A little background on the SAT and ACT may be useful before deciding which test might be most advantageous to your student.
Most colleges accept both the SAT and ACT these days; a growing number do not require either. The first step is to find out if the college wants test scores, and if so, how much importance admissions places on high scores.
Many students applying to competitive colleges are strategizing which college entrance test will give them the best scores to gain them entrance to their dream school. If your student is anxious about making the right decision, "ACT or SAT?" by Josh Bornstein may be useful.The book leads the student through a detailed analysis and includes a personality quiz to assist in selecting the most appropriate exam. Although counselors do not normally recommend Wikipedia as the top authoritative site, it does have pretty good summarizations of both tests.The SAT costs $47 and is given six times per year at WestSalemHigh School or McKay and lasts 3.75 actual testing hours. The ACT is $32 ($47 if the essay portion is taken) and administered at Chemeketa six times, lasting 3.25 testing hours. The SAT does not have a science section, nor does it cover trigonometry; the ACT does. This may indicate that a student who is especially strong in science and math should take the ACT, but SAT balances this out by assigning a larger percentage of the score to math. Vocabulary is emphasized in the SAT, but not grammar, and there is a guessing penalty. With the ACT, grammar is emphasized, and there is no penalty for guessing.
The ACT is entirely multiple choice, and the SAT is not. SAT measures critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning, while ACT measures classroom rote recall and is knowledge-based. The SAT has fewer sections, so the testing times are longer. Some people think that the ACT is better for students with short attention spans because there are more sections but shorter testing times.
Though not at all research based, there is a lot of subjective observation on who should take which test. SAT: street-smart, good at puzzles, focused, boys, trick questions, good test taker, bright underachievers, strong in all content areas. ACT: book-smart, facts, fidgety, girls, straight-forward, good at homework, but bad test taker, overachievers, weak in one content area. If you go through this checklist, it might give you an idea of which test to choose. If your student still cannot decide, there is nothing wrong with taking both tests. Most students score about the same on both tests, but occasionally there is a significant difference. If your student's scores do not meet his expectations, encourage him to take it again or take the other test. He may just have had a bad day. No matter which test your student takes, encourage him to do his best. These scores when combined with the GPA are still the best indicator of college freshman success.
As always, contact your student's counselor for more information and strategies for success.
Sherri Buck-Williams is a counselor at SouthSalemHigh School.