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Should my child take the ACT or SAT?

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

To ACT or SAT, that is the question.

Many families – especially those in states like Illinois where LGC is based and where the SAT was instituted several year ago as the test public high school juniors must take to graduate – wonder about this question as their children approach junior year of high school. Our team discusses this decision with all of our incoming client families and students, as we have found over the past few years that much confusion and misinformation about which test to take persists. A few facts: 1. ALL colleges that require a standardized test accept either score with NO preference. The old myth that East and West coast schools prefer the SAT is not accurate. 2. Because of #1, it makes sense for ALL students to do their due diligence and take a diagnostic test of both types to determine which is a better fit and will allow them to maximize their potential and score higher. 3. Students do NOT need to actually take each of these tests on an actual test date. We routinely give diagnostic tests in a realistic testing situation to enable students to make this decision and start on their tutoring program. If you don't have a local tutoring company who will provide this service, check with your local library or community center - they often offer free tests. Moreover, a few selective schools such as Georgetown require that applicants submit all SAT and ACT test scores, so if your son or daughter is considering one of them, it is advisable to prep before taking either test. 4. A few high-level comments on each test. While the SAT does give more generous time on the verbal sections, I have routinely found these passages to be significantly more difficult than those on the ACT, so even if a student has more time, that may not mitigate the fact that he or she simply cannot understand the language or meaning of the passage. Additionally, the SAT has both a no calculator section and both the no calculator and calculator sections have multiple open answer questions. Both of these factors can be problematic for students for several reasons: We routinely work with students to learn the apps and functions in their calculators to help them solve problems more efficiently and to enable them to solve more difficult problems that they may not have otherwise understood how to work out. Moreover, many types of problems are more efficiently and effectively solved by working backwards from answers, which is not possible in open answer questions. Finally, with multiple choice, if you work out a problem and see that you answer is not listed, you know you have done something wrong. For the ACT, we do have to work on pacing and strategies for how to approach each subject to mitigate the timing issues for some students, but about 85-90% of my students elect to prep for the ACT and achieve more significant increases on that test because aside from the timing, the material is more straightforward and feasible to understand and master. Some might be concerned about Science - this is not a CONTENT test like an AP test – it is a test of critical thinking. After students learn how to approach this test, they also gain confidence and increase their scores. I also routinely recommend the ACT for students who receive accommodations for extra time, because with time taken out of the equation, the ACT is almost always the better choice. With that being said, the SAT is sometimes the better test for a student, and that is why taking both tests, or at least taking an ACT and comparing it to a PSAT score, is prudent. 5. For students who choose to prep for the ACT but also have the PSAT/NMSQT or SAT on the horizon (most students take the former in the fall of junior year regardless of where they live in the US, many states require the SAT to graduate), note that the fundamental prep for the ACT does translate to the SAT. English grammar and punctuation rules and math formulas are constants, for example. I simply advise students who are interested in preparing for both (I don't advise that everyone does this necessarily as junior year is difficult enough and I don't like to see students spending all of their time and several months focused on test prep to the detriment of their classroom work - however, students who will potentially score high enough for National Merit qualification should prep), to focus on the different structure of the SAT and the different question types they will encounter. Still have questions? We can be reached via phone at 847-363-6780 or email at or you may sign up for a free 20-minute phone consultation on our website at We look forward to hearing from you and helping you chart a clear path forward to your child's best-fit college!

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