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Are you debating whether to take the ACT or SAT? Is it stressing you out deciding which to focus on? Well the good news is most colleges these days accept either. This means you can determine the test that is easier for you to score higher on and focus your efforts on that test. With this simple technique, you can cut your stress about test taking in half by only focusing on one test.

During your junior fall (or as soon as possible if you’re a senior), take a realistic practice exam for the ACT and for the SAT. Only take the exams generated by ACT and the College Board. You can get them free here and here. Test prep books are great for studying, but do not use their practice exams to determine how you will do on the test. They are not created by the test creators and aren’t usually the best indicators of what the actual tests are like.

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The key is making the test taking experience as realistic as possible. No cell phone. No distractions. Set a timer. Use the answer sheet exactly as you would on the actual test. I like to take a week between the two practice tests so you’re not totally burnt out for the second one. Once you’ve taken both tests and scored them, you can compare the scores using this comparison chart available on act.org. Whichever test you do better on, that’s the one you should focus your efforts on. Check that all the schools to which you want to apply accept the test first, though.

If you don’t trust that you can take a realistic practice test at home and can afford the extra test fees, you can take an actual test. Just don’t send the scores to any of your schools. Nothing is more realistic than taking the actual test.


Action Steps:

  1. Take an SAT practice exam.
  2. Take an ACT practice exam.
  3. Compare your scores using this chart.
  4. Focus your test prep on the exam you did better on. With systematic preparation, you can substantially raise your exam score. Start early!
  5. Email me at jyeager@post.harvard.edu with your insights, comments, and questions. I read every one!

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