutoring, I’d suggest that your student speak first with your guidance office for recommendations on studying. If your student chooses to engage an outside tutor, be sure to meet with several and speak to others who have used that tutor’s services. No one should guarantee a score increase. Irrespective of whether a student hires outside individual support, attends a class, or studies independently, the most important determinant is that the student studies.

      Good luck!

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