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ACT versus SAT: which college exam should you take?

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Should a high school student take the ACT test, or is the SAT test better? How do the PSAT and the PLAN tests affect college admission? The answer is that each situation is unique. It depends on the college that the student wants to attend, as well as the strengths and personality of the student.
You should ask yourself several questions before deciding whether to take the SAT or ACT, which are the two primary college admissions examinations.
The PSAT is the practice test for the SAT. The PLAN is the practice exam for the ACT.
Confused yet? Click here for a chart outlining details of these four main college entrance exams. This chart also has links to register for the tests.
Student who are undecided about college should consider taking all four exams. Some colleges are partial to either the ACT or the SAT. However, many colleges will let students use either score for admission or scholarship purposes.
If the college of your choice gives you an option, the SAT may be a better test for you if you did well on the PSAT.
Also, the SAT is better for those with great vocabulary and grammar skills, according to Ned Johnson of NPR Radio. It is also best for those who find it easier to write essays that use illustrative examples rather than argument.
If you are quick-thinking and able to reason, you will find the SAT easier. “The hardest math questions on the SAT are not about advanced content or formulas that you may have forgotten,” says Johnson.
The ACT may be a better test for you if you did great on the PLAN test, which is the “pre ACT” exam.
The ACT is also a better test for those who read well and quickly. It is tailored for those who are great at writing papers, but haven't had formal grammar instruction. The English portion of the ACT is less about grammar, and more about punctuation and structure.
“If you prefer to write essays that are argumentative, persuading with ideas even if you lack perfect recall of facts and figures,” then the ACT is recommended for you,” stated Johnson.
Most students take the SAT and ACT for the first time in 11th grade. The PSAT and PLAN are normally taken in 10th grade. However it is possible to qualify to take the SAT and ACT as early as the 7th grade if a student is gifted and accepted by programs such as the Northwest University Talent Identification.
Students can take either test a number of times. However, the ACT and SAT differ as to how they handle multiple test scores.
The ACT allows students to control which set of scores are sent to colleges and scholarship programs.
SAT has a new option, called "Score Choice," which gives you the option to choose which scores you send to colleges—in accordance with an institution's stated score-use practice. You can choose scores from one, several, or all SAT test dates.
"It has become so complicated with some colleges requiring that all scores be sent and others not, that I am advising my students to release all scores to all schools," said Julie A. Manhan, Educational Consultant and Seattle College Bound Examiner.
Will you improve your scores if you take the tests more than once? It seems to be worth a try, as research shows that of the students who took the ACT more than once:
  • 55% increased their composite score on the retest
  • 22% had no change in their composite score on the retest
  • 23% decreased their composite score on the retest

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